More than four in five teachers think that the current Year 6 writing assessments system will not produce honest or accurate results this year, according to a poll.
The results come after the government made changes to the guidance given to teachers tasked with judging the quality of pupils' work for the key stage 2 writing assessments.
Michael Tidd, headteacher of Medmerry primary in West Sussex and Tes columnist, ran a Twitter poll, answered by more than 2,000 teachers, asking whether the current system would produce honest and accurate results –- to which 84 per cent of respondents replied "no".
While children at the end of Year 6 take tests in maths, reading and spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG), writing is assessed by their teachers. The consistency of teachers' judgements is then checked through a moderation process.
This process involves each local authority sending moderators to at least a quarter of its schools and a quarter of academies that have chosen to be moderated by that authority.
The lead moderators in each authority are trained by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) and must then train their teams.
This year, the STA has changed the guidance on writing assessments to give teachers more flexibility – something which was called for by unions and welcomed.
But the new guidance, which allows teachers to overlook a pupil's “particular weaknesses” has created confusion in some cases.
The changes mean that some of the elements of writing that children had to show last year are no longer necessary to meet the expected standard.
But, while children could meet the expected standard without neat handwriting last year, now they must “maintain legibility in joined handwriting when writing at speed”.
In the teacher assessment guidance for 2018, the STA states: “The overall standard of attainment, set by the ‘pupil can’ statements, remains the same.”
But Mr Tidd disagrees. Until this year, a child who had not demonstrated sufficient use of semi-colons would fail to meet the expected standard, but under the 2018 guidance that same child could meet the expected standard.
“How can that possibly be the same standard?” Mr Tidd asks in his Tes column this week.
A further Twitter poll found that teachers fear that making the end-of-primary writing assessments more flexible may have altered the standard expected of 11-year-olds.
Mr Tidd found just a third of teachers agreed with the STA that the overall standard required will be the same as last year, according to the poll of 957 teachers.
The NAHT headteachers’ union, which was at the forefront of the campaign to give teachers more flexibility in assessing the writing tests, said the new system was not perfect, but was an improvement.
Nick Brook, NAHT deputy general secretary, said the changes would make sure children with a particular weakness in a certain area were not being unfairly penalised – and would "put teachers’ professional judgement back at the heart of the assessment of writing".
He added: “We have pressed the DfE hard to improve moderation – we now have national moderator training, higher expectations and better quality guidance.
"In addition, this year, all schools have access to all of the materials which were used in the moderator training. It doesn’t mean things are perfect, but it has helped tackle some of the more serious problems we identified in 2016."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We moved to a more flexible approach to the assessment of English writing following strong and widespread feedback from the profession and in response to the primary assessment consultation. The standards within the frameworks are based on the same high expectations of the national curriculum.
“In order to ensure that the teacher assessment system is valid and robust, local authority moderators, approved by the STA, must moderate at least 25 per cent of their schools each year to ensure the accuracy of teacher assessment judgements.”
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