To start this post, consider the following. Is it possible to have capable or even gifted writers who struggle with spelling? Can dyslexic children who find spelling a bit of a mystery be gifted writers despite this?
I would argue that in many cases yes (consider Henry Winkler above…). One of the most gifted writers I have ever taught could not spell. Luckily for him, in the real world there are many ways to support this difficulty.
The children in year 6 will have their writing assessed this year using the “interim teacher assessment framework at the end of KS2“. This temporary guidance will last for one year and is set to be replaced next year by new guidance. It sets out a very rigid set of rules which dictate what all children should be able to do when they reach the end of primary school and thereby “meeting the age related expectations” as follows:
The pupil can write for a range of purposes and audiences (including writing a short story):
• creating atmosphere, and integrating dialogue to convey character and advance the action
• selecting vocabulary and grammatical structures that reflect the level of formality required mostly correctly
• using a range of cohesive devices*, including adverbials, within and across sentences and paragraphs
• using passive and modal verbs mostly appropriately
• using a wide range of clause structures, sometimes varying their position within the sentence
• using adverbs, preposition phrases and expanded noun phrases effectively to add detail, qualification and precision
• using inverted commas, commas for clarity, and punctuation for parenthesis mostly correctly, and making some correct use of semi-colons, dashes, colons and hyphens
• spelling most words correctly* (years 5 and 6)
• maintaining legibility, fluency and speed in handwriting through choosing whether or not to join specific letters.
With the exception of the last bullet point, pupils need to be demonstrating all of these skills across a number of pieces of writing.
So far so good, and although the emphasis on grammar has made this challenging, it is not completely unreasonable in my view. However there is an issue when it comes to children with special educational needs. Take the child who is profoundly dyslexic. They may, with the correct support (e.g. spell checkers, personal dictionaries or a scribe) be able to write as well as their peers. Under this assessment system however they will automatically fail as their spelling is below the expected standard.
I feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea of ‘failing’ a child because of a special educational need. I am also concerned that biasing assessment in this way is actually counter to the Equality Act (to advance equality of opportunity to ensure achievement for all children).
Unfortunately it seems the Standards and Testing Agency do not share my view. I cannot however in good faith allow this to go unchallenged. Dyslexic children can be very capable writers. Apart from the morality issues involved, it is logically flawed to label a capable writer as a failure because of a system of assessment.