Review of Maths KS2 SATs 2017: the Good, the Bad and the Even Better If

By Sophie Bessemer 

What did teachers think of the KS2 Maths SATs 2017? Find out poll results of teachers' reactions to the 2017 National Assessments, how Year 6 pupils found the KS2 Arithmetic and Reasoning SATs papers, and what Year 6 teachers and Headteachers say they'll do differently to prepare for SATs next year.

So they're finally over for another year! Now we can start looking at exactly what the KS2 SATs Maths papers offered our Year 6 this week? How did the children find them, were they prepared or not and of course, did the examiners throw in any of their usual curve balls to unsettle even the most able?

To answer these questions we sent a survey this week to the 550 schools we’ve worked with this year providing 1-to-1 Maths tuition in preparation for SATs. We also asked our teacher networks on Twitter and Facebook, and, of course, we received input from our Maths and Wellbeing Year 6 Teacher consultant That Boy Can Teach.

So, with due deference to the DfE rules on discussing test content, here are the results of our 2017 SATs review and the reactions of teachers and SLT across the country.

Update - Now the DfE embargo has been lifted, take a look at our detailed content analysis of this year's SATs: The bluffer's guide to 2017 Maths SATs: 15 lessons learnt

Level of difficulty of the KS2 SATs Maths Papers 2017

Overall the complaints were not as vociferous as last year… 

As That Boy Can Teach says:

“From social media, the reaction seems to have been more positive with words like “fairer” and “kinder” being bandied around a lot. The decision from the STA announced in April to restructure the tests in order to make the earlier questions easier (so as to not demoralise children) certainly helped. Alongside any changes that have been made, and the normal variations in how easy the tests are (anyone familiar with past papers will know it has always fluctuated), I think we must remind ourselves that this year we were better prepared.”


2017 SATs Arithmetic Paper looked similar to last year

Of the respondents to our poll of schools using Third Space Learning’s 1-to-1 tutors, 59% thought the level of difficulty of the KS2 SATs Arithmetic Paper was about the same with only 20% thinking it was more difficult than last year.

While the sequencing of the questions in this Arithmetic paper had changed from 2016’s SATs test and the sample materials, the style was still fairly similar. 

It was still quite a feat of stamina and speed to get through it all in the time, especially as there were more questions, but provided you’d covered the topics and had good mental maths recall, the feedback generally was that it wasn’t too bad. 

Did you download our 3 free practice Year 6 Maths test papers for this year's SATs? Tweet us at @thirdspacetweet and tell us, do you feel they matched up to the actual papers?

What did Year 6 teachers have to say?

“There seemed to be a lot more crammed into the time given. The children had an awful lot of work to do in the time provided and many of ours struggled with the time limits.”
Y6 Teacher

“Couple of questions in the middle of the paper worth one mark to stall the pupils.”
Y6 Teacher, Magdalen Gates Primary

“Arithmetic seemed to have been harder much sooner in the test compared to last year.”
Y6 Teacher

“The arithmetic was mostly straightforward for children who have a firm grasp of the 4 rules.” 
Y6 Teacher


2017 SATs Reasoning Papers "OK"

70% of Third Space Learning’s school respondents thought the SATs Reasoning Paper 1 was about the same level of difficulty as last year, with the remainder fairly evenly split between those who thought them easier, and those who thought them more difficult. 

Many of the reactions to Reasoning 1 it appears focused on chickens, cats and somersaults - a heady combination...

As That Boy Can Teach says:

One has to take one's hat off to the creativity of the test-writers: how do they come up with so many new ways of presenting the questions?

SATs Reasoning Paper 2 contained a very good run of fairly straightforward questions, although the latter third of the test seemed to ramp up in difficulty and children struggled to finish in time. There seems to be some agreement that this was the harder of the two reasoning papers. More aspects of the 'new' curriculum appeared to be present this year too, proving that an incremental change to what's tested is taking place.

Don’t forget that your current Year 6 cohort have only been working under the new curriculum since they were in Year 4. 

