There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the new KS1/2 assessments; the most common complaint is that the tests are simply too hard and the teachers haven’t been given adequate time to prepare the children for them. Next week the current Year 6 will be tested on a curriculum that they have only been taught for half of their KS2 career. The Government will tell you that these tests are necessary to raise standards. If by raising standards you mean more children will be able to identify subordinating conjunctions then yes, standards will have been raised. It will have been at the cost of teaching science, history, art, music, PE and anything else not being tested but trust me these children will bloody well know what a subordinating conjunction is.
In most schools KS1 have only ever known the new curriculum as it was introduced at the beginning of their time in Year 1. With this in mind, in my opinion the KS1 Maths isn’t too unacheivable and even a school such as my own, where the starting point is well below national average, I think we can get them there. The SPaG test has famously been cancelled so we won’t worry about that for now. My problem is with the writing assessment. For those not familiar with the new framework – this is the new assessment framework. It will beforever burnt into my retinas.
At first glance it looks straight forward enough: a list of criteria that children have to meet to be working towards, at or exceeding the expected standard. However this document is not to be used as “best fit” guide – a child has to meet ALL of the criteria for “working at” to be graded as such. If there is just one area lacking evidence then they cannot be “working at” they are “working towards”. I might have been able to accept that until I looked closely at some of this criteria. I’d like to draw your attention to point two on the “working at the expected standard” list:
Using sentences with different forms in their writing (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)
We’re all familiar with these different types of sentences and we’ve been teaching children to use them for years. At this point you need this additional piece of information. I present to you: The DfE Exclamation Sentence
So let’s unpack this a bit. To be judged as MEETING National Expectations children have to have to use sentences that begin with “what” or “how” that include a verb and end in an exclamation mark. This is what the DfE has decided National Expectations are. I challenge you to open up ANY book on your bookcase at home and find just one example of a DfE Exclamation Sentence. You won’t because that’s not how writers use exclamations. I spent quite a lot of time looking for “real life” examples of DfE Exlamation Sentences to share with my class and, other than Little Red Riding Hood, I failed to find any. Whilst searching I did a quick assessment of the writers on my bookshelves and Shakespeare, Dickens, Sue Townsend and Richard Dawkins were all graded as “Working Towards National Expectations” because of the lack of DfE exclamation sentences in their work.
Now I have some incredibly talented writers in my year groups. Writers who at just 6-years-old can draw a reader in with their story telling. Some of these children will still be told that they are below National Expectations unless I can prove that they are independently using DfE Exclamation Sentences.
Those of you that follow this blog will know that I recently wrote a post about weak English teaching in primary schools and how important it is that children are actually taught how to write. I believe we should be teaching children how to structure sentences and how to link clauses from a young age. This isn’t about having low expectations my issue is that we are assessing children’s ability to follow grammar rules that have been made up by the DfE. I’ve not even tried to convince the children that this will improve their writing or make it more interesting for the reader – I’ve just started being really honest with them.See Figure 1.
My most able writers will absorb everything you tell them and sure enough after a lesson on exclamation sentences they started shoe-horning exclamation sentences into their writing. Their writing is now considered to be meeting/almost exceeding National Expectations but it’s clunky and awkward to read. We’re now in a situation where teachers are having to spend time teaching made up grammar rules which leaves them very little time to teach the things that might actually improve children’s writing.
As always I shared my frustrations on Twitter and I believe this exchange best sums up the situation.