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!



The Annual Writing Furore

Every year, Key Stage Two Writing creates a furore on social media. There are those who almost accuse schools who do better at writing than reading of cheating and those who despair at the inconsistencies created by different interpretations of the official guidance for moderation.

This year, the arguments seem to have started earlier than ever as different areas hold moderation training sessions and the difference in how the guidance is implemented seem to be further apart than ever. It does seem to defy belief that what should be a simple assessment system is open to such widely different interpretations that it cannot possibly be a level playing field.

There seem to be two different reactions to this situation. One is a call for formal assessment of writing to be scrapped completely, the other is for a return of the old writing task that was done in Sats week.  However, I firmly believe that both of these reactions are wrong and will lead to a reduction in the quality of writing and the teaching of it.

Firstly, I truly believe that if there is no formal assessment of writing at KS2, then it will devalue it completely. If there is no assessment of writing, how many schools can honestly say that they will give it the emphasis that it currently receives. It will be all too easy to concentrate on Reading and Grammar where success is visible and good results will move the school up the league table. Being able to score well on the Grammar paper however, is no indication of being able to write well. Just because someone knows all of the rules does not mean that they can use them effectively and leaves no place for imagination and creativity. Having a Grammar test as the only assessment of how well a Year 6 pupil can write is a really bad idea in my opinion.

The second reaction of wanting a return to the old writing task where it was completely unseen until the day of the test I think is also wrong.  Theresa Cremin writes in the Tes about how important it is that we give children enough opening time, discussion time and time to generate ideas. This can be done in the classroom without any cheating or bending the rules. The children can share their ideas, plan and adapt and redraft their writing. All of these are things that we should be encouraging but cannot take place if the writing is a surprise subject and has to be completed inside an hour.

It takes me ages to develop ideas for lessons or writing and I really sympathise with children who cannot write to order. How many of us could produce a good piece of writing on a random subject in 50-60 minutes?

I readily accept that the current system is flawed and needs fixing. However I truly believe that it should be fixed and not just abandoned. The current system allows teachers to give their pupils writing tasks that will enthuse them and enable them to write to the best of their ability. My class love to write and I love to create opportunities for them to do so. I would hate to have that devalued.


Serendipity and Poetry

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I love getting children to play with words and sometimes it develops into a poetry session. My first week plans included looking at abstract nouns. I have often used the idea from Pie Corbett of linking abstract nouns with concrete ones to create images such as the wardrobe of anxiety or the kite of hopefulness. Sometimes we have developed these into list poems.

This year I saw on Twitter that @MrWalkerKPPS was doing something similar with his class but developing the ideas using colours and verbs which made me think that I could do a bit more with the idea than I had previously.

We have also looked at prepositions this week so I had the idea of combining the work on nouns with prepositions to give something like ‘ Inside the wardrobe of anxiety, the box of curiosity. That reminded me of Amulet by Ted Hughes which we had studied at the beginning of the year and so I had my poetry lesson all sorted.

We worked on computers because I think that it is so easy for children to use wordprocessing to write poetry. It makes it so simple for them to insert or delete words and move things around. They already had their pairs of concrete and abstract nouns  and were ready to start writing their poems. When I reminded them of Amulet, I was really pleased by how well they remembered it and how quickly they realised that they could use the idea of end line being the opening in their own poems.

The atmosphere in the room was really buzzy. Many of the children were working alone but discussing their ideas with those near to them. Others were working in pairs and it was great to hear them all rehearsing their ideas aloud and suggesting a range of prepositions to use in their poems.

Then I had the idea of using a verb to begin the lines which added more variety to their work. Again, the children took the idea on board enthusiastically and thought carefully about which ‘ing’ word would work in a particular line.

After 50 minutes of work, every child or pair had completed a poem and they were very pleased with their finished work. It was a really simple lesson and had the benefit of reinforcing several word classes so was a useful grammar exercise as well. I love it when things work out and just wish that all my lessons were as successful. So serendipity because if I hadn’t seen the post by Mr Walker, I might not have thought again about something that I have done in several years previously.

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Welcome 2018

Hello to another year and farewell to 2017. It’s nice to be in a different place this year compared to this time last year. I wrote my review of 2016 but couldn’t face looking forward as I had just been diagnosed with cancer and the idea of it was scaring me silly. However, one year and two operations later, I’m still here and hoping to be around for a long while yet.

2017 was a difficult year not just because of my cancer but also the sudden death of my ex-husband which was an extremely traumatic event for my two children. I have always been proud of them but never as much as on the day of the funeral which they organised amazingly. It really brought it home to me that they are now adults. I may not see them as much as I would like but I am so lucky to have them both in my life..

