Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

This is a very quick blogpost.

Just sat here tidying up my hard-drive (in other words, procrastinating and avoiding work). And I found this. It  was written in a SATs test in 2004. No success criteria, no feature list just what he carried with him internally…

Before people get critical I know it’s not perfect, but what it was, was honest. 45 minutes, pen down, packaged and sent.



“Mam,” I said tugging on my mam’s arm, ”Can I go and get my new trainers now? Please!” She just ignored me. Like how rude is that, it was as if she was trying to wind me up. I know the next good thing I see, I’ll plead for her to get it for me. She’s bound to fall for it. So off we went down the heaving high street. “LOOK!” I screamed, “ Look at that game. Mam please can I get it. Please!” I put on my best sad face. She bought it, she bought the act. Yes, yes, yes. I’m getting the best game ever. “But Ben darling there is a big queue,” Mam told me, “So lets get in it,” I replied.

As I stood there it was then I saw this girl, this wonderful girl, this beautiful girl, she looked perfect. I looked at her and smiled. Seconds seemed like hours, me stood there grinning like a loon. Then just as all hope faded, she smiled back, she smiled BACK, BACK AT ME! I was  over the moon. I shouted “Hello,” down the line towards her. A huge grin spread across her face “Hi I’m Jenny,” Jenny, Jenny,  the most excellent name ever. She looks like an angel, a god sent angel. I was oblivious of everything around me, the sound that had grown louder and louder to a deafening roar.

Suddenly without warning the big double doors swung open and I found myself carried away on the wave of people. I tried to back away then realised that I wanted the game and dived back into the ruthless sea of idiots clamouring to get through the door. I saw Jenny disappear through the doors ahead of me. It was like squeezing through the eye of a needle, squashed so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. Then I was through, popping out like a cork. I ran for the games stand, full pelt, straining every muscle. Almost there just a daft lad in the way I barged him out the way and I was there. There at last. I grabbed the last game on the stand, just as someone else did.I tugged hard at the game then looked up. Just as I did so did she. Jenny, Jenny was there, the most wonderful girl ever was staring right into my eyes. I let go of the game and so did she. The stupid game bounced off the cold hard floor.

“You can have it!” I stammered. “No you,” she smiled. Just then a little kid darted between us and grabbed the game “Sorry,” I whispered. She grabbed my hand. “Do you want to get a drink?” she asked. My chin hit the floor, she was here, holding  MY hand! “Yes!” I mumbled. This was the best day of my life. I’ve been sort of asked out by the girl with the cutest smile ever. “Hard luck darling,” sighed Mam. “Shall we get you those trainers?” The trainers, the game, nothing mattered. Just Jenny. “I’m alright thanks Mam,” I smiled as me and Jenny wandered away.

Michael Clark aged 11

Why not give it a go? See what your children do. It could be interesting, maybe we could post some up and compare?

Now I’m not advocating writing tests before people get irate about that, but I am suggesting we give children opportunities to write independently and use that to judge our children’s writing. Not what they can  do with a structure, a success criteria and a checklist but what they do when it’s removed. Truly independent writing.

I am writing this in frustration really… as I look at comparison tables.


Progress for five schools. Mine is the bottom one. (Bottom and middle moderated for writing)



Attainment for the same five schools. Mine is the top one. (Top and bottom moderated for writing)

The first thing that jumps out particularly with writing is what a waste of time the data is. The second and I hate to say this is the dishonesty of teacher assessment.

Ultimately though it comes down to this…


How do we get honesty I wish I knew but these are the challenges as I see it you can probably add many more in your contexts.

Internal (Barriers to Honesty)

  • Performance related pay and performance management
  • Accountability
  • Fear
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of moderation
  • Poor CPD to develop understanding of Assessment system
  • Targets set by Heads/SLT
  • Use of systems and algorithms to decide whether pupils are there or not.

External (Barriers for schools)

  • Ofsted (Not through want of Sean Harford’s Myth-busting)
  • Fear
  • Raised expectations, ever-changing goalposts
  • Lack of consistency in application of framework
  • Threat of academisation/ floors standards/ coasting schools
  • DFE
  • LA
  • MAT
  • League table

I know this is not a very optimistic start to the New Year, but we are in the same place as we were last year with regards to writing, just more time to jump kids through the hoops.

