Response to Ofsted’s research and analysis. Curriculum research review series: English


On the 23rd of May 2022, Ofsted published its English curriculum research review. It purports to review the latest research and is written to help raise standards in writing.

The mission of The Writing For Pleasure Centre is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers. As a think tank for exploring what world-class writing teaching is and could be, a crucial part of our work is analysing emerging guidance reports such as the one provided by Ofsted. It is therefore important that we issue a review of what this document has to say.

We will review Ofsted’s document against The Science Of Writing and what we presently know about the fourteen principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2022). Our review will highlight both the good things shared by Ofsted and also their oversights, and we will provide further exemplification and suggested reading where we think we can add value.

A summary of our findings

Ofsted’s research review identifies many of the key cognitive resources The Science Of Writing reports as being essential to children’s writing development. This is good. However, the teaching practices which are subsequently recommended don’t routinely align with what the research tells us about effective writing teaching. This is particularly true in relation to their recommendations for early writing instruction, and is the most disappointing aspect of the review. In addition, other essential cognitive and social resources which need to be developed to nurture great writers are either missing or are not given enough attention. Finally, and ironically, their research review is not informed by the latest or the most seminal educational research into writing (Young & Ferguson 2022). Our ‘review’ of Ofsted’s review found that:

  1. Ofsted discuss the importance of oral language development for writing. However, they don’t show a clear understanding of what is meant by developing children’s oral language. For example, when recommending teaching practices which could encourage young writers to use their oral language for writing, their recommendations are limited or confused.
  2. While Ofsted rightly acknowledge that vocabulary is a key cognitive resource children need to draw from to write well, they don’t always acknowledge the sheer amount of language learning children possess before they come to school.
  3. In relation to vocabulary, Ofsted miss an opportunity to share the interesting research around translanguaging.
  4. Ofsted’s review references a good amount of research around the importance of young writers acquiring transcriptional knowledge quickly. However, their interpretation of this research is not sound. As a result, they recommend practices which are in keeping with a ‘presentational skills’ perspective of writing (Young & Ferguson 2021a). Such a perspective not only goes against research recommendations, but is also developmentally unsound.
  5. Ofsted provide an excellent summary of the research on letter formation, handwriting and spelling. However, they fail to share the rich research surrounding ‘emergent writing’ and early writing instruction.
  6. Ofsted provide an excellent summary of the research on grammar, and place particular emphasis on the research surrounding functional grammar teaching.
  7. Again, Ofsted share the promising work being done in relation to sentence-level instruction and its value as an important cognitive resource drawn on by children when writing.
  8. Ofsted’s position on the importance of genre knowledge is unclear. This may be due to the fact that their paper fails to review the research on the subject. However, they highlight the importance of setting product goals in response to reading a variety of mentor texts which should match the type of writing children are trying to produce.
  9. Some findings from key meta-analysis studies are shared within the document, but unfortunately not in any kind of systematic way. 
  10. Ofsted’s review highlights the benefits of pursuing a process approach to writing while at the same time making clear that this is only one of the many key principles involved in delivering quality writing instruction.
  11. Ofsted fail to mention how important ‘craft knowledge’ is as a cognitive resource for writing.   
  12. Ofsted’s research review recognises self-regulation strategy development instruction as being one of the most effective and validated teaching practices a teacher of writing can employ in the classroom.
  13. Disappointingly, Ofsted focus their attention on only one of the six key affective domains involved in supporting children’s writing development (motivation).
  14. Ofsted highlight the importance of the writing/reading connection and provide good practical suggestions as to how this connection can be strengthened in the writing classroom. 
  15. Ofsted note the amount of research supporting the positive impact of formative assessment on pupils’ achievement.
  16. Ofsted’s review fails to adequately explain the purpose of writing, how teachers’ orientations towards writing affect how well they teach it, and how important a clear vision of writing is for school improvement. In addition, they don’t provide a clear understanding of how children’s writing develops over time.
  17. At no point does the review share information about the sort of physical or social environments most conducive to writing, nor does it share how children’s beliefs, emotions, personality traits and psychological states can impact their writerly development. And while the review mentions the importance of students being knowledgeable about their audience, it fails to share the research on how to develop children’s inference, perspective taking and theory of mind for writing.
  18. In relation to the suggestions they make around effective writing teaching, Ofsted fail to explicitly mention the following principles of world-class writing teaching: build a community of writers; treat every child as a writer (there is no advice on how to develop multilingual students’ writing nor is there advice on supporting older inexperienced writers, children with SEND or writers with social and emotional disorders); pursue personal writing projects; balance composition and transcription and be a writer-teacher (Young & Ferguson 2022).
  19. Finally, Ofsted do not use the latest cognitive models (Graham 2018; Kim & Graham 2022) as the basis for their review. Therefore, they fail to capture a complete picture of what is required to develop successful writers. 
  20. We conclude that pupils’ underachievement in writing in English schools looks set to continue.

The national context

  • In 2019, a quarter of children failed to achieve the early learning goal for writing at the end of the early years foundation stage (EYFS).
  • In 2019, around 3 in 10 children failed to achieve the basic ‘met’ standard at KS1. Only 16% of children at KS1 were able to demonstrate that they could write above the basic ‘met’ standard.
  • In 2019, only one in five KS2 children in England were able to write above the basic ‘met’ standard. Approximately, one in four children leave primary school failing to meet the standard for writing.

Ofsted and the DfE have repeatedly acknowledged that attainment in writing has been consistently poor in England (Ofsted 2009, 2012; DfE 2012, 2017, 2019, 2021).

Oral language and listening comprehension

How important is the role of oral language in children’s writing development? Case studies of the best performing writing teachers argue that it is transformative (Pressley et al. 1997; Medwell et al. 1998; Langer 2001; Gadd & Parr 2017; Young 2019). A child’s writing and their language development benefit each other when they are invited to craft writing alongside their teacher and peers every single day. Indeed, engaging in daily and meaningful talk and writing is one of the best ways to develop children’s language (Mercer et al. 1999; Rojas-Drummond et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Parr et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2010; Dix 2016; Reedy & Bearne 2021). This is in keeping with The Science Of Writing, and Ofsted rightly acknowledges its importance.
The youngest of writers develop their ideas for writing in the same way as they produce their speech (Scardamalia & Bereiter 1987). They draw on what they know about discourse-level talk. For example, how to tell a good story or how to tell others about the things you know in a way that is engaging. This is one reason why a developmentally appropriate writing process, one which involves plenty of talking and sharing, is so important in the early years of writing.

