I attended a briefing by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) on February 5 for local authority leaders of statutory moderation of writing (key stages 1 and 2).
This briefing revealed to us for the first time some of the specific requirements of the writing that, in a few months’ time, we will be examining to verify teachers’ end of key stage assessments this year.
While there were some positive aspects to this day, such as the STA’s encouragingly broad definition of independent writing, there was one particular message that has caused some concern – the fact that moderators will need to see evidence of seven-year-old children using a very specific definition of “exclamation sentences” in their writing to be judged to be working at the expected standard.
The definition of an “exclamation sentence” being applied is that it must start with either “how” or “what” and, to be a full sentence, must include a verb.
So, an exclamation such as “How amazing!” would not count. It would need the addition of a verb (e.g. “How amazing it was!”) to qualify. Not exactly common parlance for your average 21st century seven-year-old.
The problem is that this definition was not made at all clear, either in the national curriculum or in the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks, and has only now become apparent – four months before the assessments must be submitted.
Can anyone justify this extraordinary requirement for seven-year-old children to write in such an old-fashioned tongue?
The national curriculum (2013) tells us that in year 2 children should learn how to use “sentences with different forms: statement, question, exclamation, command”. The glossary goes on to provide an example of an exclamation (“What a good friend you are!”).
However it stops short of explicitly defining an exclamation sentence.
The KS1 English grammar punctuation and spelling test framework (2014) states: “For the purposes of the… test, an exclamation is required to start with What or How”.
This was the first statement of the definition being used, although the phrase “for the purposes of the test” might lead one to infer that it did not apply to the teacher assessment of writing.
Ironically, neither example given in the test framework document (“What a lovely day! How exciting!”) fits the current definition, as neither includes a verb.
Even after the publication of the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks for KS1 and 2 (2015) the ambiguity prevails.
The document for KS1 (but interestingly not KS2!) includes (at “expected standard”) the following:
“The pupil can write a narrative…:
– using sentences with different forms in their writing (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)”
But the document does not specify that all four sentence types shown within the brackets must be evident.
The message at the STA briefing – and implicit in the newly released exemplification materials – is that moderators do need to see all four sentence types to agree that a pupil is writing at the expected standard, including exclamations that are full sentences.
The exemplification of writing at Working Towards Expected Standard (produced by “Charlie”) includes “what a amazing adventer!” [sic] which is annotated as an exclamatory phrase (not a full sentence as no verb). Charlie has not been credited with using exclamation sentences.
As we are now required to see evidence of writing that meets every single criterion, rather than taking a “best fit” approach, this lack of exclamation sentences becomes crucial.
As a KS1 moderator, I am deeply uncomfortable about this situation for the following reasons:
– It has not been made clear until half way through this academic year that year 2 children must be writing these very precisely defined sentence
– The required form of “exclamation sentence” does not seem to be a natural form of expression for a 21st century seven-year-old to use in either spoken or written language
– There is a clear imperative for teachers to now do some extremely focused “teaching to the test” (or, in this case, teacher assessment) to ensure all their pupils include some exclamation sentences in their writing, for no real purpose other than to get the results the school needs for the accountability regime
– Having been told that the problem with the previous system of teacher assessment was that it had become all about “feature-spotting”, this approach takes feature-spotting to a whole new level
Is this going to lead to better teaching? Is this going to lead to better standards in writing? Or is this about promoting a formulaic “painting by numbers” approach to writing?
Can anyone within the Department for Education (DfE) justify this extraordinary requirement for seven-year-old children to write in such an old-fashioned tongue?
The only way forward I can see is for every single year 2 teacher across the country to make sure that, between now and June 13 (when KS1 assessments must be submitted), she or he has taught the children to include the following phrases in their narrative recounts:
What fun we had!
How simply marvellous it was!
What an unfortunate incident we witnessed!
How devastated we were!
Then we, the moderators, can tick that box and move on. How farcical this has become.
What the DfE told us:
An exclamation mark has wider usage: it can mark an exclamation or give emphasis or emotive force to a statement or command.
A spokesperson said: “A high-quality education in English – and the ability to communicate effectively – is an important part of the government’s commitment to extend opportunity to all.
“The national curriculum programme of study for English writing in year 2 states that pupils should learn how to use sentences with different forms, for example, as a statement, question, exclamation and command. A sentence that takes the form of an exclamation starts with ‘What’ or ‘How’ and uses the syntax of an exclamation.”
Ben Fuller is also President of the Association for Achievement and Improvement through Assessment