Analysis of 2019 KS2 Maths SATs Arithmetic paper (Part 2)

    Published: 10 October 2019

    It’s that time of year again where we pull together some of what we have learned from the KS2 SATs papers, ready to share messages with schools.  We hope that this will give them a better lens with which to look at their current cohorts and consider the high value areas to pursue, which might be most useful across the school.  We are all Year 6 teachers in effect.

    The first blog in this series Analysis of 2019 KS2 Maths SATs Arithmetic paper (Part 1) can be found here.

    Has the content coverage shifted?

    Yes, definitely but it might not be immediately obvious just looking at the STA information or comparing question by question.  But there have been increases in certain areas that may be hidden by the table below and over simplistic question level analysis.

    Let’s consider the coverage of the content domains first as shown by the mark schemes.


    Question analysis


    An increase in the number of percentage questions asked over time is probably the most obvious conclusion to be drawn, looking at the table below.  However, this is balanced by fewer decimal and fraction questions. 

    The weighting, as ever, looks to be on calculation and fractions including decimals.  But perhaps we should not be too literal about this. Maths is a highly connected subject and one question may require the child to pull on several different concepts.  Looking at the testing content domains might lead schools to focus more on the procedures of calculation than number and place value after all two marks is not much is it?

    Consider how many of the questions in this year’s arithmetical paper require an understanding of place value in some way.  Consider also, how many require the use of multiplication and division facts. 


    sats questions


    Each year, I ask teachers to work through the paper and place each question on the Venn. 


    venn diagram


    The message here is that only basic additive place value is labelled in the STA mark scheme. Looking more deeply, particularly at where children have to understand place value when using formal or mental methods (such as regrouping and distributive methods), or where they are multiplying and dividing by powers of ten, shows us how frequently the number and place value domain is being tested. In fact up to 80% of the 2019 paper’s marks may depend on fluency in this domain.  Last year this was around 62%.

    Similarly, the use of multiplication and division facts could account for more than 75% of the marks in 2019, should a child always convert to equivalent fractions and from mixed number to improper fractions to solve these particular examples.  Last year this was around 60%.

    In fact around 60% marks require fluency in both areas to solve.  This is an increase from both the 2017 and 2018 papers.

    The simplistic view of using question level analysis against the STA content labels may perhaps cause a distortion and reduction of the curriculum offered to learners.  Teaching formal multiplication before teaching that every time you multiply a ten by a ten you get a hundred and they can solve questions such as 20 x 30 and 200 x 50, means that children resort to tricks (counting zeroes) usually which can be vulnerable to examples such as 356 x 65.   

    What I am getting at here is that the high value area of place value is clearly ‘hidden’ in the table above.  Looking at pupil responses about why certain questions cause difficulty is far more informative than the spreadsheet alone.  Then, we should use this so that we can plan our curriculum in a more precise way to close the gaps we see without merely rehearsing more examples daily, which may in fact exacerbate them if tricks, errors and misconceptions are left to become habitual. 

    A skilled mathematician is one who grasps all of the ideas present in an example.  So a thorough teaching of the whole curriculum, with the weighting firmly placed on mathematical areas that support the majority of others should be prioritised.  Whilst I am mindful that this is more of a long distance run than a sprint in its aims, surely we also have a duty to our children beyond the test and beyond our educational reach. 

    I am hopeful that these blogs provides enough to get schools thinking about how they might interpret the findings of the Arithmetic SATs paper outcomes, and how their findings might be translated into a thoughtfully weighted curriculum offering.

    For more insights into achieving mathematical age-related expectations in Y6, please join us for our popular CPD offer:

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