We all know arithmetic skills are crucial to achieving in KS2 SATs, and developing skills that pupils need later on in life.

Of course, in a teaching environment where there’s often a huge amount of pressure on when it comes to teaching Maths, this is easy enough to say.

Yet, when faced with the seemingly endless list of content and objectives to cover we simply have to stick to what we know, and what’s best for our pupils.

We have to get the basics right, and build from there. In other words – we have to work on pupils’ arithmetic skills.

Arithmetic skills are at the core of Maths teaching

Arithmetic is at the core of almost every single Maths teaching area. From fractions and decimals, to ratio and algebra, succeeding in these topics is only possible when children have a strong grasp of basic arithmetic skills.

Beyond even that, there are many reasons to focus on teaching arithmetic to KS2 pupils. From fluency in numbers, to developing conceptual understanding, and the high proportion of marks given to arithmetic skills in SATs.

Below we explore 8 reasons why it is important to focus on teaching arithmetic, and how to get it ‘right’. Including a free downloadable resource full of daily arithmetic challenges for upper & lower KS2.

1. Arithmetic skills are essential building blocks for Maths

Think of an area of Maths. Chances are, you’ll need good arithmetic skills to succeed in that area.

Fractions, percentages, ratio, measures, and statistics. These are all areas where the vast majority of questions require pupils to be fluent in arithmetic to successfully answer.

2. Arithmetic skills are essential for ‘real life’

Arithmetic skills are used by adults and children alike throughout their daily lives. Have a think about what you have done so far today: it’s almost certain that you will have used some form of mental arithmetic.

Did you work out how much longer you’ve got until you need to get out the house this morning? Maybe you looked at your speedometer to work out how much to reduce or increase your speed by? Or you might have worked out how many children were absent from your class this morning.

If you’ve done any of these things, you have used arithmetic. We constantly rely on our arithmetic skills in daily life, without even realising it. Which is why it’s so important to build those skills early on.

Try these free downloadable arithmetic questions to build number fluency and confidence in 5 minutes a day

Daily Practice (Arithmetic) free

Fluent in Five Arithmetic Pack: Years 3 to 6 [Weeks 1 to 4]

Use on a whiteboard or print out our SATs style questions, complete with progression document & optional scaffolding helps pupils choose mental or written method

3. Developing conceptual understanding of arithmetic saves time on calculations

Developing a conceptual understanding of arithmetic is hugely important. After all, for pupils to confidently carry out calculations, they need to understand why calculations work, not just the steps to a successful answer.

This is why rote learning of times tables etc. is often actively discouraged. As it encourages the view that Maths is a set of facts and processes, rather than an interconnected subject that is full of flexibility.

When pupils have a conceptual understanding of their arithmetic skills, they are more likely to be able to carry out questions mentally, saving all important time.

Free resources like our Fluent in Five weekly packs can be used to help pupils make quick decisions about when to use the mental method and save time in exam situations.

4. Fluency in arithmetic helps pupils to flexibly approach Maths problems

When pupils are fluent in arithmetic, they begin to understand the flexibility needed to succeed in Maths, and the different ways that a Maths problem can be approached.

For example, if you ask pupils to double 36 in their heads, and then explain to their partner how they did it, you’ll witness many different approaches. Some may double 30, double 6 and add the results. Others might double 40 and take away 8. Some might even double 35 and add 2.

Of course, there is no ‘best’ way in Maths. Yet, understanding the ways that Maths is connected and having true fluency in arithmetic helps children to understand and approach almost any problem.

5. Arithmetic is highly weighted in KS2 SATs

In Key Stage 2 SATs, the Arithmetic Paper accounts for 36% of a child’s overall KS2 Maths SATs raw score, that’s 40 out of 110 marks! In 2017, only 51.8% (57 out of 110 marks) was required to meet the expected standard and gain a scaled score of 100.

When schools analyse their SATs result breakdown (see this great free resource for help with this), it is often found that children that score well in the Arithmetic Paper are more likely to score well and in their Reasoning Papers. Therefore, they achieve expected standard.

6. Fluency in arithmetic is also needed to succeed in KS2 Reasoning Papers

There are also a high proportion of arithmetic focused marks in the Key Stage 2 Reasoning Papers.

According to the official content domain coverage of the 2017 SATs, In 2017, 32 (out of 70) assessed reasoning through arithmetic focused content objectives.

This doesn’t count questions which primarily cover another area (e.g. percentages, measures, number properties) but contain an arithmetic element.

7. Pupils need to correctly identify and apply written/mental strategies for the Arithmetic Paper

In 2017, only 13 (out of 40) marks for Arithmetic Paper 1 were allocated to questions likely to require a written method, with only 4 two marks questions.

However, with the paper designed to include squared working areas after each question, pupils often take up time time carrying out mental questions using a written method. As such, they’re not able to complete the full paper – when they might be fully capable of answering the final questions!

Clearly, having a level of fluency in arithmetic that allows pupils to identify (and correctly apply) written/mental arithmetic methods is key to fully accessing KS2 Arithmetic Paper 1.

Use our new Fluent in Five daily arithmetic practice packs to help your pupils develop the fluency and speed required to complete the full arithmetic paper (and identify between written and mental methods).

8. Arithmetic skills need regular practice to maintain true fluency

This isn’t a “why” arithmetic is important, so much as how to best to teach it. Pupils need to be using their arithmetic skills each and every day in order for them to maintain the confidence and fluency needed to successfully tackle their exams.

Why not try using this free Fluent in 5 Daily Arithmetic Practice Pack with your pupils. Covering Years 3-6, it’s perfect for helping pupils understand and apply written/mental strategies, and build arithmetic skills through regular practice.

Looking for more ways to prepare your Year 6 for SATs this year? Read our blog: How to Ace Year 6 SATs Revision [Revision Maths KS2]

David Leighton , Content Team , Third Space Learning

A former secondary teacher, David keeps a weather eye on the educational horizon. He's responsible for making sure our blog posts and Maths resources reach teachers far & wide.