2017 wasn’t all bad though. Being diagnosed with a serious illness makes you think about what is really important. I have tried to make sure that I spend more time with my husband doing things together. As a result, we have seen more films and shows, been to more places together and walked more. Not to mention eating out. We have eaten so many lovely meals in some gorgeous this year and sharing a meal together remains one of my favourite ways to spend time. We also had some lovely holidays and short trips away. Possibly my favourites this year were going to Norfolk at Easter, Portugal in October and another visit to Collioure.

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Music continues to be important. For the first time in 30 plus years, I didn’t do  our show in Leicester. My heart wasn’t in it and it seemed easiest to drop out. However, I did have two amazing shows with Present Company and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Camelot and White Christmas. I really loved the dance routines in White Christmas and just wish that I was a better tap dancer.


I have also continued my fairly rubbish efforts at improving my art work. I don’t think that I have really improved but I enjoy it and it’s something different to focus on. Reading is still my main leisure activity and according to Goodreads, I have read over 200 books this year. I have tried to read more books that are relevant to my Year 6 class so that I can recommend a wider range of things to them to extend their reading. My favourites of 2017 have to be Cogheart and Podkin One Ear.

Teaching continues to be stressful. I love my job but hate the continued focus on progress as measured by Sats being the only thing that is seen as important.

Looking forward to 2018, what do I want from this new year?

Primarily,  I want to still be here. The odds are in my favour but the death of our lovely Chair of Governors from secondary cancer after having breast cancer has reminded all of us that you can’t take anything for granted. I have another operation to go where the reconstruction will be completed and then hopefully it will be over.

I want to continue to sing, dance, read and paint and to do each of those as well as I possibly can. I am looking forward to My Fair Lady in April and then we will see what else is in store.

Holidays are important. We have booked a trip to Venice for May half term and are both incredibly excited by this. We don’t have anything else planned yet but I am determined that I am going to make the most of our time together at weekends and holiday times.

And what about teaching? I have a lovely Year 6 class and I am really enjoying lessons with them. I passionately believe in getting each and every pupil to achieve as much as I can but just wish that the stakes weren’t so high for us if enough of them don’t achieve the magic 100 in their tests. Funding is also an issue now and the struggle to cover classes when teachers are absent makes life harder than it used to be. In theory,  I have just over two years to go until I retire. I always meant to carry on for longer as my husband is younger than me and won’t retire for several years yet. The prospect of this seems increasingly unlikely as I’m honestly not sure if I will have the energy or the will to keep going. Teaching is incredibly tiring and the negative aspects are almost beginning to outweigh my love of my job.

So, that’s my review and look forward on this New Year’s Day. Now it’s onwards and upwards and hopefully 2018 will be good for all of us.

Flying without a parachute

This is just a quick update on my previous post as I know that there are people out there who are interested in how I am. Thank to everyone who has expressed concern and offered support. It does mean a lot.

It was really hard to decide whether to have chemotherapy treatment or not. I read every report I could and discussed it endlessly with my husband. In the end though, the decision seemed easy. The additional benefit that I might get from chemo is so small compared to the side effects of the treatment that it really seemed easy to choose in the end.  If I have chemo therapy, it will improve my chances of the cancer not recurring by 2% which is an incredibly small amount especially when you consider that there will still be 1 in 10 chance that it will come back. So we decided to do without it and made a promise to each other that if I am unlucky enough to have it come back, then we will take the view that it would have come back anyway.

The decision still felt slightly scary though and I had a constant feeling that I was being reckless with my health in not taking up the offer of chemo. I still do on some days. However, it has been lovely knowing that I am not going to have undergo the trials of chemotherapy. I feel completely well although the partial reconstruction that I currently have often feels quite sore. That is very minor compared to how I might be feeling though.

So I am now determined to live the rest of the year to its fullest potential. I have another show to do in November which I am looking forward to immensely as well as a half term holiday booked in Portugal. Plus, of course, the challenge of getting my new class through their Sats and ready for secondary school as well as hopefully having some fun along the way.

Now this blog will return to my usual intermittent postings on things that occur to me.  I am going to try and keep it going more regularly though.


The Big C ………so far

I haven’t posted anything this year due to my world coming crashing down last Christmas – or at least that’s what it felt like. I have kept a hand written diary which has helped to clarify my thoughts and feelings but not published anything until now.


I found a lump in my left breast last December and since then I have been on the cancer treadmill. I spent the first morning of the Christmas holidays having all the tests done and then had to wait until the week after Christmas to find out the results although I was fairly sure that it would not be good news. Christmas was a difficult time as I didn’t want to say anything to anyone until I knew for certain. Telling people has been one of the most difficult parts of the whole thing. Cancer is such an emotive word.