A recommended recursive writing process for the EYFS (Young & Ferguson 2021b)

According to Kim & Schatschneider (2017), an ability and opportunity to tell their writing has the largest direct effect on young children’s writing. Essentially, discourse-level talk involves children being given time and opportunity to talk about their whole text. In the context of the earliest writers, this should involve children in the EYFS and KS1 having an opportunity to talk as they write every day. In addition, children should talk about their drawings as this is another way to engage them in discourse-level talk (Mackenzie 2011). In the older years, this remains true too. For example, children should feel free to talk at the discourse level by sharing and discussing their plans with their peers (Young et al. 2021).

There are a variety of different talking strategies children use as they craft texts. Children talk with one another before they write, as they write and after they write. These interactions occur in different ways and can include:

  • Idea explaining – Children share what they plan to write about during the session with others.
  • Idea sharing – Children work in pairs or small ‘clusters’ to co-construct their own texts together.
  • Idea spreading – One pupil mentions an idea to their group. Children then leapfrog on the idea and create their own texts in response too.
  • Supplementary ideas – Children hear about a child’s idea, like it, and incorporate it into the text they are already writing.
  • Communal text rehearsal – Children say out loud what they are about to write – others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Personal text rehearsal – Children talk to themselves about what they are about to write down. This may include encoding individual words aloud. Other children might listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Text checking – Children tell or read back what they’ve written so far and others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
  • Performance – Children share their texts with each other as an act of celebration and publication.

Encouraging children to talk and collaborate together during writing time is an evidence-based research recommendation (Graham et al. 2012; Grossman et al. 2013; De Smedt & Van Keer 2014), and the opportunity to talk as they write improves children’s final written outcomes (McQuitty 2014). Children who talk as they write go on to write richer and more sophisticated texts (Wiseman 2003; Vass et al. 2008). This may be because talk gives children more working memory for writing (Latham 2002; Cremin & Myhill 2012; Young & Ferguson 2021a) or because talk between children assists them in deciding what to say and how to encode it (Davidson 2007; Whittick 2020).

A classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell others about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Tolentino 2013; Daniels 2014; Rowe 2018; Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, Young et al. 2022). Your class can have more stories and ideas for writing than you’ll ever know what to do with as long as you’re willing to give time for talking and sharing. Children regularly rely on talk for guidance, a model, expertise, assistance, and instruction (Wohlwend 2008; Kissel 2009). This isn’t a negative thing as it shows children’s commitment to being independent through what’s called co-regulation (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

It’s important for Ofsted to recognize that oral language development in the context of the writing classroom goes beyond simply asking children to ‘rehearse a sentence’ before they write it, though this is one of a number of essential strategies for early writers to internalise (Young et al. 2021).  Instead, children’s development as talkers relies on ‘a conversational context’. Children’s language develops when they are given the cognitive responsibility to use it. Ultimately, children must be the ones to construct their own speech and writing, otherwise, as the evidence shows, they learn little (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019). The acquisition of language is a dynamic and creative process, not the passive reciting and copying of someone else’s model.
Ofsted’s review rightly acknowledges the profound role spoken language plays in the development of children’s encoding and spelling abilities. Thoughts and ideas have to be encoded into oral language (whether publicly by speaking them aloud, or privately in the mind) before being transcribed into written texts. This is aided by children’s ability to use their listening comprehension skills (Kim 2022). Unfortunately, Ofsted doesn’t show a clear  enough understanding of what is meant by developing children’s oral language. We therefore hope that these definitions are useful.

In poorly designed early years classrooms, you’ll see children given many opportunities to practise dictation, reciting and encoding. However, there is a big difference between dictation, reciting and encoding and developing children’s oral language for writing. Unfortunately, ineffective early years classrooms do not typically have a clear programme of study which helps develop children’s oral language alongside composing their own texts (Young & Ferguson 2021b, 2021c; Kim et al. 2021).

Vocabulary knowledge

According to The Science Of Writing, vocabulary knowledge is one of 13 cognitive resources children need to draw on to write well, and the Ofsted review spends a lot of time discussing it. Here is how children’s vocabulary typically develops:

AgeTypical language milestones
Eighteen months oldAt eighteen months old, children already have a vocabulary of around fifty words.
Two years oldBy two years old, most children produce utterances of two words. These utterances are crafted by the child and are not the parroting back of an adult model. Speech and thought come together by the age of two.
Two and a halfCan utter sentences of three words.
Between three and four years oldsBegin speaking in full sentences. Children can say an infinite number of original sentences – sentences that they’ve never said or heard before.
Five years oldChildren are able to use language with a capacity close to that of an adult. For example they use language for the following purposes: to persuade, influence or command others; to share and understand information; to tell stories (both real and imagined) and use language imaginatively and playfully. Children can typically say and write sentences of around five words.
From seven years oldChildren usually acquire a full and accurate knowledge of their first language.
(Taken from Halliday 1969; Bancroft 1995; Latham 2002)

As you can see, every child brings a great deal of language learning into the classroom on their very first day of school. This is something Ofsted’s review fails to always appreciate. Indeed, this learning is too often underestimated or overlooked by many who work in education (Avineri et al. 2015; Sperry et al. 2019; Cushing 2020; Burnett et al. 2020). However, research shows that children are more likely to succeed in schools that use and value their existing knowledge and build on it (Johnson 2015; McQuillan 2019).

With this said, there are a number of things teachers can do to further develop children’s vocabulary for writing. 

  1. Research suggests that the most efficient and effective way to develop children’s vocabulary is to provide them with ample time in which to read every day (McQuillan 2019). 
  2. Daily reading aloud by the teacher can improve children’s sentence construction and the amount of literary techniques they use in their own writing (Sénéchal et al. 2018). 
  3. Beyond this, vocabulary instruction should be part of a teacher’s reading programme. 
  4. Teachers can actively teach word choice strategies during writing lessons. E.g. the word-level functional grammar lessons (Young & Ferguson 2021d), writing-study lessons devoted to literary techniques (Young et al. 2021) and use of word-choice strategies like Cracking Open Boring Words (Young et al. 2021).
  5. Finally, teachers can set aside specific sessions within a class writing project for children to attend to their vocabulary choices prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2020).

