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Plan for Evidence by Generating Fantastic Writing Opportunities

Thinking ahead will help your students produce great work that also meets those all-important ‘pupil can’ statements, says Dan Hughes...

  • Plan for Evidence by Generating Fantastic Writing Opportunities

We all know the feeling – that anxious sensation in the pit of your stomach; the sense of dread creeping from your toes to the hairs on your head; the cold sweats and sleepless nights. It’s a feeling that haunts teachers across the country.

No, not Ofsted, a shortage of pencils or another staff meeting bringing the team together through yoga exercises. This is more serious: your writing is being moderated and you feel that, for some pupils, there is a lack of evidence in some critical areas. I’m sure you can relate to this sense of anguish.

Of course, this is a complete over-exaggeration (apart from the dread caused by communal yoga, perhaps). Since the changes to assessment in writing, collecting evidence to meet the continually evolving ‘pupil can’ statements in writing has been a challenge.

Thankfully, the Teacher Assessment Framework (TAFs) has become less rigid and is becoming clearer year on year. By not having another time-pressurised test situation at the end of the year to show progress, it has given pupils the chance to demonstrate their writing prowess.

However, moderators and teachers can often struggle to see eye-to-eye over what constitutes quality evidence and this can prove problematic when agreeing judgements. The key element to success, I believe, is planning for evidence.

This means being proactive, well-organised and having clear goals from September onwards, especially when it comes to writing opportunities. The following advice should help your moderation go like a breeze and prevent sleepless nights, whichever year group you work in.

1 | Know your criteria

Planning for evidence can feel like you have to live, sleep and breathe the ‘pupil can’ statements. While this is another over-exaggeration, it is certainly helpful to have these at the forefront of your planning at the earliest opportunity, as well as making pupils aware of what is expected.

Having this criteria present when completing medium-term plans means that nothing will be missed or forgotten. When moderation is challenging, it can be because a critical element hasn’t been given the teaching and learning time to be fully embedded.

Alongside this, a lack of staff understanding about end-of-year writing expectations can be a sticking point. If this is the situation at your school, the best solution is to be open about it as a staff and work together to find out more as soon as possible.

Discussing it with colleagues and leadership can help your team to stay on the same page. Revisit your own subject knowledge if necessary and ensure you are clear on the technical terms (model verbs, passive voice, etc) – there are a range of good subject knowledge books out there to help you.

The absolute priority is to be clear on the terms ‘mostly’, ‘appropriately’ and ‘effectively’. What do these look like in terms of evidence? At internal moderations, spend time unpicking these words, looking in depth at the exemplification materials and being specific about what they mean.

Getting in contact with a couple of moderators and asking them to clarify these terms is another solution. Knowing the criteria in depth, down to the individual words, will help you in all aspects of moderation.


2 | Think about frequency

One of the most difficult aspects of moderation is knowing how often you need to see a particular strand before the pupil has proved that they’ve ‘got it’. My advice is to trust your gut feeling.

If a pupil has used modal verbs effectively in a piece of writing once, does that sit comfortably with you? If you have a few pieces of work showing it done well, would you feel more confident should you be put on the spot? I know I would.

When planning to meet the criteria, having a number in mind is certainly beneficial. Remember that you would expect to see some of the TAFs more often than others, such as using a range of cohesive devices.

This may feel like I am encouraging a tick list approach. That is not the case. By ensuring that there is a reasonable amount of examples and you have agreed on what that quantity is, you can give pupils the best chance of achieving the right judgment.


3 | Narrative, narrative, narrative

Non-fiction writing is vital. There are wonderful, purposeful non-fiction text types that can inspire all children and give depth to a topic or theme. However, endless sets of instructions from Y3-6 are not going to help in the evidence stakes. Stories and narratives, however, do.

The criteria certainly leans on story writing – does your writing across the year reflect this? I am not encouraging an over-reliance on narratives, but exploring and creating a variety of stories will give you far more evidence to contribute towards moderation.

If you find yourself um-ing and err-ing over whether to do an explanation or a narrative because you need more evidence, go down the story route – it will give you more in the end.


4 | Spot opportunities

This is the big one. Many schools have different stimuli for their writing units – a topic, theme or text. The method I have found the most liberating and that offers the best opportunities is theme-based writing, such as ‘heroes’, ‘famous people’ or ‘survivors’.

Once you’ve been inspired by a theme, identifying a range of writing opportunities is important. By covering texts to entertain, inform and persuade in the course of a term, you should find that most criteria will be met.

From previous assessments, you may identify that you need to cover a text that addresses an audience, involves selecting appropriate language and uses modal verbs to indicate possibility.

Next you need to identify the text type alongside the purpose and audience, linking it to the criteria. In this case, a persuasive speech will do the job.

After your independent writing, design the next unit to contrast with the first and provide opportunities to hit some of the other criteria. Mapping this out early is crucial and stops last-minute panic. I recommend identifying the criteria that needs to be met, then choosing the text type.

For example, if you know that pupils need to use verb tenses consistently, incorporate dialogue to advance action and use punctuation to indicate direct speech, the first text type that comes to mind might be an exciting character-based quest narrative that uses conversation to move the story forward.

It may sound obvious, but narrative can be neglected even when it is the best choice. Plan for evidence first, and you will generate some fantastic writing opportunities.


As the year progresses, it’s vital that you revisit the criteria every half term or so to spot gaps and ‘reset’ – start over with the aim to tick most of the criteria again. Before you know it, you will have reached the end of May with bundles of writing, evidence galore and enthused pupils. The criteria are here to stay for the time being, so making planning for evidence part of your short, medium and long-term thinking will make a big difference.


Dan Hughes is an experienced primary teacher and a university tutor at the University of Worcester, lecturing in primary English and PE as part of the Primary Initial Teacher Training team.

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