The diagnosis was confirmed before New Year and so then onto scans. I had an MRI scan and a CT which both confirmed that the cancer hadn’t spread. It was a hormone fed tumour so I was also immediately treated with an oestrogen blocking drug. It seemed to be quite good news. I would take the drug for a few months to reduce the tumour and then have a lumpectomy which would be followed by a course of radiotherapy. I felt that I had got away quite lightly considering what I know some other people had gone through.

I spent the first few months of 2017 trying to get on with my life as normal while having regular check ups and ultra sounds to see how the tumour was responding to the tablets. I told my immediate family and SLT at school but very few other people as I didn’t want it to become a focus for who I was. As soon as people know that you have cancer, it immediately becomes more of an issue. People say ‘How are you?’ in a very meaningful way. It’s lovely that they are concerned but I didn’t want to have to keep talking about it so I kept it as quiet as possible.

My operation took place at the end of May, just before Summer Half Term. It seemed to go well and the breast wasn’t all that much smaller. Then we had to wait three weeks for the test results.

When they came back, the news wasn’t good. There were signs of pre-cancer changes in the tissue they analysed so my surgeon told me that I needed a mastectomy. That was a shock and it took a while for it to sink in. I had been all prepared for the in December but things seemed to have been going so well after that and I thought that the lumpectomy would be all I needed. The next operation date was already fixed and I had to decide very quickly whether I wanted reconstruction or not. I really felt as though as I was being rushed into making the decision. I decided to go with the reconstruction as it would be more difficult to get a good result if I changed my mind later on. I wasn’t totally sure if that was I wanted though. I found the idea of having something foreign implanted into my body quite unpleasant.

The second operation took place 4 weeks after the first and then there was more waiting for results. I have only managed to teach my class for 8 days during the final half term as I seemed to be continually recovering from operations. The mastectomy was a more difficult recovery due to having two drains inserted which meant that for two weeks, I had to carry two bottles and their connecting tubes around. I had an extremely unfashionable shoulder bag which went everywhere with me! I was so pleased when they were finally removed even though the removal was extremely painful.

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After three weeks, I had some results which still weren’t totally clear so a sample was sent away for oncotype DX testing which gives a prediction of how likely someone is to have a recurrence of cancer with and without chemo-therapy. I was praying for a good result. The idea of chemo quite frankly scares me.

We had the results back this week and again, they weren’t clear as to what I should do now. My score was 19 which is just into the intermediate range so it is not clear whether I should undergo chemo therapy or if the negative side effects will out weigh positive protection from a recurrence. So the decision is up to me. I have found this to be almost the worst part of the whole thing so far as there are no right answers and no-one can make the decision for me.

At the moment, the jury is still out.

Goodbye 2016

It’s that time again when all of the #nuture16/17 posts start appearing and I think back over what this year has brought.

I have to say that I won’t be sad to see the back of 2016. My beautiful tabby cat died of cancer in March, we were robbed while on holiday and health issues are rearing their ugly head at the moment. Which makes it even more important to look forward to things improving next year.

Going back over last year’s hopes and it’s been a mixed bag really.

1 Staying Positive
I actually think that I did quite a good job of this last year. My class were fun to teach and I managed to keep my job in perspective so that it didn’t take over my life. I did manage to take a photo on nearly every day during the year. I have stored them all on Flickr and they can all be found here

2 Sats
Well, what can I say? A farce? Fiasco?  As a school we didn’t do too badly but I was incensed by the content and quantity of the reading paper which led to several of my children who read perfectly well ‘not meeting the expected standard’.
Another irritation was the seemingly widely held belief that schools who did better at writing than reading must have not moderated their pupils’ work correctly. Our school have always had better writing results than reading and this year was no different. We moderated thoroughly and were quite harsh in our judgements and it’s annoying to read other people say that your results must be wrong.

3 Holidays
Didn’t start off well this year as we were robbed in Barcelona in May which rather spoilt our return to Collioure. However, we did discover the beautiful area of Asturias in Spain and visited the incredible Playa des Cathedrais


We also visited Majorca for the first time and went to see the Christmas lights in Kew Gardens which were beautiful.

4 Singing
Still singing and have had a fantastic year. The Full Monty wasn’t the most interesting show to rehearse as the women don’t have a huge amount to do but it was an amazing show to be in. The adrenalin kick at the end of the every performance was brilliant and really reminded me of how much I love to perform.

Then in August and again in November we took part in The Scarlet Pimpernel and this was another amazing production. Such a fantastic cast and a lovely group of people. I was gutted when the run came to an end. Next year we have Guys and Dolls and Camelot to look forward to.

5 Reaching Out
I am still inspired on a daily basis by my Twitter network as well as my supportive friends in the PTRC network. You all keep me sane, amused and inspired and make my life so much better.

I always write way too much in these posts. If you are still here, well done for persevering this far. I will try to be briefer with the next half.