Standard English 

The review points out that pupils should be able to select and use grammar and register for the particular audience and purpose they’ve chosen, or are required, to write for. One such register is Standard English. However, the review places the emphasis on children learning to write in Standard English rather than ensuring they are taught to write in other varieties too. Ofsted miss an opportunity to discuss the interesting research around translanguaging. Translanguaging is about giving students choice over how they decide to use language according to different circumstances and in response to the purpose they have for their writing and their intended audience (García & Li 2014; Makalela 2019; Garcia & Kleifgen 2020). It allows children to be their ‘full linguistic selves’, or use what Ferguson & Young (2022) call their ‘funds of language’. For example, pupils may wish or find it necessary to write in:

  • Multiple languages.
  • Different dialects and language varieties.
  • Different registers.

By valuing the different words and ways of using language that students bring to a classroom, writing becomes more interesting and creative. They might discuss how their purpose and audience influences the register choices they make (e.g. an everyday casual tone or a more formal and authoritative voice). They also might consider the ways in which they might want to use youth varieties of English to create relatable characters in their narratives or to express their identities in non-fiction. Put simply, they draw authentically on their own ‘funds of language’ to say what it is they want to say (Ferguson & Young 2022).

Transcriptional knowledge

Let us be clear. If children do not learn and internalise the essential transcriptional skills involved in crafting writing – spelling, handwriting, and punctuation – then their attempts to share meaning with others may be compromised or even fruitless (Young & Ferguson 2021a). However, it’s important to point out to Ofsted that this doesn’t mean transcriptional skills need be taught in isolation, away from the craft of authoring. Nor should transcription be somehow completely ‘mastered’ before children are invited to develop the other social and cognitive aspects of being a writer (Berninger et al. 2002; Abbott et al. 2010; Rowe 2018; Kim & Schatschneider 2017; Kim 2020; Kim & Graham 2022). Such a perspective not only goes against research recommendations but is also developmentally unsound (Dahl & Freppon 1995; Dunsmuir & Blatchford 2004; Elbow 2004; Thomas 2005; Lancaster 2007; Boyle & Charles 2010; Gerde et al. 2012; Graham et al. 2012; VanNess et al. 2013; Mackenzie & Veresov 2013; Daniels 2014; Puranik & Lonigan 2014; Snyders 2014; Avineri et al. 2015; Hall et al. 2015; Shanahan 2016; Tolchinsky 2017; Snell & Andrews 2017; Quinn & Bingham 2018; Rowe 2018; Johnston 2019; Harmey & Wilkinson 2019; Håland et al. 2019; Bruyère & Pendergrass 2020; Bradford & Wyse 2020; Kim et al. 2021; Harris 2022; Young & Ferguson 2022). To pursue the recommendations made by Ofsted would be an instructional mistake.

Letter formation and handwriting

We’re delighted to see that Ofsted listened to the research surrounding handwriting. It’s well known that early writers should focus their efforts on ‘automaticity’ and fluency of handwriting rather than on the adherence to any particular style (Graham et al. 2012; Santangelo & Graham 2016). The main aim at this age is for children to write quickly, accurately and effortlessly. The fact is that children who write with automaticity go on to perform very well in their later years and produce higher-quality pieces (Puranik & AlOtaiba 2012; Malpique et al. 2017, 2020).

We are also pleased that Ofsted highlight the importance of letter formation and handwriting instruction as being absolutely essential, that it needs to occur daily, and that it is best practised in connection with daily phonics instruction (Rowe 2018; Graham et al. 2018; Copp et al. 2019). However, their review ignores how important it is that teachers then invite children to use all that they’ve learnt about encoding during daily writing/book-making time and/or through their daily play in the writing centre.

Encoding

It takes a lot of cognitive energy for children to take the phonemes of their speech and present them as graphemes of written language; otherwise called encoding. Encoding, fluency and automaticity in transcribing can only really come if children are ‘talking aloud to themselves’ and writing meaningfully and for a sustained period every day. Until that happens, as Ofsted rightly point out, children are relying on their working memory which leaves them with little space to consider the more complex compositional and transcriptional aspects of writing. As a result, academic progress can suffer (Louden et al. 2005; Herste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Rowe 2018). We want the process of encoding to be stored in children’s long-term memory as quickly as possible. This is why children simply must talk and write every single day in the early years of schooling (Young & Ferguson 2021b, 2021c). It’s only through high-quality instruction and repeated and meaningful daily practice that children will begin to retain more and more knowledge about writing (and being a writer) in their long-term memory (Kellogg et al. 2013; Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a; Kim 2022). This important research recommendation is unfortunately not reiterated in Ofsted’s review. With increased experience and expertise, moments of ‘cognitive overload’ will become less frequent. However, as competent adult writers, we can tell you that these moments never completely disappear!

In the context of writing, phonics instruction should focus on encoding and producing ‘sound spellings’ (also known as invented spellings, temporary spellings, own spellings or approximated spellings) and be orientated towards how the instruction will be relevant and useful to them as writers during their daily writing or ‘book-making time’ (Harste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Young & Ferguson 2021b, 2021c). This would be a far healthier and more effective programme than the suggestion made by Ofsted that teachers should simply rely on using dictation activities. For example, children who receive phonics instruction orientated towards producing invented spellings when writing for themselves outperform those not in receipt of such instruction on a whole variety of writing and reading measures (Rowe 2018).

One issue with the Ofsted review is how it insists on children being able to encode before they are allowed to write independently. This suggestion is actually developmentally inappropriate and ultimately reduces young children’s desire to write (Byington & Kim 2017; Gerade et al. 2012). This shouldn’t have been a recommendation made by the Ofsted review. Instead, it should have looked at the research around the stages of ‘emergent writing’. This research helps teachers towards a good understanding of how children can access writing and being a writer before they’ve even learnt to encode (Byington & Kim 2017; Young et al. 2021).  

The review fails to mention how children’s letter formation develops through a recursive process of: drawings and scribbles; linear scribbles and mock handwriting and letter-like symbols. This then progresses to: random but real letter strings; letters that represent key sounds learnt; spaces that indicate separation between words; ‘sound spellings’ using phonics knowledge before finally spelling words conventionally. To try and somehow skip these stages would be developmentally inappropriate.