That’s the real challenge for our school system this year and moving forward. How do we create as assessment system that is about improving and supporting the children’s journey through education rather than measuring schools.

If you have an answer please reply,  at the moment I’m out of ideas.



16 thoughts on “Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

  1. The irony is that I think that’s a great piece of writing, it is exactly how an 11 year old should write, rather than being full of all kinds of literary ‘tricks’ that don’t really work. The characterisation is lovely and subtle for a child of that age.

    My best advice for everyone this year is that we need to stop colluding with what we are told the DfE ‘wants’ and have a bit more faith in our own professional judgement. I would love it if we stopped just doing what we are told all the time when we know it’s not really right.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I agree with Sue Cowley on this one… That was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of writing to read. That child clearly enjoyed writing it and probably wrote more when they were able/ free to. I also agree that if more of us could dare to rebel and were perhaps brave enough to really stick to our guns and say no to the nonsense, backing up our refusal with research and ‘data’ that supports our cause, and maybe make the stand a public and very loud one, we could turn the tide?
    I cling to the hope that a kind of ‘rebel alliance’ can be formed that will kick-start this idea… And I’m up for joining it, when it does! Stay positive… Change WILL come!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never given much time to the ‘honesty’ part of the argument on teacher assessment even though, of course, it is part of the issue. With 100% absolute integrity (hypothetically), the method will be flawed and unreliable and is an impossible burden for teachers. For years, in my school, I believe teachers over-compensated and marked pupils down in writing, out of fear of being considered to be inflating their results. To make a fairer system, we need to remove teacher assessment for summative, high stakes altogether. The way we marked writing last year, a computer could have done it. In fact, we could use a computer to do it and I’m not joking. A combination of comparative marking and electronic technical marking, done frequently over time, would have many benefits and allow us to get on with teaching.


  4. People are welcome to check out some ‘Writing Scales’ we have been producing as part of our writing pedagogy.

    The link is here:

    1. Basically sets out a best fit description of a child’s writing habits.
    2. What you need to see in their writing book by the end of the year in terms of the National Curriculum expectations
    3. Finally, we give suggestions for what that child may need to move in their writing.


  5. Couldn’t agree more with article – the long and short writes were not ideal but the box-ticking approach that has replaced it is much worse. In the past, we could look at a child’s writing and (more or less) be confident in saying that it was a L3, 4 or 5. Composition and effect…


    • Thanks Mike. Not advocating tests, but hopefully pointing out how flawed current approach to writing is. Think the pupils writing does that better than I do. He wouldn’t get ARE but tells a cracking story. Have seen pupils get ARE who write rubbish, and great writers not get it. To compound that is the data which makes me both angry and upset, yet we are doing it all again this year as if there is no problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am sure many schools do this already but I think we need to provide more opportunities for writing for a purpose… you may have seen @MrEFinch’s latest blog on the Morris dancers where this has been brilliantly documented. As a previous history and Year 6 lead, I used to do a lot of writing through history. Some pupils who found the technical aspects of writing difficult in literacy lessons used to really shine through their historical writing, evidencing such skills independently.


  7. Despite your concerns, I find reading this article is, in fact, an optimistic start to the year. It is refreshing to hear open acknowledgement of the dishonesty of teacher writing assessment. I am not standing in judgement of year 6 teachers – I am one of them – but of a system which drives such behaviours.
    What’s the answer? I don’t know. However, while there are schools – many of them ‘outstanding’ who cling to the rock of high attainment over a drive to develop our children into authentic communicators, then, I fear, the current system is doomed. The idea of a group of us standing firm is uplifting but seems pointless whilst other schools continue to drive up national averages.
    Never a fan of writing tests, I now see an appeal in an objective piece of writing which is truly independent. As a young writer I would have hated the constant level of adult and peer intervention which is often seen nowadays – let’s allow children write for the joy of writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: That way madness lies…(1700 pages of guidance) | Being Brave! a first time headteachers blog.

  9. Pingback: Writing independently..The devil is in the detail | Being Brave! a first time headteachers blog.

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