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5 Lessons from Last Year’s KS2 Writing Moderations

Involved in teaching KS2 writing? Get into the mind of the moderators with Clare Hodgson’s wise counsel…

Clare Hodgson
by Clare Hodgson
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Last summer, post SATs, Hertfordshire’s team of KS2 moderators visited 119 schools over three and half weeks.

Some common threads emerged that are worth sharing so that they can help to inform your planning and teaching of writing this year.

I also hope that sharing these findings will allay some of the anxieties you may feel if you hear that you’re going to be moderated.

Lesson 1 | Carry on writing before, during and after SATS

It’s understandable to want to focus on SATs test preparation before the test window. However, when this takes place at the expense of continued writing opportunities, it impacts on the number of writing pieces available.

It’s often from April onwards that children are able to more independently apply teaching from autumn and the first part of the spring term to really show us what they can do.

Ideally, the majority of evidence for most of your pupils should be drawn from the later part of the year when you can revisit, for example, effective use of dialogue or features of formal writing – topics that you taught in a more scaffolded way in the first part of the year.

Having this bank of evidence from the later part of the year is key. At the best performing schools, extended writing and editing was the norm and time was devoted to explicit teaching of the writing process.

In these schools, moderators reported seeing a wide range of quality writing and saw how this facilitated teacher judgements. Some schools presented two or even three filled literacy books (with the left-hand page sometimes left blank for improvements or writing tips).

Moderators were also impressed by:

  • a cross-curricular approach with an emphasis on writing in all lessons for different purposes and audiences
  • the judicious and choice use of quality texts that inspired the children and raised the standard of writing produced
  • a focus on promoting a love of reading, to encourage writing
  • plenty of role play and talk for writing
  • skilful teaching of grammar through reading and the children’s own writing, rather than too many discrete grammar exercises. It’s worth remembering that the GAPS test does not form part of the school’s headline accountability measure, while the writing TA does

Overall, many moderators commented on the obvious passion shown by staff for writing and books. A key takeaway is making time to develop a ‘writer’s workshop’ culture in your classroom.

Make the writing process explicit and allow time to critique and craft, building autonomy over the year. Consider the use of editing flaps or leave the left-hand side of books blank for redrafting sections.

In terms of quantity, let the STA/DfE writing exemplification files be your guide. These show not only the national standards but also the quantity and range of independent writing required. You’ll want to produce around six pieces of writing in the latter half of Y6, for different audiences and purposes.

Lesson 2 | write for a range of purposes and audiences, both formal and informal

Keep in mind the ‘Purpose and audience’ and ‘Levels of formality’ pupil can criteria when planning your writing for the year. Basically, pupils need to know the purpose and audience for their writing and select appropriate language and sentence structures to fit this.

So what types of tasks and genres should you cover in Y6? To answer this question, it’s worth looking at the exemplifications and considering the range of tasks and purpose and audience for each.

For example, the tasks in Morgan’s collection include two short stories, a recount, a letter, a balanced argument and a science investigation. These give plenty of opportunity to write for different purposes and audiences.

You don’t need to complete the same tasks. However, you do need to allow opportunities for pupils to write both formally and informally.

For every writing task, consider what its purpose and audience is then think about the types of language and vocabulary the writing might contain.

In the main, pupils tend to write ‘down the middle’: neither formally or informally. It is the formal that most will struggle with.

Therefore, we need to model and provide opportunities for formal writing, and then show where else this could be used, such as a character in a story trying to assert their authority, for example.

The trick is not necessarily to tell pupils to include a long list of features, but to consider purpose and audience and find a good model text.

Above all, pupils need to be able to write with the reader in mind: does it make sense? Can the reader follow it? Could I phrase or structure any parts differently to make it more effective or easier to follow?

Lesson 3 | reduce scaffolding throughout the year

There need to be an adequate number of independent pieces of writing. If you use a ‘talk for writing’ approach, writing towards the end of the year needs to be at the ‘innovate’ stage, not heavily modelled. If a number of children have very similar-sounding pieces, it’s hard to use this as evidence for a ‘pupil can’ statement.