(Byington & Kim 2017)

Spelling 

It’s frustrating that there is still a lack of high-quality evidence about how best to teach spelling. However, Ofsted’s research review does support the evidence we do have which points towards spelling being actively taught rather than simply tested. Harold Rosen once famously said to Donald Graves that ‘any idiot can tell a genius they’ve made a spelling mistake’ (Graves 1983). We are sure there are many readers who have experienced ridicule or been made to feel unintelligent simply because they were unable to spell conventionally. Unfortunately, these negative views still persist in society and have serious long-term consequences for an individual’s confidence and desire to write.

Therefore there are a number of ways in which teachers can improve children’s spelling. These include:

  • Providing prolific opportunities for them to write.
  • Providing prolific opportunities and time for them to read.
  • It’s important that teachers explicitly teach spelling. This includes balanced instruction which covers phonology, morphology, orthography and etymology (O’Sullivan 2000).
  • Explicit instruction in how to proof-read (Young et al. 2021) and giving them many sessions to get their manuscripts ‘reader ready’ prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2020). Part of proof-reading is obviously attending to your spellings. For example, children can be taught to circle any ‘temporary spellings’ (also known as unsure spellings, invented spellings or ‘sound spellings’) when drafting (Young et al. 2021). This reminds them to look up the conventional spelling when it comes time to proof-read.

Dictionaries are probably one of the worst places to go if you are trying to look up a spelling you don’t know, since their main function is to supply definitions for words. Instead, we can recommend that children use:

  • Word walls (a list of common words children should know how to spell are up on the wall).
  • Common word lists (x,10, x100, x1000).
  • Their friends.
  • The book they are reading.
  • Electronic devices (such as computers or tablets) which include speech or autocorrect facilities like Siri or Google.
  • Electronic spell checkers.
  • Phonic dictionaries like ACE.

Knowledge of grammar

Ofsted’s research review highlights grammar as one of the key cognitive resources, stated in The Science Of Writing, that children need to draw on to write successfully. Knowledge of purpose, audience and genre inevitably includes knowledge of the grammatical features writers employ when writing texts. The following are the areas of grammar we recommend teachers develop in their classrooms. This diagram is taken from The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Book Of Grammar Minilessons (Young & Ferguson 2021d):

As Ofsted rightly point out, grammar lessons should focus on the function and application of grammar within the context of writing. Teaching pupils grammar as part of writing lessons, emphasising the connections between linguistic features and the effects they can produce, can have a positive impact on children’s writing.

Knowledge of genre

Ofsted call this a number of different things throughout their research review. This can sometimes make it difficult to know what exactly their position is on the subject of genre knowledge. It’s also referred to as ‘discourse knowledge’, ‘form’ or ‘narrative structure’. For example, Ofsted seems to think that ‘purposes for writing’ can somehow be divorced from genre. Despite this confusion, and according to The Science Of Writing, genre knowledge is an essential knowledge base children need to draw on to write well. Genre knowledge includes the typical compositional, textual, linguistic, literary features genres employ or subvert (Bazerman 1994; Halliday 2013; Martin & Rose 2008; Young & Ferguson 2020).

Famed linguist Michael Halliday (2013) suggests that genres are made up of three interrelated meanings or ‘metafunctions’ which affect the type of language we use in our writing:

  • Ideational is our interest in expressing a reality or topic (whatever it may be).
  • Interpersonal is about negotiating this topic with our audience.
  • Textual is about how to best manage and present what it is we want to share.

These metafunctions can be mediated for children through Halliday’s concept of ‘register’, which is composed of field, tenor, and mode. 

  • Field is about sharing and discussing the type of activity children will be engaging in within the class writing project – the ‘what is going on’ and what ideas and topics are usually discussed or used within the genre. It involves the writer having knowledge, opinion, thoughts, creative artistry, stories, and/or reflections to share.
  • Tenor is about sharing and discussing with children their role as the writer and how they will relate to and interact with their reader.
  • Mode is about discussing how best to share their information in terms of structure, visual devices, modality, and organisation, and how best to publish or perform their writing.

Genre theorists argue that each genre has its own register. It’s recommended that teachers use the register features of a genre as a means to help children consider the publishing goal and then the product goals for a class project, and to generate rich conversation and discussion with their classes when reading mentor texts (Young & Hayden 2022). Indeed, this is one of the most effective practices a teacher of writing can employ (Young & Ferguson 2021a).
There is a profound link between reading and writing (Fitzgerald & Shanahan 2000; Graham 2020a, 2020b; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c, 2020; Proctor et al. 2020; Young & Ferguson 2022). Part of this reading/writing connection is giving children enough time and opportunity to read, discuss and study mentor texts which match the kind of writing they are being expected to produce. As part of their study, children and teacher together should formulate a list of ‘product goals’ for their writing. Product goals are a list of things the class believes they will need to do, include or attend to if they are to write a successful and meaningful piece of writing for their identified audience. Product goals should therefore include the typical compositional, textual, linguistic and literary features they could employ (Young & Hayden 2022). For example:

Here you’ll notice writer-teacher Tobias Hayden writes ‘see class poster’ next to some of the goals. This is to tell the children that they’ve already received a lesson on this ‘craft move’ (Young et al. 2021) this year and that there is a poster on display in the classroom which explains how to do it.

Again, this is one of the most effective instructional practices a teacher of writing can employ in the classroom (Young & Ferguson 2021) and it’s good to see Ofsted suggesting such practice to teachers in their review.

Content knowledge

The Science Of Writing identifies content knowledge (what Ofsted call in their review ‘topic knowledge’) as an essential cognitive resource writers need to draw from to write successfully. We know that when children are allowed to choose and access a topic they are familiar with and emotionally connected to, their writing performance improves and they produce higher quality texts (Langer 1984; McCutchen 1996; Ackerman 1991; Benton et al. 1995; Kellogg 2001; Olinghouse et al. 2015; Graham 2018; Young & Ferguson 2022c). This is because they access content which is already stored in their long-term memory, which then allows them to focus on what really matters – crafting the writing (Kellogg 1987). There are a number of ways teachers can help children access rich content knowledge in the writing classroom:

  • Explicitly teach idea generation techniques in writing lessons (Young & Ferguson 2022c). Idea generation techniques ensure all children are writing using rich and extensive content knowledge.
  • Invite children to write about their reading in reading lessons (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2022).
  • Invite children to write about what they are learning during lessons in the wider curriculum (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2022).

