How Can English Leaders Make Primary Writing Moderation More Effective?

Here's my experience of a primary writing moderation meeting.

Whizzing out of the car park at pick-up time to beat rush hour traffic in order to get to another local school in time for a moderation meeting that started at 3:45, when clearly no-one from any other school could get there for that time.

Sitting in a cold school hall with my stack of books, having chosen pupils who were on the borderline between expected and greater depth, because I really wanted some other eyes to support my judgements.

Watching the NQT (at the time) next to me being told by another teacher that the presentation in her children's books was "so messy" and "there wasn't enough work" followed by me being told if I wanted to get my kids to greater depth, they'd have to "use more semicolons", even though the pupil in question has used them as well as a range of other higher level punctuation. 

Sound mildly familiar?

Internal writing moderation meetings have the potential to be such a powerful tool for staff and pupils alike. They can help staff to develop their understanding of the teacher assessment frameworks for KS1 and KS2, as well as the skills and knowledge pupils need to be able to demonstrate across the whole primary age phase. Good moderation meetings can reassure you that your teaching has allowed your pupils to make progress as well as showing what pupils could do with further instruction and practice.

So why do moderation meetings sometimes turn into a negative and highly critical process, leaving everyone feeling frustrated and defensive?


How can I make primary writing moderation meetings purposeful and positive?

Tone and expectations are crucial when leading a moderation meeting. If you've gathered a group of tired staff and say, "Right, you've got 30 minutes to swap books and say whether the child is working towards, at or above - off you go," you're going to get exactly that.

Only some staff, the ones who are tired and just want to go home, will make snap judgements (perhaps based on the number of semicolons 👀) in order to do that. You might also hear phrases like, "Oh yeah, they can do that [skill]" without seeing any evidence of it, yet it still gets ticked off the list. Some staff will spend all their time relentlessly pulling apart a child's work (with a healthy dose of subtle criticism about the class teacher thrown in) to stop you from having a looking at their books. And for those staff who go to moderation genuinely looking for support and professional dialogue, it's a waste of time.


So, here's what to do instead.

Make the expectation that your moderation is about professional dialogue, not right-or-wrong judgements. There is no SATs for writing so no scaled scores and no absolute answer - it's a teacher-assessed judgement against the teacher assessment framework. This can be the basis for your moderation meetings to get staff talking about why they believe a pupil is working at a certain level and to get the moderator to have this dialogue with them, rather than a pair of teachers sitting in silence while they scrutinise each and every element of a child's work (including the number of semicolons - yes, I'm still bitter about it.)


How can sentence stems support professional dialogue in primary writing moderation?

So, you might be thinking "Well, professional dialogue is all well and good, but how do I support this when leading moderation?"

Sentence stems are a great way to do this because (just like we'd do to support pupil learning) they provide a scaffold upon which to base the professional dialogue. It's going to support all staff to talk about the assessments they've made and why. For less experienced staff, it gives them a deeper insight into writing assessment and the expectations for children's outcomes in different year groups. Sentence stems can also help colleagues in EYFS, Year 2 and Year 6 to be able to talk about their children's work if their pupils are selected for local authority writing moderation.

We've spoken to a range of English leaders to create a helpful list of sentence stems below that you can use in writing moderation meetings. Why not select the ones that are most helpful to you, paste them onto a presentation slide and display them in the moderation meeting space?

Sentence stems that help to discuss a child's strengths in writing

The following statements will support staff when discussing areas of the writing curriculum and assessment framework when looking at children's strengths. This dialogue can also help to determine whether a child shows consistency across enough pieces to be working at greater depth.

  • [When focussing on a specific 'I can' statement]: "There's evidence of that statement here because the child has [insert how they've shown competency in the skill]."
  • "I can see correct use of [insert type of spelling, punctuation, grammar or composition element] in these pieces, showing their understanding of that particular 'I can' statement."
  • "In this piece of work, we focused on [insert focus here, e.g. correct use of commas to demarcate subordinate clauses] then you can see skills being applied independently in these future pieces of work..."
  • "I feel that this particular statement is secure because there are examples within this piece [e.g. short story] here as well as in this piece [e.g. diary entry] here, showing they can use the skill across different types of writing."
  • "I think this word choice here shows that the pupil understands the purpose of this text type is to… [e.g. explain, persuade, entertain]."
  • "I think the child shows strong and varied vocabulary choices with these examples..."
  • "Although the ['I can' statement or feature being discussed] is not consistent in this piece, I can see it more consistently within these other pieces…" [Show where the features are applied more consistently.]


