As specialists in helping KS2 SATs Interventions for Maths, we know a thing or two about catching pupils up in time for the National Assessments. Here’s why we believe SATs interventions should not start in Year 6.

SATs pressure for Year 6

When a primary school receives good Key Stage 2 SATs results, the whole school celebrates, and rightly so: all teachers in all year groups will have contributed to the success of each child who reaches Year 6 and sits those tests.

However, it is not uncommon for Year 6 teachers to feel a pressure that teachers in other year groups don’t. When results aren’t so good it is more likely for the teaching and learning in that last year of primary, as opposed to any other, to be called into question – I know, I’ve been there myself. And with such pressure it’s not surprising that in Year 6 we can descend into last-minute panic of revision classes, interventions and extra Maths and English time, often to the detriment of other areas of learning. Ideally this wouldn’t happen.

Not all about KS2 National Assessments

Year 6 teachers aren’t only preparing children for the KS2 tests, they’re also preparing them for a fairly seismic shift in their education. And even if it weren’t for transition, why should any one year of a child’s primary school experience be any more filled with Maths and English than any other? A year of hot-housing them with Maths and English tests is more likely to put them off learning at this crucial time when they are poised to experience a very different type of school and learning environment.

There are other reasons why children shouldn’t be subjected to the Year 6 hot-housing of weekly tests, tests and more tests.

Changes to the new Maths curriculum for Year 6

The new Maths curriculum has been deliberately designed to free up Year 6 for consolidation and deepening their learning. It’s not surprising that when the new curriculum was introduced there was a small collective “Hurrah” from Year 6 teachers: much of what had previously been ‘new’ learning in Year 6 had been moved further down the school.

This makes much more sense in terms of transition but it can be challenging for teachers in other KS2 years, who now have to teach children about expressing a large whole number as a fraction of a smaller one and simplifying fractions.

Other recent concepts no longer introduced in Year 6 are using knowledge of multiplication facts to derive quickly squares of numbers to 12 × 12, recognising that prime numbers have only two factors, identifying prime numbers less than 100 and finding the prime factors of two-digit whole numbers and many more. Take a look at Michael Tidd’s excellent set of documents outlining these curriculum changes available on TES.

Year 6 Maths concepts start earlier in KS2

I’m sure very few teachers would disagree with the idea of collective responsibility for a school’s outcomes. And it is with this in mind that we should look at how teaching and learning takes place across all year groups. Some disgruntled Year 6 teachers make statements such as “all teachers should have to teach in Year 6 just so they know what it’s like” but that is not the message here.

It’s my belief that all primary teachers would benefit from having a good grasp of what the ‘end goal’ looks like for the children they teach, regardless of year group.

Schools should endeavour to provide CPD which engages all teachers in the full range of mathematical concepts. And of course, this goes two ways: Year 6 teachers who understand the way Maths has been taught further down the school are better placed to build on that learning with their classes.

Develop strategies for KS2 National Assessments

Before interventions are identified, timetabled and planned, it needs to be recognised that it is possible for children throughout Key Stage 2 to secure information, skills and strategies that will be useful to them in the distant future of Year 6. Confidence and a love of Maths, a Growth Mindset, good mental maths and problem solving techniques, not to mention stamina, will all stand them in excellent stead for the KS2 National Assessments, and life beyond that.

Year 6 interventions are a short-term KS2 solution

Consider a school where, for whatever reason, children have arrived in Year 6 with ‘gaps’ in their learning. Typically, the school leaders and Year 6 teachers implement the aforementioned ‘catch up’ strategies, hoping that in the space of time between September and May their learning will have been accelerated and those gaps will have been closed.

All this school’s efforts and resources (staff and money, for example) are concentrated on their ten and eleven year olds. Come results day it may be seen that this approach was successful or unsuccessful. But why does this model continues to be implemented year after year?

Read more about what it takes to prepare a Year 6 Maths Pupil (and teacher!) for SATs here: How to Ace Your Year 6 SATs Revision.

Start your KS2 Maths interventions for SATs in Year 4 or 5

Some people like working under a pressure close to a deadline but these probably aren’t the best conditions for our young people to be learning in. What would happen if the school took the hit of doubling up on resources one year and provided the same level of support for Year 5 students? What if the next year the focus is shifted to Years 4 and 5 and so on? If there were a way to intervene sooner with children who appear to be falling behind their peers, wouldn’t it be preferable to piling it all on in Year 6 and hoping that a few months of intensive teaching will do the trick?

Third Space Learning provide maths interventions tailored to every KS2 year group for this very reason – to address existing gaps in Years 3, 4, and 5 even before Year 6.

Intervene early and with rigour in KS2 for best results

This approach isn’t about pointing the finger at non-Year 6 teachers, rather it is about providing them with support that they and their pupils need and deserve. There are many reasons why a child may fall behind in any given year but if a school’s leaders provided other year groups with the correct resources they, alongside their teachers, could prevent this from happening as much as possible.

It is unfair to children and teachers if ‘catch up’ programmes are invested in for Year 6 children primarily. It is worth noting that all primary schools worth their salt will already be providing interventions in all year groups, but i question whether they are conducted with the same rigour and given the same level of priority as Year 6 last-minute catch-up interventions.

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They are KS2 SATs not Year 6 SATs

Effective, high quality Maths interventions for all year groups don’t have to be expensive. The key investment is not in money or staff, but a change in mindset and to remember these are not Year 6 tests but Key Stage 2 tests. Every year from Years 3 to 6 should be viewed by leaders and teachers as a child’s preparation time for those tests (as well as, y’know, general life where Maths and English come in pretty handy).

Who, what and when to start your KS2 Maths intervention

Identifying children who need this intervention during Key Stage 2 doesn’t have to be difficult. Now that we are assessing without levels it is much more clear cut as to which children need that extra bit of help; it depends from school to school on the point at which intervention would be deemed necessary, but any child who is struggling to grasp concepts new to the year group’s curriculum could be considered, even whether that’s the basics of addition or difficulties with multiples and times tables. Early intervention is best but often teachers are tempted to wait, hoping that soon the child will understand. Experience teaches us otherwise.

Fix basic KS2 Maths misconceptions

Another indicator of the need for intervention is a lack of what might be thought of as basic skills. Obviously these depend on the year group but you need to check key concepts like understanding of place value, times tables, number bonds, mental and written calculations for the four operations, telling the time, converting units of measurements and so on. These all need to be well embedded for a child to go on to become a fluent Mathematician who can reason and problem solve.

Confidence and attitude to Maths

Other children may be chosen for intervention in order to boost their confidence – they may not particularly struggle with Maths but might perceive their ability in a negative way. Destroying this fear of Maths, and any other poor attitudes towards the subject, is key to success throughout their time at school so an intervention could be focused on ensuring Maths is seen as enjoyable for these children.

Do you have some children in your year group who are in danger of falling behind? With a little extra help could they finish the year with you in line with national average? Consider, along with your school’s leaders, how you could prioritise the needs of those children sooner rather than later – they deserve it. Every child has the potential to succeed – some just need a little more help in order to achieve what they’re truly capable of!

Aidan Severs , Maths Leader , Assistant Vice Principal

Aidan Severs is a passionate wellbeing enthusiast and Primary Lead Practitioner. He writes for the Third Space blog on KS2 SATs, with a focus on teacher/pupil wellbeing.