Sentence knowledge

Research has shown the benefits of sentence-level instruction (Keen 2004; Limpo & Alves 2013; Myhill 2018; Saddler et al. 2018, Saddler 2019; Walter et al. 2021). This includes explicitly teaching and modelling how to craft many different types of sentences, and is something that is highlighted by Ofsted in their research review too. We suggest that there are three main areas of syntax teachers would do well to focus on in helping children craft sentences. These are: focused sentences, balanced sentences and developed sentences. They are taken from The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Book Of Sentence-Level Minilessons (Young & Ferguson 2022d). 

According to The Science Of Writing, it’s important that teachers don’t isolate sentence-level instruction away from the other cognitive resources required for quality writing as this would be an instructional mistake (Kim & Park 2019). Good sentences and good writing are constructed in connection with the writer’s knowledge of genre, their content knowledge, and the purpose and audience they are writing for (Keen 2004; McClutchen 2011; Limpo & Alves 2013; Saddler et al. 2018; Saddler 2019; Walter et al. 2021). To routinely remove these things from your sentence-level instruction would therefore be counter-intuitive (Kim & Graham 2022; Harris 2022).

Process knowledge

Within their research review, Ofsted profitably share some (but not all) of the findings from repeated meta-analyses. For those who might not be familiar with the term, a meta-analysis is where a researcher will group many scientific studies on a particular subject, for example writing teaching, in order to identify recurring patterns. Ofsted include the following findings from the meta-analyses they reviewed: 

  • Using a ‘process approach’ to writing (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022)
  • Delivering direct instruction about ‘writerly knowledge’ and ensuring targeted contextualised practice (Young et al. 2021).
  • Encouraging pupils’ self-regulation, such as pupils monitoring their own performance (Young et al. 2021), setting goals for improvement (Young & Hayden 2022) and making self-assessments of their writing.
  • Opportunities to write frequently (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2022)
  • Opportunities to work cooperatively on different aspects of writing and stages of the writing process (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a).

Please see Young & Ferguson (2022) for a complete breakdown of meta-analysis findings.

The process approach involves pupils learning to generate ideas, plan, draft, revise, edit and publish their writing, and practising these processes repeatedly. Over time, and with increased experience, this develops pupils’ proficiency so, eventually, they apply their process knowledge independently (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). However, Ofsted rightly point out that focusing on teaching process knowledge alone is not sufficient. The fact is that process knowledge is only one of the 13 cognitive resources teachers need to develop (Young & Ferguson 2022b) and teaching the writing processes is only one of the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022).

Teachers can support children’s development of writers’ processes by planning class writing projects which further such understanding (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022). These projects should support a writing process which is developmentally appropriate. For example, in the The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Quick Guide To Teaching Writing With 3-5 Year Olds, they recommend using this kind of process:

(Young & Ferguson 2021b)

For children between 5-7, they recommend a process in keeping with something like:

(From Young & Ferguson 2021c)

Finally, they recommend a similar process for 7-11 year olds:

(From Young & Ferguson 2020)

Craft knowledge

One cognitive resource Ofsted signally fail to mention in their research review is ‘craft knowledge’ or what might be called ‘writerly knowledge’ (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). With this in mind, teachers will find it useful to consider the lessons we provide as part of our Big Book Of Writing Mini-Lessons: Lessons That Teach Powerful Craft Knowledge For 3-11 Year Olds (Young et al. 2021). In this book, we split writerly knowledge into eight distinct craft areas:

Our first category of lessons is Being Writers. These lessons give children essential instruction in the disciplines, behaviours, routines and dispositions of writers. They also focus on the social aspects of being a writer in a writing community, showing ways of talking, thinking, discussing and sharing  compositions with others, and presenting writing to a variety of audiences both in and out of school. However, they are also about setting goals and getting things done. For example, how to manage your time, how to regulate yourself and work independently, and how to stay focused and motivated.

Next, we have Generating Ideas. As discussed earlier, lessons in generating ideas are vital. Without them, children don’t find the necessary motivation and desire to write. Idea generation techniques teach children where and how writers begin. Children learn how to mine their thoughts, feelings, experiences, reading, knowledge and imaginative ideas for the rich and fruitful writing topics they want to pursue. 

Lessons in Organisation & Structure and Fluency often need to come next. These lessons help children take their ideas and the packages of images and thoughts from their head and get them onto paper (or screen) quickly and happily.

Next, we have mini-lessons which support children to Develop the substance and style of their initial pieces and to consider the Clarity & Accuracy of their written message; reflect on their Word Choices and attend to their Spellings. These mini-lessons help children enhance their compositions and prepare them for accurate publication or performance.

Self-regulation strategy development instruction

It was good to see that Ofsted’s research review recognises the power of self-regulation strategy development instruction (otherwise known as SRSD instruction). This is one of the most effective and the most validated type of instruction a teacher of writing can employ in the classroom (Harris et al. 2006; Graham et al. 2011; McQuitty, 2014; Koster et al. 2015; Sun et al. 2022). That’s why it appears as one of our 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022a, 2022b).

SRSD instruction is about teaching children strategies which enable them to be independent writers by using for themselves what they’ve been taught. All children, but particularly struggling or less experienced writers, need high-quality teaching and explicit instruction if they are to fulfil their potential as writers. This is why SRSD instruction works so well. The concept is simple. Teach your class one writerly technique, process or strategy (what we call a craft move) before inviting them to use the move for themselves in their writing that day. We recommend that teachers deliver instruction in keeping with SRSD when teaching ‘craft knowledge’ (Young et al. 2021), ‘sentence-level strategies’ (Young & Ferguson 2022d) and ‘functional grammar lessons’ (Young & Ferguson 2021d). 

