KS2 writing test passes into history

Three-quarters of primaries opt for internal assessment

Helen Ward

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For the first time in 17 years, last week teachers were trusted to give the final verdict on the writing abilities of their Year 6 pupils. Three-quarters of primary schools are now in the process of reporting teacher assessment grades for writing, in place of the Sats that 11-year- olds have been forced to sit since 1995.

Pupils still took compulsory, externally marked national tests in reading and maths, but for the overwhelming majority, their headteacher decided that they should sit an internally marked writing paper, the result of which could be used to inform their teacher assessment grade.

Only 2,700 schools opted for an externally marked Sats-style exam, while a further 1,500 were forced to do so as a way of producing a national sample.

But for most this was a year to be celebrated. The writing Sat had long been the biggest bone of contention for anti-testing campaigners because marking was seen as subjective and unreliable. More than 29,000 papers were sent back last year by heads appealing against the results.

"Talking to the children this year, they felt under less pressure with the less formal testing," said David Mewes, headteacher of Cadland Primary School near Southampton. "All pupils did a writing test, which is one of a number of pieces of work that will be assessed by their teachers for their overall English score. Children are encouraged by that.

"Another good outcome has been the professional development work that we have done within the school and across other schools, analysing the quality of pupils' writing," Mr Mewes said. "That has beneficial effects for staff, as not just Year 6 teachers but all of our key stage 2 teachers have been involved in moderating and agreeing levels."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, agreed that this year Sats week seemed much calmer. "Most people seem pretty happy about it, as far as we can tell. The new writing assessment seems to have reduced some of the pressure at key stage 2."

These comments were echoed by Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes. "We haven't done the (internally marked) writing test yet because it can be done any time up until the end of June," he said.

"The difference has been profound in school. There has been a lot of focus through the year on moderating children's writing across year groups and making sure that they are at the level that the teachers think they are. I think standards of writing will improve this year because teachers are focused on the needs of the child rather than the needs of the test."

But the sense of quiet satisfaction in primaries looks unlikely to last. The same government-commissioned review - carried out by Lord Bew in the aftermath of the 2010 Sats boycott - that called for the writing test to be abandoned also recommended the development of a spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) test. It will be introduced next May.

While the Bew review was clear that teacher assessment should remain the dominant way of measuring progress in writing, members of the NAHT have been vocal about concerns that the Spag test could become a Sat by another name. Indeed, the union's conference even threatened a boycott.

"People are concerned that what is being given with one hand is being taken away with the other," Mr Hobby said. "It could be just as much a writing test as we had before. If that does happen, then we'll be incredibly unhappy with that."

What a fox!

Pupils at Water Hall Primary in Milton Keynes were 15 minutes into their reading test when they were evacuated due to a fire alarm - and a fox took the opportunity to invade the school.

The entire school staff and pupils had to wait outside for the fire brigade to arrive, while the fox, which is known to the authorities, went inside and wreaked havoc.

"We had to wait for about 45 minutes for the fire brigade to come and give us the all clear," said headteacher Tony Draper. "By that time the fox had managed to defecate all over the foundation area and wee down the corridor. The caretaker did a really big cleaning job, but the smell was foul. This fox has been evading capture - the council has put down a couple of traps for it, but so far all they have caught is a couple of cats."

Original headline: KS2 national writing test passes into history

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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