Sentence stems that help to discuss a child's next steps and areas to develop

Identifying development points in a child's writing allows the class teacher to set targets for that child as well as pinpointing where there might be need for further whole-class instruction on that particular element or statement. When moderation is carried out earlier in the school year and the full curriculum hasn't been taught yet, identifying next steps can help inform planning. Use these sentence stems to support:

  • "You can see evidence that this child has started using this feature [e.g. using fronted adverbials] here but overall, I feel it’s not yet secure."
  • "The child could do this [insert writing feature] at the point of teaching, but they haven't yet been able to apply it in further work so this is a next step for them."
  • "You can see the child can [insert feature here, e.g. use full stops and capital letters] here, but they haven't been able to do it throughout the piece."
  • "You can see this feature [e.g. use of commas] here but they haven't been able to apply it accurately in this other piece."
  • "If we look at the 'I can' statements, I think [insert feature(s)] are missing because..."
  • "I’d normally expect to see that a pupil shows [insert relevant ‘I can’ statement or writing feature] to be working at the expected level/at greater depth but there’s not enough evidence to show that yet."

Primary English Writing Moderation Pack - Honeyguide School Leader Support

At this point, you might be thinking about the various statements that children need to demonstrate in their writing in each year group. Our Primary Writing Moderation Pack has moderation templates to use for each year group, as well as helpful guidance and support for planning a moderation meeting.

You can find more details on this pack at the end of the blog!


Sentence stems to discuss why a child has not yet met a standard (e.g. WTS, EXS or GD)

Sometimes, pupils will be on the borderline between working towards and expected, or expected and greater depth. It's not helpful for anyone to hear, "No, they're still working towards," without discussing why, so use these sentence stems to back up your judgements with evidence from the child's work. This can help the class teacher to plan future lessons and reinforce everyone's understanding of the assessment frameworks.

  •  "Overall, I think they're working towards because they can’t yet use this/these particular 'I can' statement(s) from the expected level yet."
  • "Overall, I think they're working at the expected level because they can’t yet use this/these particular 'I can' statement(s) from the greater depth level yet."
  • "They’re not securely EXS or GD yet because they haven't shown they can [insert 'I can' statement or feature here] yet."
  • "They can do this [insert feature] here, but they aren't applying it consistently elsewhere, so for that reason, I think the child is working towards/working at."
  • "Where the child has done this [insert errors or evidence that the child can't apply something yet], it shows they don't quite understand yet, so for this reason, I think they're working towards/working at the expected level."
  • "The child is applying this feature at the point of instruction but later on in their work, they're not using or applying it, so that's why I think they are not securely EXS/GD yet."
  • "It looks like they can apply this feature with support but not in independent work yet, so this is why I think they are WTS/EXS."
  • "I don’t think there’s enough evidence to award EXS/GD yet because…"

Remember, moderation is as much about teacher development as it is assessment. Encourage staff to share ideas about how to teach a certain area of writing when children can't quite apply it yet. Also, it's worth reminding staff that for moderation occurring earlier in the school year, most children will be working towards because they haven't been taught the full programme of work for that year group yet.

Sentence stems to discuss why a child is meeting a particular standard (e.g. WTS, EXS or GD)

Just as important as showing why a child isn't yet meeting a standard, is showing that they are. Again, this helps to set accurate development targets for the pupil. Try the following:

  • "You can see examples of them independently using this particular statement here, here and here…"
  • "These aspects demonstrate the pupil is aware of [insert feature here, e.g. purpose, audience, the reader] because they’ve written this, which is typical of this type of writing." 
  • This feature [e.g. correct tense use, correct use of commas, spelling of key words] is consistent across all pieces.
  • "While I can’t see this feature [e.g. correct use of bullet points] in this particular piece, it can be seen across a range of other pieces."
  • "Although [insert particular statement/feature] is weaker than I’d expect for the level they're working at, I don't think this is stopping them from being assessed as that level because they have evidence of everything else securely in place."
  • "At the moment, I think they are WTS/EXS because these standards [insert your examples] are there, but not these ones…"

Be aware that some of the statements within the framework contain qualifiers, such as 'some’, ‘many’ and ‘most’. It's worth explaining your rationale for these statements too, for example:

  • "I’d say they've hit 'most' of this statement because it's generally met and there are very few mistakes."
  • "This statement is frequently met but it's not yet consistent, so I'd say they're hitting 'many' aspects."
  • "I’ve said ‘some’ for this statement because it’s correct on this particular occasion but isn't always across the body of work."


How can Honeyguide support me with primary writing moderation?

If you've got your own systems and want to use the sentence stems above, that's fab! But if you want support with organising and leading a writing moderation, perhaps because you're new to English subject leadership or because previous moderation meetings haven't been as successful as you'd hoped, we have a pack to support you:

 Primary English Writing Moderation Pack - Honeyguide School Leader Support

It'll help to you organise everything you need for a writing moderation meeting, and if you utilise some of the sentence stems from this blog, you can be sure that moderation is a positive and purposeful experience for all.



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