Preparing for KS2 writing moderation

With statutory teacher assessment cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021, it will be three years since schools have received an external moderation visit for KS2 writing. It’s true, with just 25% of schools externally moderated in any one year, there’s typically a gap of four years between visits for most schools. But it’s quite possible that, this year, we might all be feeling a little rusty.

So what’s the best way to make sure that you’re well prepared for key stage 2 writing moderation? The guidance is clear that the best way for a school to prepare for external moderation is to have robust internal assessment processes in place. But what might these look like in practice?

Ensure a strong evidence base

Throughout year 6, pupils should be given the opportunity to write for different purposes and audiences, using different levels of formality. By the end of the key stage, they should have a wide range of writing that demonstrates their attainment.

Remember, there’s no need to put together portfolios of work – it’s up to you how you present your evidence. For the most part, the classwork in pupils’ exercise books – if that’s how they work – will be just fine. What matters is that the evidence is sufficient to show what they have achieved in relation to the key stage 2 TA writing framework.

To help support teachers with the teaching and assessment of writing in year 6, we developed Bite into Writing. The resource contains sets of exemplars of pupils’ writing based on 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. The teaching and learning activities provide opportunities for a wide range of writing, and there’s a useful writing showcase record to help you and your pupils keep track of their work.

Make accurate assessment judgements

You’ll need to use the TA framework to arrive at a judgement for each pupil, focusing on the way your pupils’ writing meets the ‘pupil can’ statements – there’s plenty of helpful advice to support your understanding of the criteria in our previous blog: Applying the TA framework criteria to pupils’ writing.

Some teachers like to use a checklist to tick off the evidence for each ‘pupil can’ statement in their pupils’ writing, and this can be helpful – but caution is needed here as it can lead to an atomistic approach and feature spotting.

It’s also important to remember that the examples in some of the statements are just that: examples. So there’s no point in hunting for passives, or modal verbs, or contracted forms unless you’re actually looking to see whether they’ve been used appropriately to suit the audience and the purpose of the writing. It’s worth noting that not every piece of formal writing requires use of the passive, just as not every piece of informal writing requires the use of contracted forms – there are many different ways of conveying levels of formality.

Of course, you’ll also need to make sure that the evidence you’re drawing on represents your pupils’ independent work.

It can be difficult when you know how hard a particular pupil has worked, or how they’ve struggled to cope with various difficulties – even more so in the light of the past two challenging years. But it’s vital that judgements are made objectively, and there are two things that will help with this: one is having a broad and robust evidence base; the other is internal moderation.

Moderate internally – within and (where possible) across schools

As teachers, you know your pupils well. So to make sure that your judgements are as objective as they can possibly be – and consistent with the judgements made by other teachers in other classes and in other schools – it’s important to have some form of internal moderation in place.

Regular and ongoing discussions of pupils’ writing might be built into your cycle of staff meetings. In larger schools, you might work in year teams to make sure that your judgements are consistent with each other; in smaller schools, you might work with colleagues across a key stage. There are benefits to this whole school approach too, with discussions around task setting, curriculum mapping and progression arising naturally in context.

When complemented by all those informal discussions that take place on a more ad hoc basis, you’ll be well on the way to developing a confident and informed model of internal moderation across your school.

It can be both informative and reassuring to work collaboratively with other schools to moderate samples of writing – perhaps as part of a cluster arrangement. Under normal circumstances, lots of schools do this. If you’re able to meet at different points throughout the year, the process can be formative too, with helpful discussions around next steps in learning for pupils.

What does an effective professional discussion look like?

External moderators will need to review the evidence you’ve presented. They may do this alongside you, or they may take some time alone to read and consider it before they discuss it with you. Either way, the professional discussion is central to an external moderation visit.

Some of the most effective professional discussions we’ve observed have involved the moderator and teacher working closely together. The moderator might draw on their experience to prompt and support you, but you’ll need to be able to articulate your understanding of the standards, explaining the reasons for your judgements by drawing on the evidence in your pupils’ writing.

When effectively managed, teachers often tell us they find the professional discussion excellent professional development. But you do need to be prepared for it in order to play a full and active part. By having regular discussions with colleagues about pupils’ writing in relation to the TA framework criteria, you’re actually modelling and participating in the kind of discussion you’ll need to have with an external moderator, should they visit. 

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