SRSD instruction typically goes something like this:

Step One: Orientate
Remind the children of the class writing project you are currently working on. This includes checking they know what they are writing and who they are writing it for.
Step Two:Discuss
Introduce the craft move you want the children to try out in writing time today. Give the craft move a name. For example ‘show don’t tell’.Then be a salesperson. Tell your class why this craft move is so fantastic and how its use could transform their writing.Link the craft move to the class’ success criteria for the writing project (Young & Hayden 2022). For example: ‘show don’t tell’ is going to help us achieve ‘share your characters’ feelings’, which is on our success criteria.
Step Three:Share Models or Model Live
Share models. Show children examples of where other writers have used this craft move in their writing. There should certainly be an example of where you’ve used the craft move in your own writing. You should also show examples from other recreational or commercial authors and/or from other students’ writing. Invite children to ask you questions.
Or
Model using the craft move live in front of your class. Share some of the writing you are currently working on and show how you’re going to use the craft move to enhance your writing. Invite children to ask you questions.
Step Four:Provide Information 
We always recommend turning your instruction into a poster or resource which the children can refer to throughout writing time. This helps them memorise the craft move and any conventions it might involve. For example, you might make a poster to accompany a lesson on punctuating speech. The poster can almost always be pre-prepared to save time and can remain up in the classroom over many days, weeks or even months. Children will be showing independent, self-regulating behaviour every time they consult the poster.
Step Five:Invite
Invite children to use the technique during that day’s writing time.Monitor children’s use of the craft move during your daily pupil-conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).Sometimes you might feel you want your children to practise the strategy prior to using it in their own writing. However, in all honesty, we find this is rarely necessary.
Step Six:Evaluate
You can invite children to share how they used the craft move in their writing during class sharing and Author’s Chair (Young & Ferguson 2020). If you have noticed a student who has used the craft move in a particularly powerful, innovative or sophisticated way during your pupil-conferencing, you should invite that child to share their writing with the class. The class can then discuss their friend’s writing and its impact.

If your teaching of these craft moves is well-planned and, above all, responsive to what your pupils need instruction in most, then, over time, children will internalise these strategies for themselves and so become confident, agentic, personally responsible and independent writers (Young & Ferguson 2020; Young et al. 2021).

It’s important to remember that the stages shared above constitute a good guide. However, teachers should also feel free to experiment with them if they want to. The professional judgement made by a particular teacher might be that a certain stage could be omitted altogether and that another stage might need more time devoted to it. For example, some teachers like children to practise the craft move prior to using it in their own writing, while others find this an unnecessary distraction. Some like to model the craft move live, and create their poster in front of their class, while others like to have made their poster prior to the lesson, or to share writing they have already crafted.

Motivation

Strangely, Ofsted decide to focus on only one aspect of children’s affective needs in their review: motivation. However, The Science Of Writing is clear that children need to be knowledgeable of all the affective needs writers rely on. These needs include: self-efficacy, self-regulation, agency, motivation, volition and writer-identity.

(Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022)

Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is about the child writer feeling a sense of confidence in their abilities to be successful at producing the writing they want to. They have a strong self-concept and a ‘can do’ attitude. Self-efficacy can be manifested in two prominent ways.

  • Mastery – developing themselves as writers because they want to become better writers over time.
  • Performance – developing a good piece of writing because they want to show their competence.

Teachers can help improve children’s sense of self-efficacy by employing the following strategies:

  • Enacting a ‘mastery through repeated practice’ orientation towards writing progress rather than a high-stakes performance perspective.
  • Give children regular opportunities to share what they are crafting with their friends.
  • Establish a publishing goal with the children for class writing projects.
  • Let children hear the impact their writing has had on their readership.
  • Set product goals for class writing projects in collaboration with your students (Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Set a clear process goal for each writing session.
  • Have a clear daily routine of instruction, writing time and class sharing (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021b, 2021c).
  • Deliver writing instruction which is in response to your class’ needs. Enact a ‘teach and invite’ routine for instruction (Young et al. 2021).
  • Undertake daily pupil-conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).

Agency. Agency is about young writers feeling a sense of ownership and personal control over the writing they are working on. It’s about feeling they have some agency over what they write about and how they go about writing it. They need to feel they can generate their own ideas for class and personal writing projects and can have some choice over their own writing process.

Teachers can help improve children’s sense of agency by employing the following strategies:

  • Actively teach children idea generation techniques (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
  • Invite children to share with you what they feel they need writing instruction in most (Young et al. 2021).
  • Invite children to come up with the publishing goal for class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022).
  • Provide opportunities for children to pursue their own personal writing projects at home and at school (Young & Ferguson 2021f).
  • Over time, and as children’s expertise increases, give them agency over their own writing process (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • Invite children to participate in setting the product goals for a class writing project (Young & Hayden 2022).

Self-regulation. Self-regulation is about feeling a sense of independence and competence. However, self-regulation shouldn’t be misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that the young writer must somehow work alone or solve any writing problems in isolation. It means children know what to do when they don’t know what to do. For example, this can include seeking out and using the support of resources, the working environment, and their friends (what’s called co-regulation).

Teachers can help improve children’s sense of self-regulation by employing the following strategies:

  • Create an environment where children can write and talk together.
  • Make writing resources readily available.
  • Teach and have on display the typical writing processes writers use to take a germ of an idea through to successful publication or performance (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • Teach children self-regulation writing strategies (Young et al. 2021).

Motivation. There are many different types of motivation that can be felt in the classroom. They all involve children knowing the value of writing and of being a writer. They are also about children knowing for themselves why they are crafting the writing they are crafting.

  • Attainment motivation – feeling a sense of wanting to write the best text they can.
  • Utility motivation – feeling a sense that learning about writing will be important in the future.
  • Intrinsic motivation – feeling a sense of personal enjoyment and satisfaction from producing the writing they are working on.
  • External motivation – feeling a sense of external pressure or punishment if they don’t produce their best writing. Alternatively, knowing a reward will be given for producing the best writing they can.
  • Situational motivation – feeling a sense of excitement about writing from those around them in class.

Teachers can help improve children’s motivation by employing the following strategies:

  • Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022).
  • Teach writerly techniques and processes through self-regulation strategy instruction. Ensure you explain why the technique will be useful to children before inviting them to use and apply the technique in the context of their developing composition (Young et al. 2021).
  • Ensure children have opportunities to pursue their own personal writing projects at home and at school (Young & Ferguson 2021e).
  • Show enthusiasm for children’s compositions through your daily pupil-conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).

Volition. Volition is about having a deep need, desire, urge or internal compulsion to write. Children with a volition to write will use what they’ve learnt about writing in ways that children without volition won’t (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

Teachers can help improve children’s feelings of volition by employing the following strategies:

  • Establish publishing goals for class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022).
  • Provide children with an opportunity to pursue their own personal writing projects away from the demands of class projects (Young & Ferguson 2021e).
  • Develop yourself as an enthusiastic writer-teacher (Young & Ferguson 2020).

Writer-identity. Writer-identity is about having belief in yourself as an agentic writer, a writer who carries with them a strong writer’s voice and discipline. A child’s writer-identity is inseparable from their racial and cultural identities. It is also about the identity children share with their teacher and peers as a community of writers who work to create meaningful and successful texts together, texts which can reflect the identities of the classroom and beyond (Young et al. 2022).

