Spot the Difference

The two following extracts are taken from entirely different documents. Before I start ranting, take a look at them, and try to discern which demands the greater challenge:

aqa ks2

Now, chances are that you recognised at least one set of statements, but putting that knowledge aside, how clear is it which is the more demanding?

For example, if I were to point out that one is the expected standard for KS2 (i.e. a list of things that a child must be able to do at age 11 to reach the expected standard – for which 85% of children are meant to be aiming) and the other is the writing descriptors for a mid- to high-range GCSE grade (i.e. an outline of the expectations of a student somewhere around the expected standard at age 16), would it be clear which was which?

I’d imagine that some of the expectations give it away: its unlikely to see handwriting mentioned in the GCSE paper, and for some reason choosing appropriate content doesn’t seem to matter at age 11. But is the demand really different enough to recognise a further 5 years of education?

If a child is able to make some use of semi-colons, dashes, colons and hyphens at age 11, is it really any different to be using a range of punctuation at age 16?

Is spelling irregular words correctly any different from generally accurate spelling (bearing in mind that the list of words for KS2 includes accommodate, embarrass, mischievous and yacht)?

And how is it that accurate sentence demarcation falls in the upper range of GCSE performance, but is only “working towards the expected standard” for 11-year-olds/

Now, you might argue that the GCSE criteria are too simple. I might even agree with you. But overall – given the higher level of demand of the task and other things, it seems like it might be a reasonable aim for a majority of 16-year-olds, given that 65% are expected to meet the new Grade 4 standard initially. But is the list of expectations for 11-year-olds really realistic?

So much for 4b-equivalence

When the new National Curriculum assessments were initially explained, we were told that the expectation for 11-year-olds would rise to be in line with what had previously been a “good level 4”, or a level 4b. This list for KS2 bears no resemblance to such a list.

As we’ve changed from best-fit measure to a non-negotiable one, it strikes me that the most straightforward way of drawing a comparison would be to look at the old Level 4 writing criteria. In the past it would be enough to get ‘most’ of these elements secured to reach a level 4, so presumably to be a ‘good level 4’, you would expect to see all of them. But what sort of a list would that leave us with?

I’d suggest something like this:


And it’s notable that of those children who were securing this ‘good level’, some 72% of them were going on to get 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths. That seems like a pretty good figure to me, if the current aim is for around 65%. So why the massive ramping up of demand?

An effort to be seen to be raising the bar?

A scheme to force more primary schools to convert to academy status?

Or just sheer incompetence?

For those interested, the GCSE criteria are taken from the AQA Specimen Markscheme for its new-style GCSE, and can be found at

I should thank @sputniksteve for bringing the document to my attention.


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10 thoughts on “Spot the Difference

  1. cazzypot2013 9 November 2015 at 9:40 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. abusyperson 9 November 2015 at 9:43 pm Reply

    Agree with your assessment of the the KS2 content. Suspect it’s a way to either force schools to academise or perhaps to show them as failing so that as schools take up the slack and train children in the new requirements (like they do) the government can give the credit for this to the new Primary curriculum.

  3. Joanne K 9 November 2015 at 9:49 pm Reply

    I don’t see a huge amount of difference in the statements, to be frank. I teach upper KS2, and the challenge in terms of technical understanding is taking away from the enjoyment of writing. A nine year old child doesn’t want to know the difference between a relative clause, a subordinate clause and a dependent clause-they just want to know if it needs commas and where they should go. My understanding of the Level 4 equivalence was more in regards to the numbers of pupils achieving the standard rather than the skills needed for the standard itself. By that, I mean that the percentage of pupils nationally achieving level 4 would be matched by the percentage of pupils nationally reaching the ‘expected’ standard, so that data analysis such as that done by FFT Aspire could still be useful and comparable. One also has to wonder what exactly ‘Mastery’ would have looked like, if GCSE and KS2 statements bear such similarity, before it was replaced with ‘working at greater depth within’? Perhaps our KS2 ‘Masters’ could just simply take their GCSE in Year 6 and remove the need to study it again? It will be interesting to see, in the long term, the impact that these changes will have to standards. At least the floor standard remains at 65% next year to allow for the pupils who have only been taught two years of the 2014 National Curriculum. An interesting and thought-provoking post, thank you.

