Post-SATs - A Year 6 teacher’s perspective on this year’s tests

As the 2018 papers have all been sent away for marking, Year 6 teacher Sarah Burnham offers a few thoughts on this year’s Maths SAT papers and areas that some children found challenging.

The arithmetic paper has traditionally been the most successfully answered of the 3 SATs papers since the new test format was introduced. The presentation of calculations without wording is, by now, familiar to us all, and children seem to fare well with this style of non-contextualised questions. This year’s arithmetic paper followed broadly the same style and offered the same range of questions as previous years, with an increasing challenge as the questions progressed and more ‘Year 6 content’ questions appearing later in the paper.

The increased challenge nearer the end of the paper, or the stamina and pace required to complete 36 questions in 30 minutes, always seems to have a detrimental impact on some children’s accuracy in completing the final few questions. We used the MyMaths online arithmetic questions in the weeks leading up to May, which the children enjoyed as ‘light relief’ from the usual photocopied booklets. It also had the benefit of providing useful consolidation and instant feedback for the children and allowing me to swiftly analyse gaps for precision teaching.

As ever, the reasoning papers are the ones I find children seem to struggle more with and often find themselves ‘lost’ in the wording of the questions. None more so than children who have English as an additional language, where comprehension of the question can be a barrier to being successful in solving the maths. This year was no exception, and paper 2 had a few questions where some children struggled with potentially unfamiliar wording and contexts.

Many other teachers have commented that more demanding questions appeared nearer the end of paper 2. One such example was the ‘alligator question,’ which appeared to flummox some children who hadn’t made the links between the context of the information and the operation required to arrive at the answer. Paper 2 also introduced a problem about the length of a day on Mercury, using a fraction to multiply the length of a day on earth. This was certainly a question designed to challenge more able mathematicians and apply their understanding of fractions and measure conversions for hours.

In paper 3, fractions once again appeared in problem-solving contexts and I was relieved that we had covered this in revision sessions prior to testing week, anticipating that it was an area some children struggle with. I felt there seemed to be a larger proportion of fraction problems on the papers this year which may have implications for the teaching of next year’s class.

It was interesting to see that, similar to question 22 from the 2017 paper 3, another question appeared this year on paper 3 presented in a style favourable to those of us who have been using bar models and pictorial representations to help children visualise problems. Although not a bar model, the use of a diagram to show the fractions of vegetables to work out the missing fraction helped some of my children who had been introduced to problem-solving using bar models. Again, using the MyMaths bar model resources had really supported some children in Year 6 who were less confident with unpicking and visualising problems.

The papers are done; the results are pending. We can, at least, unite in enjoying a few weeks of teaching until the next cohort arrives in September and SATs preparation for the following May once more looms large on the horizon!

Sarah Burnham has been a Year 6 teacher for many years and currently leads Maths at Well Green Primary School, Trafford. She is currently leading the Trafford Teaching School Alliance Maths Subject Leader networking group and delivering training as a professional development leader with the NCETM. Sarah is undertaking the Teaching for Mastery programme.

Keep an eye out tomorrow for our downloadable guide on how MyMaths could be used to help you and your class prepare for future SATs papers.