Anger over exclamation changes to primary writing assessments

Teachers and moderators are up in arms over changes to primary writing assessments that have been labelled as “going back to the 19th century”.

Moderators were told at a briefing run by the Standards Testing Agency this month that the use of an “exclamation sentence” must start with either a “how” or “what” and must be a full sentence – including a verb.

They say this was not clear in the national curriculum or in the interim teacher assessment frameworks, and has only come to light four months before assessments must be submitted.

The confusion follows Schools Week revealing last month how Key Stage 2 pupils are expected from this year to use a comma as a thousand separator – despite concerns about the impact on EAL pupils. The announcement was made to primary teachers via an email.

At the beginning of the year, 30 amendments were made in the space of two weeks to primary assessment documentation. Although, schools minister Nick Gibb, writing in Schools Week, said many of these were minor.

But it’s been described as a “dog’s breakfast” by some in the sector.

Teachers and moderators have also reacted angrily to “ambiguity” over the new exclamation guidance.

Ben Fuller, a lead moderator for Key Stage 1 writing for Schools Week, said: “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.”

He said 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. And, according to exemplification materials, this must be shown for pupils to be at the expected standard for writing.

So, for instance, “how amazing!” would not count. It would need the addition of a verb – “How amazing it was!” – to qualify.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson added: “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.”

The DfE said exclamation marks have wider usage: it can mark an exclamation or give emphasis or emotive force to a statement or command.

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  1. Our children are over assessed to the point of causing mental health issues.Teachers are stressed with the excessive work loads and targets they have to hit!!!! Am i stupid in thinking that how and what are usually contextualised as questions? Therefore requiring a question mark!

  2. If it’s correct, teach it correctly.
    If it’s contrived, teach that the government contrives.
    Educate children to know the difference between what the Government thinks is important and what’s important.

  3. Paul Brokensha

    They [not “what” or “how”] don’t even know their own minds! The key seems to be in the final sentence, “The DfE said exclamation marks have wider usage: it can mark an exclamation or give emphasis or emotive force to a statement or command.” Are they talking about exclamations or “exclamation sentences”? How confusing [it is]! How confused they are!