Teachers can help improve children’s sense of writer-identity by employing the following strategies:

  • Invite children to generate their own writing ideas based on their funds of knowledge, funds of identity (Young & Ferguson 2022b; Young et al. 2021) and funds of language (Ferguson & Young 2022).
  • Help children learn the writer’s discipline by putting in place a reassuringly consistent routine for daily writing (Young & Ferguson 2020; Young & Ferguson 2021b, 2021c).
  • Teach children about the writer’s life by being a writer yourself. Engage in practices which encourage you to be a writer-teacher (The UKLA 2022).
  • Teach children techniques which encourage them to engage in intertextuality (Young & Ferguson 2020, Young et al. 2021).
  • Enact the principles of Writing Realities (Young et al. 2022).

Pupils writing about their reading

It was pleasing to see Ofsted highlight the importance of the writing/reading connection. For example, they share how children should study and discuss ‘the craft of the writer’ (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a; The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022). They suggest that time should be spent discussing why writers write, and why they are moved to write too. Students should look at how writers use or subvert the typical features of common genres (Young & Hayden 2022). Importantly, they explain how students should write in personal response to their reading (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022).

Students should also be routinely invited to ‘leapfrog’ off texts they have read and enjoyed by creating their very own pieces ‘in inspiration’. This concept is called using intertextuality (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022, The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022). What we write is influenced by our reading, our play, the things we watch and listen to, the video games we play and our various life experiences. These texts not only affect what we write but how we write it and who we are as writers (Parry & Taylor 2018; Dobson & Stephenson 2020; Rosen 2017; Taylor & Clarke 2020; Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a). For intertextuality to be successful, it requires classroom libraries to be full of diverse texts, and young people must be able to respond with agency to the texts they read, in both individual and collective ways. Through this process of intertextuality, children can create new texts and push the boundaries of genre in novel ways. This is because, as writers, the texts we read often inspire us to write our own texts in response. In the process, we make new meaning not only for ourselves but, through publication or performance, for others too. For example, a teacher could invite children to create picture books, short stories or poems in response to the picture books, short stories or poems they most like to read. Alternatively, children could each write short stories in personal response to a short story shared as a whole class. Older learners (such as those in secondary schools) might also write for younger learners (such as those in primary schools) in their community, connecting children across age groups and schools as well as across genres. This would result in thirty plus different stories being crafted and then shared, and so children would extend their understanding of the original text in a deeply personal and collective way.

To provide further exemplification, using the work of Scardamalia & Bereiter, Young & Ferguson (2021a) and Young et al. (2022) show how, with increased experience, young writer’s personal responses and intertextual efforts move from ‘knowledge-telling’ to ‘knowledge-crafting’.

(Taken from Young et al. 2022)

In the early stages of their writing development,  young writers see themselves at the centre, stating and making a record of all they know, remember or interpret about a topic or book (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1987). However, the writer’s presence is not overtly visible. In the transition from knowledge-telling to knowledge-transforming, the writer writes in their own voice and style, mixing knowledge with a personal response and transforming it into something new, valuable and personally meaningful. Finally, when writers craft their knowledge with readers’ needs in mind, they contribute to the building of their readers’ knowledge and understanding as well. This is what Scardamalia & Bereiter (2003) rightly call creating community knowledge.

Assessment

Formative assessment

Ofsted note the amount of research supporting the positive impact formative assessment has on pupils’ achievement. Writing is no exception (Graham et al. 2015; Young & Ferguson 2021f). Formative assessment is about obtaining valuable information to make your teaching more effective and efficient. Assessment-based instruction is about:

  • Children finding out what makes a piece of writing successful and meaningful (Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Children being involved in setting writing goals (Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Teachers providing daily writing lessons that are responsive to what their class needs instruction in most (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2021f).
  • Teachers providing feedback, through pupil-conferencing, that is responsive to what their pupils need instruction in most (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  • Children crafting their writing because they have an emotional investment in it being the best it can be (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022).

Taken from Young & Ferguson (2021f), we see how important on-going assessment focused on pupils achieving writing goals is to high-quality writing teaching. 

Pupil-conferencing

Pupil-conferencing is a highly effective way of responding to a child’s immediate needs and teaching them exactly what they need to learn at that particular moment, with the crucial understanding that the purpose of the conference is to help children become better writers (Ferguson & Young 2021).

Research specific to the teaching of writing demonstrates that consistently clear, timely and meaningful feedback delivered to individuals, most often through a pupil conference, leads to academic improvement and high attainment on a long-term basis (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). The affective impact on pupils of this kind of feedback is also highlighted in the research, which shows that it contributes in great measure to feelings of confidence and motivation, helps create a positive self-belief and the willingness to persevere, and gives the writer a sense of happiness and well-being.

Research also suggests that verbal feedback given when children are actually engaged in writing is more effective than written marking after the event (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). A teacher conferencing with a pupil is in a unique position to give constructive feedback and relevant instruction based on what the pupil tells them about their goals and intentions for their writing that day.

Product goals

Ofsted highlight the importance of teachers setting clear product and process goals for writing lessons (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). It’s important that children know what they need to do before a writing session is over and, critically, how to do it (Kellogg 2008; Hayden 2021; Boyd et al. 2020, Boyd & Veenis 2021; Maynard & Young 2022; Young & Ferguson; Young & Ferguson 2021f; Young & Hayden 2022). 

Ofsted share good research-informed advice on this. 

  • They explain how teachers shouldn’t be generating success criteria for a class writing project away from their pupils who will ultimately have to use and apply them. Instead, teachers should produce success criteria in partnership with their class and only after the class has had an opportunity to read and discuss a variety of mentor texts (Young & Hayden 2022). 
  • Teachers must appreciate that they are the most experienced writer in the room when devising success criteria for a class writing project and must make their own contributions to the success criteria. They also need to ensure that their decisions are informed by needs of the curriculum (Young & Ferguson 2021f; Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Mentor texts should match the expectations for a class writing project. For example, if the teacher wants their class to write great short stories, they need to ensure they are sharing a variety of great short stories with them. Sharing a novel would, obviously, be inappropriate. The same goes for non-fiction. If the expectation is for children to write great one-page information texts, it’s only right that children should see what great one-page information texts look like.
  • They explain how it can be unhelpful to give different pupils in the class different success criteria (Young & Ferguson 2021f).
  • They recognise how skilful a teacher must be to ensure that any success criteria they generate with their class doesn’t become a strait-jacket, resulting in children slavishly ‘writing by numbers’ (Young & Ferguson 2021f; Young & Hayden 2022).