  4. julietgreen 9 November 2015 at 10:14 pm Reply

    Actually, I’m sick of seeing descriptors with the presumption we can use them to assess. Writers like yourself and others have pretty much established that we can’t. We might benefit from examples of what to teach. We have to reverse engineer that.

  5. jamestheo 9 November 2015 at 10:59 pm Reply

    Interesting, although I would add a caveat to the GCSE descriptors that they rarely actually mean what they say and have to be clarified by examiners in greater detail, which often contradicts what the descriptors actually say.

    And looking at the two from the point of view of a GCSE teacher and has worked with GCSE descriptors from all different exam boards and specifications, the descriptors for the KS2 level DO look like something that would be of a lot lower banding than the GCSE one. It may not appear that way to you, but believe me, you get used to seeing these things.

    • Michael Tidd 9 November 2015 at 11:09 pm Reply

      I suspect that there is much truth in that, but honestly, given the heavy GPS focus of KS2, how can those descriptors at KS4 be comparable?
      *Mostly* accurate sentence demarcation?
      *Generally* accurate spelling?
      I’m certain that the KS4 content and context makes a massive difference, but we’re not allowed any credit for that it seems. And nor are we allowed ‘best fit’ leeway.

      As always, it will come down to the exemplification, but I fear that they have forced so much into the KS2 descriptors that there is no salvaging them at a meaningful level.
      I mean, can you imagine if 85% of your Year 7s arrived able to do all of that across a range of writing? Surely you’d have them all at top grades by Y11?

      • jamestheo 10 November 2015 at 10:46 pm Reply

        By the way, I’m not disagreeing with you. Just pointing out how crap level descriptors are at GCSE, and how exam boards often have to explain them in detail that often contradicts the descriptors themselves. Terms like ‘mostly’ or ‘generally’ mean absolutely nothing to the people that write them. It’s an utter shambles.

        Yes, I think a better comparison will be in exemplification. I’m sure your point might still be proved. I could send you some exemplar writing from exam boards, if you wish.

  6. Edward Burton 10 November 2015 at 8:07 pm Reply

    Thank God for this community of mindful teachers, actually interested in pedagogy rather than status, career-advancement & bureaucracy. I’m only able to continue in this poisonous career because of the children & people who care about the art and science of teaching & learning. (Blimey, surprised myself a bit there – better calm down and mark some books. And best not think about how much impact that’ll have on their learning, eh?)

  7. Kate Cameron 11 November 2015 at 8:44 pm Reply

    I read these out to my not-in-the-education-sector husband and his assessment was that the KS2 one was more demanding (without knowing which was which). This is a huge problem across the English curriculum – exemplified neatly by the fact that the speaking and listening objectives are the same across every year group. Its nearly as bad in KS2 where the objectives are the same for Years 3&4 and 5&6 leaving it very much open to interpretation exactly how far the Year 3 and 5 teachers need to get them. We’ve taken matters into our own hands on this one and are using Pie Corbett’s progression for writing which is peppered all the way through with examples, making it really clear for teachers (most of whom were not taught terminology and grammar themselves particularly well, if at all). For reading we’ve taken each objective and tried to exemplify what it means in each year group – largely using the old APP descriptive statements.

    Happy to share if they are of any use. Pie Corbett’s stuff is on the Talk for Writing website:

  8. sputniksteve 15 November 2015 at 8:10 pm Reply


    Thanks for the name check.

    I agree that the statements look very similar, but I also agree with Jamestheo to some extent. Having worked with GCSE for many years, one starts to understand what the criteria statements are after.

    Having said that, these are criteria for the new GCSE, and frankly, no-one really knows yet what they’re going to look like. It will take a couple of years for that to bed in.

    I also expect the GCSE to change again by the time the current KS2 kids work their way through to that level, perhaps with a greater focus on grammar.

    What I can say, is that the focus on grammar in KS2 *should* have a positive impact on what what these kids will be able to do in KS3 and, of course, at GCSE level. It will also have a positive impact on their work at A Level English Language.

    We really have neglected grammar in recent decades, and that’s to our shame.

    But, what this blog post is really highlighting is how useless grade descriptors are.

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