A very particular weakness

    Published: 21 February 2018

    The framework for teacher assessment of writing has changed. The ‘ITAF’ of yore is now the less catchy ‘TAF’ having lost its interim status and has a few notable changes to the ‘pupil can’ statements for each of the standards. Key highlights include handwriting being very much back on the agenda (rather than only being considered for judgements relating to Greater Depth) and a shift away from the ‘grammar/punctuation bingo’ checklist approach towards a more holistic composition and effect one.

    One of the biggest changes you will have noticed is the addition of guidance relating to allowance for a pupil to a have a ‘particular weakness’ in their writing. Now, before we get too excited, the STA are quick and keen to point out that this is not a return to a ‘best fit’ approach at all. The model of assessing against the ‘pupil can’ statements is still very much a ‘secure fit’ approach (where pupils have to satisfy all of the statements), but just with some wiggle room – perhaps a ‘wobbly secure fit’, if you will.

    Now what may feel slightly odd about this is that the regular ‘secure fit’ of the ITAF did always feel like it had some room for wiggling anyway. The qualifiers ‘some’, ‘many’, and ‘most’ already meant that it wasn’t quite an all-or-nothing approach, and those qualifiers remain. But nonetheless, there is now this further ‘wiggle’ in the form of the STA saying that, on occasion, one element of weakness shouldn’t prevent a pupil being awarded a standard where they meet all of the other ‘pupil can’ statements (see below for direct from the horse’s mouth, or here for KS1 and KS2).


    So what does this mean? Well, in the training the STA rolled out to LA lead moderators just before Christmas, they emphasised that this is to allow the teacher judgement of a pupil’s achievement of a standard to overrule the meeting of every ‘pupil can’ statement in very particular cases where the teacher has good reason to believe that the standard awarded is the correct one and provided they can justify it in a moderation dialogue.

    In the examples they gave for where one element or weakness should not interfere with the achievement of a standard they were always something very specific. It wasn’t the case of just writing off a whole ‘pupil can’ statement, but rather where a pupil just didn’t demonstrate a part of one or had a weakness that could potentially affect parts of a couple of statements.

    It feels, initially, like this amendment may be addressing the issues we encountered for pupils who may have dyslexia/dyspraxia (or potential tendencies to those from a KS1 angle) and previously then lost out on the achievement of standards. But the STA did not state that as such, and in their examples they dealt with a range of possible ‘particular’ weaknesses, for example, a KS2 girl whose home language is German and so has an issue with the use of the possessive apostrophe (which is not generally used in her home language) still being able to achieve Greater Depth, or a KS1 boy whose writing was clearly meeting the Expected Standard but had a small issue with tense consistency.

    It is worth mentioning that the materials we were given as part of the STA training for LA moderators are available on NCA Tools in the Teacher Assessment area.

    It certainly does seem that this could be helpful for our pupils who have an issue specific to them that may otherwise be a barrier to their achieving what feels like the most appropriate standard. I can see how this could be useful for those children who perhaps have issues with tense or syntactical elements due to EAL, or patterns of spelling error due to dyslexia/dyslexic tendencies or indeed handwriting/motor skills.

    What this doesn’t mean is that a whole class could have a particular weakness with spelling, for example. In the STA guidance it is clear that this isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. The STA used a helpful phrase to explain the ‘particular weakness’ – that it means a weakness in the achievement of the ‘pupil can’ statements, rather than a weakness in the child. It needs to be something very specific to that child’s writing and able to be justified with good reason during the moderation discussion. Also, this doesn’t change anything for children with physical disabilities. As in previous teacher assessment frameworks, allowances should still be made so that a disability that affects writing does not become a barrier for a child achieving the standard that fairly reflects their achievement.

    In discussions with teachers at our recent Years1&2 moderation clusters, this alteration to how the ‘secure fit’ is to be executed certainly seemed to be welcomed. As much as it doesn’t allow as much flexibility as previously may have existed in the ‘best fit’ of NC levels, it does allow a more holistic view of a pupil’s writing to be taken into account by stepping away from a requiring a slavish adherence to ticking off everything in order to achieve a standard.

    Writers can be great even with a particular weakness, and that is a message I am sure we can all get behind.

    Contact details

    Latest blogs

    Receive our latest posts direct to your inbox...