Feedback from Year 6 teachers:

“Despite the reasoning papers not being particularly more difficult overall than previous years' tests some children will have struggled with them as they have not yet benefited enough from a whole-school curriculum which emphasises fluency, problem solving and reasoning.”
That Boy Can Teach 

“There were definitely some red herrings in there that increased cognitive demand.”
Y6 Teacher

“Fair. Nothing out of the ordinary. Careful reading always required!”
Y6 Teacher 


How well prepared were the nation’s Year 6 pupils for KS2 SATs Maths? 

As you’d expect, a lot of our focus at Third Space Learning this Year has been on the pupils who have been receiving specific SATs preparation with us, many from the beginning of the Autumn Term. After the first iteration of the new-style SATs tests last summer, we focused on providing much more practice SATs-style questions with their 1-to-1 tutors. 

The reactions from the teachers we polled have born this out - 96% agreed that Third Space Learning’s weekly 1-to-1 Maths tuition had been an effective preparation for SATs. Even those schools who haven’t used our interventions, it seems felt more prepared than last Year.

As That Boy Can Teach puts it:

“Last year’s tests were so difficult that we have all raised our game as teachers, teaching more and more difficult concepts and skills, even when we believe that children shouldn’t have to sit these test or know some of these things at their age. We’ve also had the benefit of more SATs-focused resources and test papers (including those from Third Space Learning) which we know to be fit for purpose and in line with the new style tests."


What did pupils struggle with on the KS2 SATs 2017?

Drilling down into the detail of the survey results we received it’s clear that there are 4 things in particular that pupils struggled with:

1. Timing and Stamina

“There seemed to be a lot more crammed into the time given. The children had an awful lot of work to do in the time provided and many of ours struggled with the time limits.”
Y6 Teacher

Wednesday was a particular challenge for some with two papers in one morning.

2. Complex language in the questions

“Some questions have been fine whilst others seem to be worded in a complex way.”
Y6 Teacher

This was especially but not exclusively an issue for EAL pupils. “Many of the reasoning questions were set up so children had to read between the lines which many found difficult,” is a sentiment echoed by several. Also, we heard “trying to catch children out,” (Headteacher, MK) and questions worded “to trip pupils up,” (Blake Prince, Maths SL, Ingleton Primary School).

3. Reasoning and problem solving

Interestingly there seems to be much less of the ‘shock’ around the level of reasoning required compared to last year, but there is an acknowledgement that work still needs to be done in school to get up to the standard required and give pupils as much practice as possible.

“There were definitely some red herrings thrown in that increased the cognitive demand.”
Y6 Teacher

“The first reasoning paper began well but got quite hard very quickly - questions presented in a form not seen before.”
Y6 Teacher

4. Dominance of one curriculum topic

I think we all know what this is, but DfE rules withstanding, we’ll focus more on this when the embargo's lifted on 22nd May and we follow up with more specific content detail! Suffice to say, if your pupils weren’t as strong in this area, they would have found the Arithmetic paper in particular very tricky.

Now booking for Autumn

Y6 SATs Foundation Programme

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Find out more!

What would you do differently to prepare your Year 6 for SATs 2018? 

The responses from teachers to this question from our survey were remarkably similar, and, useful we hope for when the dust’s settled and your parties are over.

1. Start interventions and SATs preparation in September

Here's what teachers had to say:

“Administer sample tests to Year 5 during Summer 2 to give a starting point and baseline”. (Y6 teacher)

"Start preparing children earlier by helping them to see the different ways that questions can be worded. Work on speed from earlier in the academic year." (Y6 teacher)

“I would begin interventions in the autumn term rather than waiting for January.” (Y6 teacher)

Third Space Learning are preparing specific free Year 5 Diagnostic Tests (out by 18th May) so do sign up here if you want to receive these and understand exactly what your pupils’ gaps are.

We’ve been saying for a long time that early and timely interventions are the most effective. We encourage schools to start our 1-to-1 tuition with pupils who are falling behind in Maths in Year 3 or Year 4 to really make a difference. 

But, if you’re only looking at Year 6, Autumn’s the time to start according to teachers polled. We deliberately start our Year 6 SATs Foundation Programme (weekly 1-to-1 interventions) in September in order to spend that first term plugging pupils’ gaps, developing their confidence and starting out their question practice. 

