Exclusive: More Sats 'chaos' as two thirds of moderators fail to assess pupils' work correctly

Worrying results revealed by Tes freedom of information requests lead to warnings that teachers will struggle to consistently assess KS2 pupils writing

Helen Ward

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New data uncovered by Tes suggests the government has failed to ensure the “more consistent, reliable approach” to moderating teacher assessments of writing it promised following last year's Sats chaos.

Two-thirds of moderators trained for this summer incorrectly assessed pupils’ work when tested earlier this year, results obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests reveal.

Moderators have described the system as “crude”, “ridiculous” and a “farce”.

Teachers fear the problems will mean more chaos. They point out that if moderators who have been given extra training and guidance are unsure where standards are, then the teachers who will be the final assessors of most pupils’ work do not stand a chance.

And heads are concerned that teacher assessments of writing will still be published and used to judge their schools, despite continuing confusion over where standards should lie.

“Schools have every right to be worried,” said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union.

“We know moderation of writing was a complete nightmare last year. The moderation arrangements were chaotic. It’s still not sorted. If [the Standards and Testing Agency] can’t guarantee consistency, why are we spending these millions of pounds and having all this stress, for writing scores that in all probability won’t be accurate?”

Tes used FOI requests to obtain figures showing how the moderators – trained to check teacher assessments of pupils’ writing for local authorities – performed when they assessed three specimen portfolios of pupils’ work earlier this year against three possible standards.

The STA revealed that only a third of 2,547 team moderators correctly assessed all three portfolios during its mandatory tests. Fifty-five per cent correctly identified two out of three portfolios and were judged to need further training, and 12 per cent were officially judged to have failed, having got just one correct or none at all.

Michael Tidd, deputy head of Edgewood Primary in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, said: “Most of these experienced moderators should be able to get this and if they can’t do it, what hope is there for the schools who have not done the training?

“It was chaos last year and the theory was that this training would solve that problem – it’s just created different chaos. It’s a new problem."

FOI responses from 101 local authorities also revealed large variations in the proportions of moderators managing to correctly assess all three portfolios of pupils’ work – ranging from 6 per cent in Sheffield to 100 per cent in 13 other authorities.

There were a total of 21 authorities where fewer than a fifth of moderators got the three assessments right, including five authorities where the proportion was less than 10 per cent.

The DfE has tried to reassure schools by stating in its current consultation on primary assessment that “no single piece of data will determine any decision on intervention”.

Meanwhile, Ofsted has said that it will treat data from this year’s writing assessments with caution.

But schools are concerned that results from the writing assessments will be recorded as public records of their performance, despite the ongoing confusion over where standards should be set.

“Writing data is still published,” said Brian Walton, headteacher of Brookside Academy in Street, Somerset.

“The pressure is huge. [The scores] are on Raise online, on my website, everywhere. Anybody who comes in, this is the first thing they see. I have to explain the situation and look like I’m making excuses. I’m not, that is the reality.

“It doesn’t matter whether they say they’re using it. If a figure is published in any way, it matters hugely.”

The DfE said: “Local authorities have given written assurance to the STA that they have provided additional training to individual moderators who did not correctly identify one of the KS2 standardisation collections [portfolios].

“LAs have also been required to implement quality assurance procedures to ensure that all moderators are able to make consistently accurate judgements.”

This is an edited version of an article appearing in the 19 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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