Justine Greening has confirmed that no primary schools will be told that they are failing this year based on their key stage 2 writing scores, amid concerns about inconsistent teacher assessments.
Writing is assessed by Year 6 teachers, who must judge whether their pupils are at, above or below the expected standard for the end of Year 6 against a set of statutory criteria.
But the assessments have been particularly controversial this year after it was revealed that two-thirds of moderators – who go into schools to check the criteria are being interpreted in the same way in every school – had incorrectly assessed pupils’ work.
In a letter to the NAHT headteachers' union, seen by Tes, Ms Greening confirms that "in 2017, no intervention will be made on the basis of writing data alone", which continues the precedent set last year. The move has been welcomed by headteachers.
A test for moderators was introduced this year in an attempt to improve the consistency of assessments, after questions were raised about what appeared to be wide variations in writing standards across local authorities last year.
The 2016 results prompted educational data experts to question whether the variations were down to differences in how the criteria were being interpreted rather than a difference in children’s performance, and prompted the government and Ofsted to say then that no school would be judged as failing based on the writing data alone.
The government has since consulted on plans to change how writing is assessed to give teachers more flexibility in how they judge pupils' work.
In her letter, Ms Greening says she believed changes such as the test for moderators had led to improvements in the moderation of writing assessment in 2017, but needed more time “to bed in”.
She writes: “I am clear that data should only be the starting point for a conversation about school performance.
"As stated in the consultation document, no single piece of data will be used to determine any decision on intervention, in 2016 or beyond…I am happy to confirm that, as the above improvements have not yet had time to bed in, in 2017, no intervention will be made on the basis of writing data alone, as agreed last year."
She adds that the DfE is working with Ofsted to ensure that no single measure, including writing progress or attainment, should determine judgements. However, the writing data will be published.
More than 550,000 10- and 11-year-olds took the tests in reading, writing, maths and spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) this year, as well as being assessed in writing.
The results published earlier this month revealed that 76 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard in writing and 61 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths.
The floor and coasting standards are based on pupils’ attainment and progress in maths, reading and writing.
Schools which fall below the floor, or coasting, standards can be forced into academisation, or can have their sponsor changed if they are already academies.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, welcomed Ms Greening's letter. He said: “We are pleased to have secured these assurances for all primary schools up and down the country.
"We have continually argued that data from this year’s assessment of writing should not be used for accountability purposes, and that no school should face intervention on this data alone."