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'Dear secondary colleagues. When I send up my teacher assessment judgements, even I won’t have faith in them'

In his weekly column, Michael Tidd explains why children are leaving primary school working below expected standards in writing - and how new assessment standards are to blame.

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Dear secondary colleagues,

I want to write to say how sorry I am. For the past goodness-knows-how-many years, I have argued every time that one of you raised doubts about primary teacher assessment. I have strongly challenged you every time you claimed that children were bolstered too much to get through the key stage 2 tests, or that teacher assessment was unreliable. I’ve even blamed you sometimes for the dip in Year 7 achievement.

But this year will be different.

I’m afraid this year, when I send up my teacher assessment judgements, even I won’t have faith in them. That isn’t because I don’t trust myself to make judgements; it’s just that the judgements I’ve been asked to make are ridiculous. And the information that we have to pass you will be just as frustrating.

You might find yourself with lots of children who are apparently working below the expected standard in writing. But don’t let that confuse you into thinking that our standards are slipping. Our writers are some of the best we’ve had, but if they don’t use dashes in their work somewhere, then they can’t be at the expected standard. Simple as that. Their writing might be beautifully fluent and creative otherwise, but these days, punctuation is king.

Of course, some of them might come to you graded as working at the expected standard. But don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. It won’t necessarily mean that they’re a coherent and purposeful writer; there’s no credit given for that. So long as they can have a stab at a story and throw in a few attempts at other types of writing it no longer matters if they’re any good or not, providing that they’ve got that punctuation.

Over the next few weeks, you might think that we’d be trying to find ways to improve their writing so that they’re well prepared for the demands of secondary school – to make them “secondary ready”, if you will.  But I’m afraid not. We’ve got high-stakes floor standards to meet, so we’ll be crowbarring hyphenated adjectives into writing, and adding “punctuation for parenthesis” unnecessarily into the middle of their texts. That's all well and good if it means that they can do these things independently, but if all those things that caused such bother with controlled assessments are permitted for us now, you can imagine how structured everyone’s work is going to be between now and July. Word lists will abound, dictionaries will live permanently on desks and success criteria will very clearly direct children to ticking off the requirements.

If at any point you want to know about how the children are really doing, feel free to drop in or give us a call. We’ll be happy to set the record straight. But in the meantime, I’m afraid we’ve DfE-mandated hoops to jump through if we want to keep our jobs.

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire 

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