Is the new standard for writing equivalent to Level 5?

Shareen Mayers reveals why the new writing standard might not be as scary as we had expected …

After much anticipation, the long-awaited writing exemplification materials were published a few weeks ago. For some, the expectation of the materials seemed more like the equivalent of the old Level 5, and many teachers (but not all) were very anxious about this. I am hoping to put you at ease by demonstrating that the new standard might not be as high as Level 5. While the use of punctuation (e.g. semi-colons, brackets, etc) and some sentence structures are clearly Level 5, pupils need to use semi-colons in a list and not for two independent clauses to be at the expected standard. I am pleased about this because teaching the wider usage of semi-colons and expecting all pupils to use this in their writing is a real challenge.

Key issue

Within the writing exemplification collection of work, there are two examples of writing at the expected standard – Morgan and Leigh. The examples from Leigh have caused the most controversy because Leigh is clearly a borderline pupil. Leigh is using some aspects of the ‘greater depth’ standard but has too many gaps to be given that standard. However, Morgan isn’t working at the greater depth standard at all but is still being given exactly the same standard as Leigh. It is like comparing a good school and a good school with outstanding features – both are still ‘good’ schools.
Leigh is clearly demonstrating aspects of the greater depth standard.

What can Leigh do?

Why is Leigh not working at greater depth?

  • Use noun phrases to convey details, e.g. ‘two tatty-looking passports’.

  • Maintain legible handwriting that is appropriately joined.

  • Show cohesion within paragraphs, e.g. ‘Within a few minutes …’

  • Use brackets for parenthesis, e.g. ‘… (who were known as ‘Penny Stinkers)’.

  • Use passive verbs from, e.g. ‘… were thought to be …’

  • Use bullet point layout.

  • Use a range of clause structures.

  • Most but not all words are spelt correctly.


  • Leigh clearly has gaps! (See above.)

  • Inconsistently uses semi-colons and colons to mark the boundary between independent clauses.

  • Leigh is unable to confidently shift between formal and informal writing. See ‘Frankie’ (greater depth): Piece D, p.14.

  • Clear purpose for writing and precise vocabulary is not consistent. For example, stylistic features and figurative language, e.g. personification, metaphors, etc. (Although not a clear ‘pupil can’ statement, it is seen in the greater depth examples for purpose and audience.)

  • Leigh’s spellings are not always accurate.

  • Leigh needs to use the full range of punctuation mostly correctly.

Morgan isn’t really showing any of the greater depth ‘pupil can’ statements but is still working at the expected standard.


Level 5 (What Morgan can do is highlighted below)

Why is Morgan not a Level 5?

  • Variety in sentence length, structure and subject to help expand ideas, convey key issues/facts or provide emphasis, detail and description.
  • Different sentence types, e.g. questions, direct/reported speech, commands (Turn upside down) used appropriately.
  • A wider range of subordinating connectives (whilst, until, despite) with possible use of several subordinate clauses to aid economy of expression. (Because of their courageous efforts, all of the passengers were saved, which was nothing short of a miracle …; Whilst under my roof, you will obey my rules, which are clearly displayed.)
  • Emphasis may be created through word order and accurate use of verb phrases, including the passive voice where appropriate (the centre has been visited often).
  • A range of verb forms develops meaning, and appropriate tense choice is maintained (it will probably leave of its own accord …; we could catch a later train, but will we arrive on time?).
  • Modifiers contribute to shades of meaning, e.g. adverbs (extremely).
  • Range of punctuation used, almost always correctly, e.g. commas mark phrases and clauses, brackets, dashes.
  • Some variety in sentence length but mainly multi-clause sentences. Not many short sentences for effect.
  • A range of sentences using relative clauses and multiple clauses but not a clear wide range. Mainly uses simple conjunctions (e.g. and, but) and adverbials (e.g. first of all, suddenly, slowly, however).
  • Some use of the semi-colon is incorrect.
  • Overall organisation of text is supported by paragraphs or sections which enable coherent development and control of content across the text.
  • Relationships between paragraphs or sections give structure to the whole text, e.g. links make structure between topics clear; connections between opening and ending.
  • Sequencing and structured organisation of paragraphs and/or sections contributes to overall effectiveness of text.
  • Information/events developed in depth within some paragraphs and/or sections.
  • Some shaping of paragraphs may be evident to highlight or prioritise information, provide chronological links, build tension or interject comment or reflection.
  • A range of cohesive devices used to develop or elaborate ideas both within and between paragraphs, e.g. pronouns; adverbials; connectives; subject-specific vocabulary; phrases or chains of reference (However, it should be stated…; Biological changes …; Despite their heroic efforts …).
  • Openings and endings are not clearly linked.
  • Work is structured with paragraphs, using topic sentences and supporting details (Level 4) but there is no shaping of paragraphs.
  • Cohesive devices are mainly adverbs, adverbials and pronouns but not the wider range.
  • Purpose of writing is clear and generally maintained with some effective selection and placing of content to inform/engage the reader.
  • Features of selected form are clearly established, e.g. appropriate selection and variation of tense; choice of person; level of formality; adaptation of content for genre and audience.
  • Content is balanced and controlled with some effective selection and ordering of text to engage the reader, e.g. placement of significant idea/event for emphasis; reflective comment; opinion; dialogue.
  • Established and controlled viewpoint with some development of opinion, attitude, position or stance.
  • Ideas and events developed through elaboration, nominalisation and imaginative detail, e.g. expansion of key events/detailed characterisation.
  • Vocabulary predominantly appropriate to text type and genre. Precise word choice may create impact and augment meaning.
  • Varied stylistic features may support both purpose and effect, e.g. alliteration, metaphors, puns, emotive phrases.
  • Variation and tense needed for greater depth and Level 5 is not present.
  • Controlled viewpoint or stance is not developed.
  • There is some elaboration and comments but this is not established and controlled. Piece E is fairly well maintained.
  • Morgan doesn’t have a variety of stylistic features or figurative language. Writing is mainly limited to noun phrases, prepositional phrases and some alliteration (e.g. misty, murky moors).

Perhaps we should be using Morgan (not Leigh) to make our judgements about what the expected standard is in writing so that we can at least have some sleep over the next few months. Spelling has a higher weighting than before and there are implications for workload but I will leave that debate for another day!

Written by Shareen Mayers

Shareen is an experienced primary teacher who is currently the Lead Primary English Adviser for Sutton Improvement and Support Services. She still regularly teaches in the classroom, especially in Years 5 and 6. Shareen is also a part of the Rising Stars Assessment Advisory Team and presented at the Risings Stars KS1 and KS2 National Tests Conferences.

You can download the Teacher's Guide to the 2016 National Tests for FREE here. 


assessment, writing

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