Applying the TA framework criteria to pupils’ writing

As year 6 teachers, you’ll obviously want to ensure your end-of-key stage teacher assessment (TA) judgements are accurate. The TA framework for English writing at the end of key stage 2 has been in use for a number of years now, but it’s important to remember that it represents a ‘can do’ model – it’s neither a comparative nor a ‘best fit’ approach. This means that, unless you have clear justification for a ‘particular weakness’, there must be evidence that all the statements at the standard awarded have been met.

Of course, most teachers will by now be very familiar with the ‘pupil can’ statements, but those who are new to teaching, or new to year 6, might still find teacher assessment a little daunting. After all, it’s quite a responsibility and we know that some of the statements can appear trickier to interpret than others – particularly those for working at greater depth. So this might be the time to revisit some of the ‘pupil can’ statements to make sure that you’re applying them appropriately to your pupils’ writing.

Getting to grips with the expected standard

The TA framework has three standards: ‘working towards the expected standard’, ‘working at the expected standard’ and ‘working at greater depth’, with each standard containing a set of ‘pupil can’ statements. At working towards, pupils can write for a range of purposes, but at the expected standard this includes audience too, with an emphasis on the needs of the reader.

Officially, no one statement is more important than another. But some just feel particularly significant in terms of their weightiness. For example, at the expected standard, selecting vocabulary and grammatical structures that reflect what the writing requires is fundamental, especially when linked to the initial ‘pupil can’ statement: writing effectively for a range of purposes and audiences, selecting language that shows good awareness of the reader. This permeates other statements too – writing that is effective is likely to be cohesive, with correct use of verb tenses and appropriate punctuation.

Some of the statements include helpful bracketed examples, but all too often we see these used as a kind of checklist – and that’s not helpful. Pupils’ writing might be full of semi-colons, adverbials or an impressive range of verb forms, but are they used correctly, appropriately and effectively? The key word in that first statement – often overlooked – is ‘effectively’. What really counts is how they’re used, the impact they have on the reader and the extent to which they support clarity of meaning within the context of the writing.

Taking a closer look at the characteristics of effectively written texts can be useful here. The Spotlight texts in Bite into Writing have teaching prompts that demonstrate clearly how grammar, vocabulary, text organisation and structure, and punctuation all contribute to the effectiveness of the writing and its suitability for purpose and audience. For example, they show how expanded noun phrases convey information economically in a newspaper article, verb forms clarify timeframes in a flashback narrative, fronted clauses heighten anticipation in a promotional leaflet, and adverbs help qualify the description of a seabird in a wildlife information text.

When is writing greater depth?

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of teacher assessment is establishing whether a pupil who has met all of the statements for the expected standard is actually working at greater depth. It may be tempting to assume that our most able pupils must be working at the higher standard. However, we must make sure there is consistent evidence across a range of writing to demonstrate that the statements for working at greater depth have been met.

Pupils working at greater depth can exercise an assured and conscious control over levels of formality, particularly through manipulating grammar and vocabulary. This is integral to the ability to distinguish between the language of speech and writing and choose the appropriate register – another reason not to treat these as atomised statements to be ticked off but rather a set of knowledge and skills that impact on the writing as a whole.

It’s worth thinking about the difference between the language of speech and writing on a continuum – from the highly informal to the highly formal. At greater depth, pupils should be able to recognise the register – or level of formality – required for a piece of writing, according to purpose and audience. Features of language more resonant of speech might be deliberately deployed to create a level of informality – for example, to recreate the quirky, conversational style of a personal diary. But when writing for more formal contexts, an appropriately formal register should be adopted, avoiding the language that might otherwise be used in speech – for example, a high-level incident report or an official letter would be unlikely to include contracted forms, question tags, or colloquial expressions.

At greater depth, pupils’ choices of grammar and vocabulary will be deliberate and considered, within the context of the writing. Particularly in more formal writing, this assured and conscious control will be sustained throughout a piece – so often, when writing doesn’t quite meet this higher standard, it’s because it lapses into the language of speech and the overall control is lost.

With this knowledge in your armoury, you should feel better equipped and more confident to make consistent and accurate TA judgements.

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