Summative assessment

Unfortunately for assessment designers, writing is a process and not an event (Hoffman 2003; Wohlwend 2009; Au & Gourd 2013; Hansen 2013; Locke 2015; Barrs 2019; Young & Ferguson 2021f; Young & Ferguson 2022). How the DfE decides to assess writing tells you a lot about their views of the craft of writing, and of course their feelings towards apprentice writers. It also has profound effects on the methodology and writing pedagogy of the teaching profession. It influences the way things are taught. Therefore, what is deemed important in assessment will inevitably direct the way teachers teach. This can actually be the strength of any assessment system, but ‘single-shot-perfect-product’ tests that are used with assessment methods such as comparative judgement simply don’t encourage good writing instruction.

The main issue with writing tests is that they are too narrow and insensitive to measure the thirteen cognitive resources identified by The Science Of Writing. For example, writing is a social act of meaning making and meaning sharing. When students are faced with a prompt that has a pseudo-purpose or inauthentic context then their writing simply won’t represent their normal writing output.

Predefined writing stimuli, so common with tests, go against what research says pupils require to write at their best: writing with a focus on their audience and purpose, and being able to construct their texts over time using a variety of recursive writing processes (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2021f, 2022). 

Tests force pupils to write on predefined content. If you find yourself lucky enough to know a lot about the content in the prompt (for example, you’ve been fortunate enough to go to a theme park), you are at an advantage over a peer who doesn’t. We know that the amount of content knowledge a student can draw on has a significant and direct impact on their ability to produce quality writing (Langer 1984; McCutchen 1996; Ackerman 1991; Benton et al. 1995; Kellogg 2001; Olinghouse et al. 2015; Graham 2018; Young & Ferguson 2022c). In addition, by generating the idea on a student’s behalf, we are immediately unable to assess their ability to generate ideas. A vital aspect of a writer’s development goes unassessed. 

How motivated a pupil is by a prompt will also affect the quality of their writing (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022). Beyond this, you also need to consider whether a writing test favours writers who like to write for a single long period, are able to write to one type of writing process, have a higher threshold for stress, and possess a greater level of social maturity (Young & Ferguson 2022).

Under test conditions, children are not given enough time to engage in the recursive and time consuming processes involved in writing (processes which are fundamental to how good writers write) and so their ability to plan, research, revise and proof-read can’t be realistically assessed.

In order to shed light on evaluation within our culture of tests, Townsend and colleagues (1997) studied two students’ writing portfolios. In each case, when the teacher, parent, and child sat down with the child’s portfolio, they saw clear improvement in the compositions, and everyone, especially the children, articulated that they noticed changes in quality, length, and level of enjoyment. Traditional tests or more modern manifestations like comparative judgement can’t provide this amount of quality and depth of information (Hansen & Kissel 2013; Young & Ferguson 2021f).

Writing tests simply tell us that some children are better able to write test answers than others. They don’t tell us how good they are at writing and being writers. 

Assessment at its best has what is called ‘consequential validity’. This means the assessment gathers a variety of information, at diverse times, and under differing circumstances (Young & Ferguson 2021f). It establishes connections between assessment, policy and teaching practice. We need an assessment that can adequately assess children’s ability to draw in the thirteen cognitive resources involved in writing and being a writer (Young & Ferguson 2022). Assessment such as this, throughout primary school, would be better than undertaking a writing test because it will give information about a student’s development as a writer and importantly gives teachers plenty of opportunity to act on what is discovered.

Despite educational research stating for a long time that the focus should be on children’s processes and not exclusively on their writing products (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022), it’s supremely ironic that writing tests historically ignore this. It means, through testing, you’re teaching children a misconception about how writing is crafted.

The idea that there is a test that can provide exactly what you need to know, that can guide future teaching, and be easy to administer and interpret, is erroneous. Such a test simply doesn’t exist. The ultimate goal of assessment should always be to improve teaching. The current test prompts provided by such assessment systems as comparative judgement are therefore unsuitable and would only encourage teachers to teach misconceptions about writing. They would not serve the desired purpose of improving children’s learning about the craft of writing (McCann & Knapp 2019; Young & Ferguson 2021f).

Essential aspects of writing development which were omitted or underdeveloped

The orientation that teachers and schools take towards writing development matters (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022; Young 2022) as does having a clear school vision (Graham 2022; Young 2022). In addition, schools need a clear understanding of how children’s writing develops over time (Young & Ferguson 2021f). At no point does the review share information about the sort of physical or social environments most conducive for writing nor does it share how children’s beliefs, emotions, personality traits and psychological states can impact their writerly development (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2022, 2022b). While the review mentions the importance of students being knowledgeable about their audience, it fails to share the research on how to develop children’s inference, perspective taking and theory of mind for writing (Kim & Schatschneider 2017; Kim & Park 2019; Kim 2020; Kim & Graham 2022; Young & Ferguson 2022b). 

In relation to the suggestions Ofsted make around effective writing teaching, they fail to explicitly mention the following principles of world-class writing teaching:

  • Build a community of writers
  • Treat every child as a writer
  • There is no advice on how to develop multilingual students’ writing (Ferguson & Young 2022)
  • There is no advice on how to support older inexperienced writers or children with SEND
  • There is no advice on how to support writers with social and emotional disorders
  • Pursue personal writing projects
  • Balance composition and transcription
  • Be a writer-teacher

For more information see the specific chapters in Young & Ferguson (2022).

Finally, it’s staggering to think that Ofsted have relied so heavily on the cognitive model The Simple View Of Writing (Berninger et al. 2002b) when we have much more contemporary research available and an ever more complete view of the cognitive (and social) resources required for writing and being a writer (Graham 2018; Kim & Graham 2022). The latest research explained in The Science Of Writing shows that what’s shared in Ofsted’s review falls short of being able to develop excellent writers. Writing actually involves utilising and drawing on at least 13 different cognitive resources simultaneously. In Ofsted’s narrow model  vital cognitive resources have inevitably been overlooked. The historical writing underachievement of pupils in English schools therefore looks set to continue.

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  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021c) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In KS1 Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021d) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Grammar Mini-Lessons For 5-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
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  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022d) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Sentence-Level Instruction: Lessons That Help Children Find Their Style And Voice Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
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