2. Introduce SATs style questions and revision earlier eg to Year 5 and in Autumn

The need for intervention at an earlier age was clear:

“More SATs style problems from the start of the year to introduce many question styles.” (Y6 Teacher)

“I will start with the arithmetic tests much earlier.”  (Y6 Teacher)

“Teach reasoning skills from the start of Year 6.” (Y6 Teacher)

“Start the Year 5s off earlier in revision in the summer term working alongside the Year 6.” (Marie Corbett, Teacher)

Our 1-to-1 interventions include over 900+ SATs style questions which pupils can work through with their tutor during each Year 6 lesson. The questions are differentiated as working towards, meeting or exceeding levels so that pupils of all ability levels get the practice they need without being disillusioned in attempting questions they’re not ready for.

3. Continue to work on reasoning and mastery skills

Many people suggested driving improvement in reasoning and mastery skills:

“I would include further reasoning practice external to the normal Maths lessons - coverage of 3 or 4 step problems." (Y6 Teacher & Maths Lead, Thornley Close Primary School)

“Still trying to catch up on reasoning.” (Y6 Teacher)

“Spend more time on reasoning preparation.” (Leanne, Teacher, Chase Lane Primary)

Many pupils still struggle with reasoning, and as we know it’s a key part of developing the fluency required for a mastery approach to mathematics. That's one of the reasons our interventions are 1-to-1 - it gives pupiles the opportunity to develop their reasoning skills and talk through their understanding with a tutor.  

4. Ensure each pupil is secure with concepts for each year group before Year 6

While a large proportion recommended securing knowledge earlier down the line:

“Continue to work lower down the school to secure children’s knowledge and understanding before the end of Year 5. Treat Year 6 more like a revision year without having to treat some areas of the curriculum as new topics due to lack of work done lower down the school.” (Y6 Teacher)

“Higher focus on arithmetic throughout the school and more problem solving (as always).” (Y6 Teacher)

“Adapt the Maths curriculum for lower years to ensure they are secure in previous year’s content (evident in tests)." (Y6 Teacher)

“More intervention boosters in all other years.” (Emma, Headteacher)

This is something we hear from Year 6 teachers time and again - a lot of the topics their pupils struggle with are ones which should have been secured lower down the school. If they don’t know their times-tables up to 12 by Year 6, their ability to access ratio or fractions questions will be very limited. 

5. Start Third Space Learning earlier and with more pupils    

As mentioned, the Year 6 teachers polled were schools who already use our 1-to-1 tuition, so this one won't apply to all schools. However it’s incredibly rewarding for us to hear that the schools we work with can see so clearly the impact that weekly 1-to-1 Maths lessons have had on their target pupils:

“Start Third Space Learning from Autumn term to address gaps sooner.” (Y6 Teacher)

“It would be great to have more children benefiting from Third Space Learning. We are beginning with some Year 5 children soon." (Karen Vince, Year 6 TA, Good Shepherd Primary School)

As Maths intervention specialists, we’ve got a lot of experience in what your options might be, particularly in tighter budget times, so do call our schools team to pick their brains at any time on 020 3771 0095 before you make your plans for the Autumn term. 

If you know already you have target pupils with curriculum gaps in Maths, or those who need a boost to accelerate their progress, enquire now about our Year 6 Maths Foundation programme, starting in September. 

Final word: time to celebrate!

Of course, now the speculation about pass marks and SATs results will begin. Try to avoid thinking about this now. When the time comes we will again share advice and insight from our schools, That Boy Can Teach and other teachers, but right now give yourself a massive pat on the back. 

Well done for all your dedication and determination with your Year 6s this year. Enjoy the sun, your half term holiday and the last few weeks with the children before they make that big step to secondary school.

Further reading on SATs 2017 (plus a bonus for 2016):

Get ready for 2017 KS2 SATs with 3 free practice Year 6 Maths test papers

2017 SATs preparation roundup: 13 best free Maths KS2 SATs papers, resources and assessments

The bluffer's guide to 2017 Maths SATs: 15 lessons learnt

KS2 SATs Results 2017: What they mean, what they'll never tell you, and what to do next

Key Stage 2 SATs results 2016 explained: 15 insights that will change how you teach Year 6 Maths in 2017

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