Does the new expected standard in key stage 1 and key stage 2 signify a fundamental change to the way writing is taught?
It could be argued that the clarification supplied by the DfE has come far too late; that there has been too little time to implement the new curriculum effectively or that the new expected standard has been set at an unobtainable level for many.
Key Stage 1 & 2 Assessments:
Whether we agree with the changes or not, the new key stage (KS) 1 and key stage 2 assessments will still go ahead in May 2016. Looking at the new exemplification materials, do we see a fundamental shift in emphasis?
It is immediately clear that handwriting and spelling underpin the new expected standard.
At KS1, all but one of the criteria for working towards the expected standard relate to handwriting or spelling and they also account for half of the 24 criteria required to be working at the expected standard. Pupils will need to form letters correctly and legibly is very apparent, as the inability to do so will leave a child working below the standard necessary to be assessed.
Further up the school, the inability to produce legible joined handwriting by the end of KS2 will render a child unable to even be considered as ‘working towards’ the expected standard. Although this has been relaxed during this interim year of assessments, it is clear that the DfE intend to be more stringent on this in future years.
“No room for mistakes!”
With regards to spelling, pupils are expected to be able to break words into phonemes and spell them using graphemes, with general accuracy, by the end of KS1. By the end of KS2 pupils are expected to spell most words correctly. The outlook for those with particular forms of SEN or an inability to securely grasp spelling patterns isn’t great, no matter how fluid the content of their writing.
In a curriculum that insists on meeting every element before the standard can be awarded, it is crucial that pupils master the skills of applying spelling rules and forming letters correctly at as early a stage as possible.
Although grammar has been an assessed aspect of the KS2 curriculum for a number of years, it will now also be assessed at KS1 for the first time. It would appear that primary school children will be expected to not only have a sound understanding of grammar, but also to demonstrate this within their writing across the curriculum.
The volume of grammatical jargon spewed across the ‘pupil can’ statements as well as the methodical nature of the exemplifications makes this abundantly clear. An aspect of the grammar curriculum which had been more ambiguous perhaps was how exclamations would be taught, with even the DfE falling short of their new high standards (see page 14, point 4.4.2).
With recent clarification we now know that exclamations can be used as they always have been, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the sentence pupils correctly use an exclamation mark in is an exclamation.
To be deemed an exclamation, a sentence must begin with the words ‘How’ or ‘What’, contain a subject, verb and any other elements.
“How strange this must seem to six year-olds!”
Out with the old?
Gone are the days of focusing on composition and effect, text construction, vocabulary choices or appropriateness of purpose. Replacing them are modal verbs, expanded noun phrases, adverbials, prepositional phrases and clause structures. The irony is, is that this ‘new’ curriculum drags us back into the past, requiring children to write with a style they may not be accustomed to.
The oddly robotic exemplifications demonstrate the need for teachers to find a way to balance the old and the new; the need to meet the new standard without stifling creativity.
Whether we agree with the changes or not, it is clear that handwriting, spelling and grammar will now play a hugely increased role in signifying whether a child is working at an age appropriate standard. This will inevitably require teachers to alter the way they teach writing.
To what extent? Well, that is entirely up to you.
Download the DfE guidance here and do what you can with what time is left.