The Writing Furore Part II

5%I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and explain, again, why it is entirely possible for schools to achieve higher scores in Writing than Reading at the end of Key Stage Two without cheating. This blog has been brewing for a few weeks but reading tweets today including one that stated categorically that ‘no school should have higher writing scores than reading’ has really annoyed me.

Our school has always had higher scores for writing than reading. It is generally our highest result and that is the same whether we are moderated or not. Our results have gone down as a result of the 2016 changes but are still around the 86% mark against a reading score of 70%. However our Grammar scores are fairly close to our writing score so I think that supports our writing result.

As a school, I believe that we teach writing well. We write lots and not just in the morning English lessons. Our children produce extended writing in all subject areas including RE and DT from Year 1 upwards. Many of out pupils enjoy the task of writing where they are in control more than reading which some boys in particular can feel is a a passive activity. This is especially true of the KS2 reading test where the children are expected to read and completely understand 3 random texts in an hour. Compare this to a writing task on a subject that they have a lot of knowledge about and a real interest in. Surely it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that they will do better at the writing task than the reading test?

We choose writing focuses that will interest and enthuse out pupils. An example is the Whitby Abbey walk through on The Literacy Shed. This never fails to stimulate brilliant writing from children of all abilities. Drama also plays a large part in our writing. Acting out a situation before writing about it gives them a real insight into characters and how they might act and what they might say in a given situation. Writing in our History, Geography and Science topics is also successful as the children are writing about subjects of which they have a good level of knowledge.

Unlike the reading test, writing is not subject to a rigid time constraint. I had two children last year who answered every correctly every question they attempted on the reading paper. However they failed to get the magic 100 simply because they didn’t answer enough questions. That problem of working slowly doesn’t apply in writing tasks. I can give them extra time during assemblies or break times so that they are able to complete their writing. Is that cheating? I don’t believe so.

The children are given opportunities to check and edit their work too which they don’t really get a chance to do in the reading test due to the time pressure. That is independent editing, not me telling them what to change but a chance to behave like a real author and improve their work or spot their own mistakes.

The writing is also judged on a portfolio of work. We usually start collecting this after Easter and aim for 8 pieces of work from each child. This means that if there is a piece of writing where they have not been so successful or maybe just have an off day, there should still be enough evidence in the other pieces. This is not something that can happen in the Reading test. If the text is incomprehensible to a child for whatever reason, there is no opportunity to show that they might do better with a different one. In my 26 years of teaching, I have certainly learned that children always do better when they have an interest in whatever it is that they are doing.

I also feel that it is easier to teach writing than reading. The skills seem more concrete to me and it is so easy to find good models where they can see how real authors use the techniques that we are teaching them. It is much harder for me to try and show the children how to answer questions on a text in a way that will be transferable to a completely unknown text in May. I know that is a fault in me as a teacher and one that we as a school are trying to address. The teaching of reading is a whole school focus as we try to bring our reading results up towards the level of our writing results.

Maybe instead of insisting that schools can’t legitimately have higher scores for writing, people should be looking at how they teach writing and how they can improve it in the same way that we are trying to improve reading.

My own opinion is that the Reading Sat is very difficult for a whole group of children who are able to write quite well. They can read but are not always able to show this at 9:15 on a morning in May. I actually feel that schools should have higher writing scores because of all of the factors that I have mentioned. However, I’m sure that those people who are certain that our results aren’t possible without cheating won’t bother to read this and I will continue to be enraged by accusations of cheating but at least I have had my say!