Changes to Primary Assessment

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By Laura Lodge
on 22 September, 2017

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Changes to Primary Assessment: What Now for Literacy?

On 14 September, the promised government response to their ‘Primary Assessment Consultation’ was published.

Along with thousands of staff in the education sector, I opened the document with trepidation, wondering whether the Department for Education had listened to the teaching profession.

In brief, the 2017 changes to primary assessment are:

  • New teacher-mediated assessments are to be conducted in reception from 2020 as a baseline measure, along with improvements to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile
  • KS1 tests are to be made non-statutory in 2023 with the GPS test being optional again in 2018
  • There will be no requirement for schools to submit KS2 teacher assessment for reading and maths from 2018-2019
  • As planned, a multiplication tables check is to be introduced from 2018-2019
  • Updated 2017-2018 Teacher Assessment Frameworks for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 have been issued. Reading and maths ‘pupil can’ statements remain the same. The framework for Writing has changed, with revised ‘pupil can’ statements redressing the balance between technical elements and the quality of composition. The new guidance also gives teachers more flexibility with applying the ‘pupil can’ statements. More details below
  • Updated interim pre-key stage standards have also been published for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in response to the consultation on the Rochford Review.

Social media was quickly ablaze with opinions on the document, with the vast majority of professionals pleased overall with the government’s repositioning around assessment. Overall, the response is positive, with Michael Tidd ‘marking’ the document as a “C+ Getting Better”. There is some dissension from early years professionals regarding the introduction of a baseline assessment, which is understandable given the government’s last attempts to do this. However many feel that a baseline assessment is a sensible way to track pupils’ progress throughout school, so long as it is fit for purpose. With the consultation response promising teacher involvement in the development of the baseline, I feel it is a promising step in the right direction. The end of KS1 testing was met with unmitigated glee by almost all, however the new assessment framework for writing has left many staff undecided. Whilst the changes are to be welcomed, many view them as simply not going far enough to fix a broken system.

The updated guidance on writing responds, in part, to teachers’ concerns. There is now an emphasis on a “more flexible approach” with teachers being able to use their discretion so that “on occasion, a particular weakness does not prevent an accurate judgement.” Schools also appear to have more leeway on how they make adjustments for pupils with disabilities. Despite this new flexibility, the guidance does clearly state that “A pupil’s writing should meet all the statements within the standard at which they are judged.” It seems that although a teacher’s professional judgement will take precedence, the expectation is that the vast majority of children will need to show evidence for all statements in the framework. This move away from the rigours of absolute ‘secure fit’ is positive, however it does leave the profession wondering about the future consistency of assessment.

The changes in the revised ‘pupil can’ statements for writing are summarised below. It is worth remembering however, that whilst some expectations have been removed from this framework, they still form part of the statutory National Curriculum.

Summary of Revised "Pupil Can" Statements - September 2017

Key Stage 1

Working Towards the Expected Standard (WTS)

  • Essentially the same
  • The spelling strand now includes making “phonically-plausible attempts”

Working at the Expected Standard (EXS)

  • No expectation to use exclamation marks to demarcate sentences
  • No expectation to use sentences with different forms – the end of exclamation sentences!
  • No expectation to use expanded noun phrases
  • The spelling strand now includes making “phonically-plausible attempts”
  • No expectation to spell contracted forms
  • No expectation to use suffixes (moved to GDS)
  • No expectation to use strokes for join letters (moved to GDS)

Working at Greater Depth within the Expected Standard (GDS)

  • New expectation that children “write effectively and coherently for different purposes, drawing on their reading to inform the vocabulary and grammar of their writing”
  • No expectation to spell contracted forms
  • Only need to use “some” horizontal and diagonal strokes to join letters.

Key Stage 2

Working Towards the Expected Standard (WTS)

  • The expectation to write for different audiences has been removed
  • Describing characters and settings in narrative only
  • Using cohesive devices in non-narrative only
  • No expectation to use verb forms accurately (moved to EXS)
  • No expectation to use coordinating and subordinating conjunctions
  • No expectation to use exclamation marks to demarcate sentences
  • No expectation to use joined handwriting; instead it must be legible

Working at the Expected Standard (EXS)

  • More guidance given on what children should be writing: “write effectively for a range of purposes and audiences, selecting language that shows good awareness of the reader (e.g. the use of the first person in a diary; direct address in instructions and persuasive writing)”
  • The description of characters and setting are added to the expectation about atmosphere
  • The integration of dialogue is now separate – this means it has more weighting
  • More guidance is given on selecting vocabulary and grammatical structures: “that reflect what the writing requires, doing this mostly appropriately (e.g. using contracted forms in dialogues in narrative; using passive verbs to affect how information is presented; using modal verbs to suggest degrees of possibility)”
  • Additional devices have been added to the criteria for cohesion: conjunctions, pronouns and synonyms
  • New expectation for verb tenses to be used consistently (from WTS)
  • No expectation for a range of different clause structures
  • No expectation for the use of adverbs, prepositional phrases and expanded noun phrases
  • The expectation for punctuation is much less specific than previously
  • New expectation for using dictionaries to check spelling
  • More emphasis on legibility of joined handwriting, rather than speed and fluency

Working at Greater Depth within the Expected Standard (GDS)

  • More explicit guidance on composition: “write effectively for a range of purposes and audiences, selecting the appropriate form and drawing independently on what they have read as models for their own writing (e.g. literary language, characterisation, structure)”
  • Managing formality has been split into two bullet points. This means more weighting:
    • “Distinguish between the language of speech and writing and choose the appropriate register”
    • “Exercise an assured and conscious control over levels of formality, particularly through manipulating grammar and vocabulary to achieve this”
  • No expectation for using verb forms for effect, however children will need to do this to fulfil the other criteria
  • The expectation for punctuation is more specific (“correctly” rather than “mostly correctly”) and includes the need to use “precisely to enhance meaning and avoid ambiguity”.

Literacy Implications

Obviously, with a new teacher assessment framework, staff will once again need time to adjust to the new expectations. The promised exemplification, due to be published later this term, should shed more light on just how “flexible” this new approach will be. This uncertainty does bring concerns about the accuracy of teacher assessment, therefore it is crucial that schools plan in further opportunities for training and moderation.

The education sector will inevitably have differing opinions about the changes and I’m sure the ‘Primary Assessment’ debate will rumble on. Despite this, it does feel like we finally have an Education Secretary who is ready and willing to listen to the profession; something we have not had for many years. Justine Greening seems to want to engage with and consult school professionals, which, whatever the outcome, is a step in the right direction.


One Education is running a number of briefings on the subject, followed by moderation sessions later in the year. Our popular Literacy Leader Networks and Year 6 Literacy Network meetings will also look at the new system in detail, with practical strategies to support staff and children.

Many schools have also found it useful to work with our Literacy Consultants to support both in-school and cluster moderation. If you would like more information please contact Laura Lodge using the form below.

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