11 July 2019

Looking at Year 6 SATs

I think it's a good idea for secondary school maths departments to spend some time looking at Year 6 SATs papers. Ideally this should be done at the start of September when our new teams are in place and we're planning lessons for the first few weeks of term.

When we look at papers it's important to bear in mind that just because a topic was on their end of year assessment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that an incoming Year 7 knows that topic well. Just like at GCSE, grade boundaries are relatively low. This year a Year 6 child needed to get 53% of the answers right in their maths SATs to achieve 'Expected Standard' (ie a scaled score of 100). It's a very similar situation to the Year 11 to Year 12 transition - when a student starts A level with a Grade 7 it's important for us to be aware that they only knew how to do around half the questions on their GCSE exam. Plus we all know that a lot of forgetting happens over the long summer break. So both at A level and in Year 7 (and in fact at the start of every school year) we should never just assume that topics that have been previously taught and assessed are totally secure.

Saying that, we know that many pupils joining us in Year 7 are brilliant little mathematicians. Often they have excellent fluency in arithmetic and times tables and well developed reasoning and problem solving skills. But we won't know that just from looking at their SATs score. A good SATs score might only tell us that back in May the child had a good level of fluency in written methods of arithmetic. A short, focused baseline test with incoming Year 7s might help us work out if that's still the case and give us an idea of a sensible starting point for each pupil.

When my previous school had incoming Year 7s sit baseline tests in September, we were surprised by the variation in results. The graph below shows pupils' Key Stage 2 SATs result against the score they got on their Year 7 baseline assessment. Although we see a general correlation as expected, the middle chunk of the data (expected scores between 100 and 110) was all over the place. For example notice that pupils who got 104 on their SATs scored everything from 35% to 80% on their September baseline test. If your school sets in Year 7 based solely on SATs results you need to be aware of this potential variation.
Schools are able to access data for their incoming Year 7 pupils that shows their SATs marks by question. Like the QLAs we use for mock exams at Key Stage 4, this data is of limited use. Getting a single question right or wrong on a particular topic at a particular time doesn't really tell us very much about a child's understanding of that topic. We have no idea how much a child really understands something until we've spent time questioning them, working with them, assessing them, drawing out misconceptions. Clearly we need to get to know our students and we can't make any assumptions based on data in a spreadsheet.

Saying that, let's have a quick look at a bit of national data just because it's interesting. The following two questions were the worst answered questions in last year's maths SATs.
Paper 3 2018. Answered correctly by 24% of pupils. Content first taught in Year 4.
Paper 2 2018. Answered correctly by 31% of pupils. Content first taught in Year 6.

And here's the worst answered question on the 2018 arithmetic paper:
Paper 1 2018. Answered correctly by 45% of pupils. Content first taught in Year 6.

I think this is a pretty grim question. I'm surprised it's only one mark. I'm also surprised how many pupils got it right given the unnecessarily fiddly numbers. It would be interesting to see how many Year 7s can remember how to do this in September. And it would be interesting to see how many Year 11s can get this right.

I think it would be good maths department CPD to discuss all these questions in detail and think about what pupils would have found difficult.

The breakdown of topics in the 2019 Year 6 SATs was similar to previous years. A large chunk of the questions were calculations and fractions, decimals and percentages. This is unsurprising. There weren't many questions on shape and statistics.

I find that Year 7 teachers are sometimes unsure what algebra their pupils have seen before. Here are two algebra questions from this year's Paper 3.
Here's the primary curriculum content relating to algebra:
It's mainly 'missing number' stuff. So when we teach collecting like terms etc in Year 7, it's their first time manipulating algebra in this way.

I've been trying to find time to write this post for about 18 months so I'm glad I finally finished it! I hope it's a helpful starting point. The main point I'm making is that SATs data is of limited use - teacher judgement is way more important - but I strongly recommend looking through all three 2019 maths SATs papers in a department meeting in September to help teachers get to know the primary curriculum better. If you don't have time to look through all three papers then perhaps just have a look at the Third Space Learning blog which has an analysis of this year's maths SATs papers including some examples of questions to discuss.

By the way, if you're teaching Year 7 in September (I am!) then you might like my post about activities for a first lesson with Year 7.


  1. Just put of interest what was the baseline assessment...was it a past sats paper something of your own making?

    1. I believe it was the AQA baseline test.

      I plan to use something different in September. Something shorter and more focused on key skills/knowledge.

      I don’t think many (if any) schools use past SATs papers as pupils would have done those before.

  2. Thanks, Jo. It would be great to have an idiots guide on how to download the SATs results in July, and the Question Level data in the Autumn.

    1. It certainly would be helpful for teachers who want to look at that data. I've never done it myself. I would welcome a volunteer to write that guide!

    2. Work in progress: https://robotmaths.blogspot.com/2019/07/key-stage-2-sats-data-for-secondaries.html

  3. Readers of this post might be interested in Laura Wakefield's maths conference presentation from 2018 which is about downloading and analysing SATs data.