Developing writing assessment and moderation practice across the school year

As a year 6 teacher or senior leader, you may well have had a visit from an external moderator to check that your school’s teacher assessment judgements at the end of key stage 2 are accurate and therefore consistent with national standards. Local authorities have a statutory duty to moderate their schools at least once every four years, or more frequently if necessary.

So you'll know how important it is that schools have robust assessment processes in place to be sure that their own judgements are objective, consistent and reliable. This doesn’t have to be onerous – regular internal moderation can be effectively incorporated across the school year, giving teachers the confidence to make accurate TA judgements in the summer term.

Write, write, write 

It may seem obvious, but pupils need plenty of opportunities to write. They need to see themselves as writers and develop the habit of writing, seeing it as a pleasurable, purposeful and worthwhile activity. And to do this, they need to write a lot.

Throughout year 6, pupils need to write for a wide range of different purposes and audiences, using different levels of formality. They need to be aware of the needs of their readers, and to think about the language that might be appropriate to each task. By the end of key stage 2, they should have a wide range of writing that showcases their attainment, and demonstrates what they’ve achieved in relation to the key stage 2 writing framework.

The teaching and learning activities in Bite into Writing provide opportunities and suggestions for a wide range of writing, all based on quality texts. The resource offers pupils plenty of scope to follow their interests and expand their writing repertoire. There’s also a useful writing showcase record to help keep track of their work.

Day-to-day assessment 

Day-to-day assessment is vital since it’s formative, feeding into your own teaching and your pupils’ learning. It involves giving pupils regular, targeted feedback on what they’ve done well, on what they need to improve and how to go about it. 

And this doesn’t always have to be written feedback. Verbal feedback – typically a feature of guided group work – is hugely beneficial because it’s immediate. An expectation that pupils will act on feedback is important too, perhaps by asking them to rewrite a sentence using vocabulary and structures more suited to the level of formality required, or to edit a short section to make it more cohesive by using some of the devices they’ve been taught.

But as well as ongoing, day-to-day assessment, it’s necessary to step back at various points in the school year and take stock, to check that pupils are where you expect them to be in terms of their progress and attainment. Schools have the freedom to develop their own ways of going about this, but it’s helpful if it’s done collaboratively with colleagues, informing not only next steps in learning for pupils but also wider discussions around task setting, lesson planning and curriculum mapping.

Summative assessment: making accurate judgements 

Towards the end of the key stage, you’ll need to arrive at a judgement for each pupil that focuses on the way their writing meets the ‘pupil can’ statements in the TA framework.

And you’ll need to make sure that you’re basing your judgements on evidence from your pupils’ independent work.

Before you do this, you’ll need to standardise your judgements. This is a vital, yet often overlooked, part of the process. Without standardisation, there’s no guarantee that your judgements will be consistent with those made by other teachers in other schools. Ideally, you’ll draw on exemplification that demonstrates national standards. 

Bite into Writing contains sets of exemplars of pupils’ writing based on their responses to quality texts. Each piece of writing is annotated to show how it meets the ‘pupil can’ statements in the TA framework, and an overall commentary explains how the pieces contribute to an overall judgement at a particular standard.

Of course, once you’ve made your judgements, you’ll need to moderate them to make sure that the standards have been applied consistently across all year 6 classes.

Internal moderation 

Internal moderation can take many forms, from day-to-day discussions about pupils’ writing that take place on an informal basis, to more structured discussions that can be built into your cycle of staff meetings.

It may well look different depending on the type of school – in larger schools, it’s more likely that you’ll work in year teams, but in smaller schools, you might work with colleagues across a key stage. In very small schools, it’s not uncommon for the year 6 teacher to moderate alongside a senior leader or the teacher responsible for writing in the school.

Regardless of how you go about it, the purpose remains the same – to make sure that your judgements are consistent across the school. And if you’ve standardised first, they should also be consistent with standards nationally.

Moderating with other schools 

If you have the opportunity to moderate with colleagues from other schools – perhaps as part of a cluster arrangement or with other trust academies – this can be both informative and reassuring, and a great source of professional development.

You might agree to take along one or two samples of pupils’ writing to moderate. (If you’re sharing work from your pupils with other schools, remember the need for confidentiality and remove any names or ways that a pupil might be identified from their writing before sharing their work.)

It’s really important to see this as a collaborative process and to consider any samples of writing objectively. It’s important to focus the discussion on the sample of writing and to cross reference it against the TA framework. It’s all too easy to be biased – albeit unintentionally – when you know how hard your pupils have worked, so it can be valuable to have these discussions with colleagues who don’t know the pupil.

Of course, this is all great preparation for KS2 external writing moderation, but that’s the topic of another blog!

Written by Jo Shackleton and Margaret Fennell – highly experienced writing moderators and authors of NFER's Bite into Writing.