School Improvement

STA Clarification on KS2 Writing Assessment

By Laura Lodge on 17 Mar 2017


On Friday 10 March, the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) issued a guidance video aiming to offer some clarification with regards to the teacher assessment of Writing at the end of Key Stage Two.

Whilst emphasising that there are no changes to pupil ‘can’ statements or the exemplifications for 2017, the STA Senior Teacher Assessment & Maladministration Manager, Kathryn Liles-Taylor, did attempt to address some misconceptions. It was stated that the briefing was part of the STA’s commitment to clarify the teacher assessment and moderation process to “Ensure it is fair, clear and consistent for all schools.”


Initially, the video explored the expectations for showing ‘shifts in formality’ in pieces of writing by children who were aiming to achieve ‘working at greater depth within the expected standard’.

Shifts in formality must:

  • Be managed and not simply random
  • Be linked to audience and purpose
  • Be shown on more than one occasion within single pieces of writing
  • Be shown in more than one piece of writing.

Viewers were signposted to the Key Stage Two Writing Exemplification for Frankie, which shows appropriate shifts in formality.


The guidance then went on to address a number of misconceptions in the assessment of writing:

  • For ‘working at the expected standard’, semi-colons and colons do not need to be used to mark the boundary between independent clauses, however children can use them should they wish. Children do, however, need to show use of a colon to introduce a list and semi-colons to divide items within a list. For ‘working at greater depth within the expected standard’, children must use semi-colons and colons for both
  • Dashes can be used to mark the boundary between independent clauses or indicate parenthesis. The guidance also states that “A pair of dashes or single dash can be used to show a parenthetical afterthought”
  • It is made clear that commas, dashes and brackets can all be used to indicate parenthesis. Nevertheless, a child does not have to show evidence of all three types of parenthesis across their writing
  • Children do not need to use bullet points either for ‘working at the expected standard’ or ‘working at greater depth within the expected standard’. However, if a child chooses to use bullet points, they must be punctuated consistently. Items can begin with either lower-case or upper-case letters but they must not be mixed. Equally, items must consistently end with full stops or no punctuation, but cannot be mixed.

For example, these are correctly punctuated:

  • A white t-shirt.
  • A pair of black trousers.
  • A pair of smart shoes.
  • A white t-shirt
  • A pair of black trousers
  • A pair of smart shoes
  • a white t-shirt
  • a pair of black trousers
  • a pair of smart shoes

However, these are not punctuated correctly:

  • A white t-shirt.
  • a pair of black trousers.
  • A pair of smart shoes
  • A white t-shirt
  • a pair of black trousers
  • a pair of smart shoes
  • a white t-shirt.
  • a pair of black trousers
  • A pair of smart shoes.

It is not necessary for children to use ellipsis marks within their writing for either ‘working at the expected standard’ or ‘working at greater depth within the expected standard’. However, they can use this if they wish to. DEFINING ‘INDEPENDENT WRITING’

The STA guidance moved on to attempt to clarify what independent writing looks like. The guidance made clear that teacher input is essential to good teaching, however there must be evidence of pupils’ independent writing at the end of the academic year, in order to secure a particular standard. The video again signposts viewers to the external moderation guidance for the STA definition of independent writing and warns against ‘over-aiding’ pupils.

One area discussed in more detail, is the marking of spelling errors. The video clearly states that using a marking code, such as ‘sp’ or a dot in the margin on a specific line, would be seen as over-aiding pupils. If this was to occur within an ‘independent’ piece, the pupil’s correction for that spelling could not be classed as independent, however the piece may still provide evidence for other pupil can statements. Any comment on or referring to a specific line, is seen by the STA as providing too much support. However, a comment made at the bottom of a piece of writing or after a paragraph of text, such as ‘Check your spellings’ would not affect a piece’s independence.


Once again referring back to the external moderation guidance, the use of success criteria for independent writing was discussed. For independent writing, the briefing emphasised the importance of success criteria that are not over-detailed. The STA defines this as when “The advice directly shapes what pupils write by directing them to include specific words or phrases…or where to include something in their writing.” Notwithstanding that, the video does acknowledge that success criteria are a useful tool to allow children to demonstrate their learning and support teachers’ judgement of learning outcomes.

The full video, moderation guidance and exemplification materials are available from the STA website. In addition, if schools have any immediate queries, they can contact the National Curriculum Assessments Helpline: 0300 303 3013.


Schools are moderated on a four yearly cycle. They may also be moderated if schools have a new Head Teacher, a teacher new to Year Six, are in a category of concern or, if the STA ask a local authority to moderate a school. This year, schools will be informed if they are going to be moderated on, or after, 19 May. The moderation period will take place between 5 and 29 June, with 29 June being the last day to submit teacher assessment data via NCA tools (for KS2) or the Local Authority (for KS1).

During the moderation visit there will be a professional dialogue between the teachers and the local authority external moderator. This allows for the teacher to talk through their judgements, using the necessary evidence to support their Teacher Assessment (TA). To demonstrate that a pupil has met one of the standards within the interim TA frameworks, the local authority external moderator will consider the evidence presented for the standard which the teacher feels the child is working at. If there is insufficient evidence to support teachers’ judgements, the dialogue with teachers will potentially allow for the teacher to show other examples. There needs to be a broad range of evidence from across the curriculum, and teachers need to ensure that there is a range of work which demonstrates evidence of consistent attainment within a standard.

Manchester moderator, Jo Gray, is delivering writing moderation training on 21 April for KS1 (morning session) and KS2 (afternoon session). The session will allow schools to moderate writing with other schools whilst under guidance from an STA approved moderator. Jo will also share with you further information on the above, look in detail and provide examples of work across the interim framework. In particular, she will explore how to demonstrate that children can achieve ‘greater depth’ at key stages one and two. Reserve your place on these popular courses now.


With all moderators now attending mandatory training and completing the subsequent test, the STA hope that the teacher assessment of Writing will be fairer this year. However, that remains to be seen and many in the teaching profession will continue to see this method of assessment as subjective and unreliable. Perhaps, as a result of the promised review of primary assessment, the assessment of writing at key stage two will start to move in a new direction.

If you have concerns about writing moderation in your school or academy, contact Laura Lodge, Literacy Consultant on 0844 967 1111.



Laura Lodge is a literacy specialist who has experience working across the primary phase.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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