There’s a shark in the water and it’s the KS1 maths SATs!

    Published: 25 April 2019

    I am becoming increasingly concerned about the Year 2 maths curriculum.  Let me tell you why. 

    Over the spring term I have heard or had experience of children sitting mock KS1 SATs usually in February, resulting in upset teachers when the children didn’t score as highly as it was perceived necessary.  The fear of the test is also impacting on the flow and coherence of the curriculum, with teachers regularly worrying that they have to teach the whole Y2 curriculum by May just in case there is a question in the test.  The shark is causing teachers and schools to get out of the Year 2 water. 

    My advice, put shark nets up.  Protect the water.  The weighting of the Y2 curriculum favours additive thinking and this is actually reflected heavily in the tests with around twice the marks going to addition and subtraction questions than multiplication, division and fraction questions together in 2018.  That’s not accounting for the number and place value and measures questions which are, in my opinion, also key drivers in Y2.  Children will of course need to experience multiplicative thinking in Y2.  But the shift in weighting here comes in KS2. 

    Shoving the whole curriculum into children before SATs, may mean that children do not secure the learning required to reflect what children need for their onward journey.  When the test, and some may argue the TAF, becomes the goal of the Y2 curriculum then we are (as Mark McCourt so eloquently put it recently) promoting a backward facing progression with less regard for the maths children will be required to learn in the future.  This is, by the way, the same in UKS2 when the SATs there are seen as the culmination of the curriculum.  Recognising the children will continue to learn maths is important here too. 

    Let me expand on that a little.  As a team we see maths as a domino run. Each concept/chunk of learning is a domino.  We believe that these dominoes must be placed in the right order for all of the dominoes to fall down.  I realise at this point reader I am mixing my analogies, but please bear with me.   If dominoes are not well connected to each other or are absent (not learned) then the domino run will fail.  Worse than this, if a key domino, let’s say making a unit of ten and some more, is not secured then other dominoes later on in the run will not be placed either.  The number of pupils we assess in years 4 and 5 who are struggling, due to missing the domino mentioned above, is more than you might imagine.  Until that is in place progression is limited. 

    By the way, dominoes can also be placed incorrectly, for example; ‘We always take away from the bigger number’, means that in UKS2 and beyond teaching may have to go back and re-teach that one. Placing the domino correctly in the first place – learning about part whole relationships is more productive.  A good curriculum, I believe, works on domino theory!

    Back to the shark and shark nets!  I have no problem with children who are unused to test conditions having a go at a paper, though I wonder how much teaching time has been lost to this.  But if children are sitting the paper in February then the standardised score does not apply.  They haven’t learned the majority of the curriculum yet.  Perhaps it might be advisable to look at the test with an eye on ‘what they probably won’t get because it hasn’t been taught yet/recently/enough’.  Then look at any further errors and approaches with more of a diagnostic eye.  What misconceptions do they have?  When and where can these be addressed in the curriculum? Are the strategies used efficient/correct?  Certainly, when children are in test conditions they do strangely inefficient things.  For example instead of finding 7 x 10 using a known fact or by skip counting, they list 10 + 10 + 10… you get the picture.  Or they draw all of the dots for 7 x 5.  How will this be dealt with?

    I find myself reminding schools that the tests inform the teacher assessment – against what has been taught.  Assessment is ongoing.  As it says quite sensibly in the 2018-19 Teacher Assessment Framework;

    The frameworks are not a formative assessment tool: they are not intended to guide individual programmes of study, classroom practice or methodology. Teachers should assess individual pieces of pupils’ work in line with their school’s own assessment policy and not against the frameworks. At the end of the key stage, teachers should make a judgement against the frameworks based on their own assessments of pupils’ work.

    2018 – 19 Teacher Assessment Framework Page 4

    But I suspect in the whirl of the school year and the ongoing pressures of accountability, this hasn’t been read or perhaps not believed. 

    If by the time children sit the SATs, the learning and evidence towards one of the TAF criteria hasn’t been secured.  There is still time between then and the assessment deadline of 27th June to keep teaching and learning.  

    As for sharks and dominoes, let's not mix them up! Consider the dominoes and put up the shark nets, lets save the Y2 curriculum.

    For those of you that use ESSENTIALmaths and are PA Plus subscribers, we have plotted the sequences which match the TAF 2018-19 criteria.

    HfL document
    Screenshot of KS1 Mathematics TAFs within ESSENTIALmaths 2018-19


    Mc Court, M. (2019) Phasing Learning. Presented to Educating Northants.

    Standards and Testing Agency (2018) Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 1 for 2018/19 onwards. Available online at:


    Contact details

    Latest blogs

    Receive our latest posts direct to your inbox...