This also applies to teacher feedback – ease up on being too directive as the year progresses. For example, instead of pointing out a spelling or grammatical error, give pupils time to find them and correct them independently. Find further guidance on this here.

Lesson 4 | make sure you understand the new criteria for greater depth

The revised ‘pupil can’ statements for greater depth represented the greatest change last year. Teachers only had one exemplification portfolio (Frankie) so it was not surprising that it was difficult to decide on children who were on the cusp.

The ‘pupil can’ statement that was hardest to evidence was the statement regarding ‘assured and conscious control over levels of formality’.

During training for lead moderators, the Standards and Testing Agency stated that pupils working at greater depth must demonstrate the ability to ‘manipulate grammar and vocabulary according to the context of the writing.

The emphasis on ‘assured and conscious control’ refers to the fact that choices made in their writing are deliberate and considered.’

Obviously, Frankie’s writing clearly meets this statement, but how ‘assured and conscious’ do Y6 writers need to be?

Here it’s worth turning to Leigh’s exemplification file as a benchmark. Leigh only narrowly missed the greater depth standard but met the ‘assured and conscious control’ statement in piece B.

If your pupil can write like piece B more often, they are in with a chance of being at greater depth. The annotations on the remaining pieces show where Leigh was less consistent.

Reflect too, as you read the collection, on the purpose and audience for each piece.

Would more opportunities for formal writing have helped to lift Leigh into greater depth? Why doesn’t the recount provide any evidence for greater depth? Was Leigh given adequate time to redraft to consider precision of language or tidy up punctuation?

Greater depth writers may need longer to craft their pieces, as well as more exposure to a range of reading materials and tasks that have a clearly defined purpose and audience.

Lesson 5 | spelling really matters

Moderators see Y3/4 spellings misspelt more often than words from the Y5/6 statutory word lists. This is mainly because Y6 pupils rarely use words from the Y5/6 spelling lists in their writing, whereas they do use words from Y3/4.

In addition, half the words on the Y5/6 word lists are, in fact, easier for pupils to spell than many of the Y3/4 words. These Y5/6 words do need to be evidenced, but this can be done through spelling tests or dictation if they don’t naturally occur in pupils’ writing.

Make sure you crack the Y3/4 words before the Y5/6 ones, as these are the ones pupils use most in their writing. Model how to spell when demonstrating writing. Ask “What spelling rule do I need to remember? What could I do to try to spell this word? Where could I get help?”

Remember, too, that pupils should be using dictionaries and thesauruses in order to use and spell more ambitious vocabulary choices.

Despite the fact that moderation visits are compulsory, I’m always impressed by the warmth of welcome I receive. It’s a privilege to spend time in so many schools with staff who really care and to get to read the thoughts and words of so many pupils.

What stops pupils hitting a standard?

  • Failing to meet ‘working towards’: pupils often have difficulty with sentence punctuation and spelling.
  • Failing to meet ‘expected standard’: pupils often have difficulty with cohesion and writing for a range of purposes. Spellings are often an issue. Watch out, too, for the comma splice.
  • Failing to meet ‘greater depth’: pupils may not demonstrate accurate and considered use of a range of punctuation, nor conscious control over levels of formality.

It’s useful to read pupil drafts and place them into three piles, depending on what the writing would most benefit from:

  • feedback around sentence construction or punctuation
  • input around cohesion
  • feedback around word choice (particularly for more formal or academic writing). Consider, too, the importance of verb form

The following day, offer conference feedback to one group at a time.

Free online resource

Download a KS2 writing assessment checklist here.

Clare Hodgson is lead moderator for KS2 writing in Hertfordshire. She is also an assessment adviser at Herts for Learning.

Herts for Learning is running a course on assessing and securing greater depth in Y6 on 24th January 2019. Find further guidance regarding KS2 writing assessment here. Find out more about Herts for Learning at and on Twitter at @hertslearning.

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