Spring 2 can be a difficult term for Year 6 teachers. Across the country, Year 6 teachers will be thinking increasingly about the SATs and how best to get the children to where they want them to be. I always feel fortunate to have the full support and trust of SLT but this half term still presents that final push to make sure as many children as possible can show their readiness for Key Stage 3 and have the competency they need to succeed at secondary school.
It can be really tempting to go into panic mode and think the rest of the time needs to be spent on English and maths revision and test practice. However, I think the effect of such an approach is limited, as well as making school really difficult and unenjoyable. The potential for substantial progress is still plenty, but it can come from a balanced, strategic approach rather than a full-on SATs revision frenzy. (If you disagree with me, this blog’s probably not for you.)
Having taught in Year 6 since 2016, I wanted to share a few ideas and practices that other teachers might find useful. I’m sure there’d be many other bits of advice to include, so please feel free to add any to the comments below.
1. 👨🏫 Don’t stop teaching
It can be tempting to think that every day needs to be revision and test practice; you might want to check every day how much the children can do independently. Whilst assessment is important, you still have plenty of time for teaching content and the children will benefit hugely from modelling, guided practice and feedback. If you haven’t finished the curriculum (White Rose Maths for example), you might want to rearrange your timetable to do so, but slow and steady wins the race: avoid the temptation to rush through content.
2. 📚 Read to the children daily
Reading to your class is good for everyone. Clare Sealy calls this moment a ’collective cuddle’. Story time is my favourite time of the day, so I’m biased, but I’d argue making time to read to the class is good for balance. It’s also a really good way of developing children’s vocabulary and language comprehension which will fundamentally support their success in English and across the curriculum.
3. ⏳ Work on children’s pace
If you’ve already done some practice tests, you may have identified some children who struggle with pace which means that they haven’t finished the questions in the allocated time. While some children who read very slowly (fewer than 90 words per minute) or have a writing disability (meaning they can only write fewer than 10 words per minute) may need an application for 25% additional time, most children will need to practise their time management. Just as marathon runners don’t reduce their time by running 26 miles at a time, children won’t learn to improve their pace by completing hour-long tests; rather, it can be done through setting time limits during independent work and giving children precise feedback on how to work more efficiently.
4. 📊 Make completing QLAs worthwhile
Whether QLAs are worth completing has been a contentious issue (certainly on Twitter). If you don’t like them, skip to the next section. If you have to do them regardless, or you like completing them, you can definitely find some interesting insights which you can use to inform your teaching. Look for what the gaps are for key individuals and key groups of children, and which gaps exist at the class level. This can help you determine who needs what and can allow you to work strategically to focus on areas of the curriculum that are going to support children to do their best.
5. 🔁 Retrieval Practice
Little and often can yield great results. A quick daily fact check can support children’s memorisation of key facts which they can then apply with automaticity during their learning and the SATs themselves. Knowledge such as metric conversions, word classes, shape facts and Roman numerals, can be remembered through a little practice each day. Children being able to recall these facts with ease will lighten their cognitive load during more challenging tasks, meaning they have more mental resources available: this might give them the edge they need to be successful.
6. ⏱️ Reading Speed
The volume of text in the Reading tests can be quite challenging making it difficult for some children to have enough time to complete all the questions. Working on children’s reading speed is a worthwhile investment that will support them to be successful not only in the tests, but also with the demands of KS3. Regular reading practice and modelling of expectations can be a really useful way to boost reading speed.
7. 🧮 Maths Revision
Revision or previously taught content is important because they children might be assessed on knowledge they have not revisited since LKS2. This knowledge might be tested alongside content from UKS2 and so it is important to go back and practice key facts, particularly related to time. Such revision does not need to take a huge amount of time - little and often is the best approach. Consider dropping in some unrelated maths questions into children’s independent maths practice, or using previous SATS questions as starters to keep all the plates spinning.
8. 🙋 Ask for Support
This time of year can feel really pressurised and that doesn’t do anyone any good. Please reach out to other staff in your school and let them know if things are getting to you. There is a wealth of resources shared on Twitter and other sites to save you some time making resources. Your mental health and well-being is critically important so make sure you look after yourself and let people know if you need help.
9. 📅 Plan Early for Access Arrangements
It’s worth considering early on which children will need arrangements to be able to access the tests. Make sure you read this document and consider which children are entitled to additional time (EHCP children etc) and which children might need breaks or a prompter. It might be up to you to plan which rooms will be used and it might be worth having a run through of the test arrangements beforehand so your Headteacher can check they’re happy with them. Getting this right is critically important and your HT and DHT should be involved in approving the plan for the week.
10. ✏️ Check Your Equipment
Make sure to check you have all of your equipment ready and organised. Check stores of pencils, rulers, protractors, rubbers and mirrors and order anything you’re missing. You might want to organise packs for the children so they have everything they need (like 2/3 sharp pencils each).
11. 📝 Keep on Writing
You have until the end of June to make your assessment on children’s writing so the progress they can make between now and then can be huge. Keep on writing throughout the next term to maintain all the wonderful work you’ve already done with the children. Writing lessons can also be a really good opportunity to revise grammar features.
12. 🔋 Maintain a Full Curriculum
Children (and teachers) need balance and being overloaded with English and Maths content isn’t as effective as it may at first appear. Children’s interest and motivation to learn are critical and it’s their entitlement to have a full curriculum. I’d argue that children only have so much capacity to take in content from a certain subject: they often need to sleep between steps of learning.
13. 📥 Drop in practice across the Curriculum
The wider curriculum does provide many opportunities to practise certain question types if you think children need additional practice with them. Impressions questions might be used in Art to discuss artwork; true or false questions can be used to check comprehension in geography or history; summarising or sequencing questions can be used whenever a text is used across the curriculum; and find and copy one word questions can be used to check understanding of subject-specific vocabulary.
14. 👩🏽🏫 Explicitly teach tricky question types
Whilst in a perfect world, children would just be able to sit their SATS without any preparation, we know that this is not the case in the vast majority of situations. Children naturally feel a range of emotions when they are being tested and I’ve often found Y6s to have a certain level of apprehension about SATs regardless of the school’s culture around them. Some of the question types in the SATs might be tricky for pupils in terms of understanding what’s required of them, and their lack of familiarity might impede the children’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of the content being tested. For this reason, it is worth identifying some question types that need to be modelled to the children and give them opportunities to practise.
Every Y6 teacher will be in a different position and schools will have vastly different approaches and cultures around SATs. I’ve shared some advice based on what’s worked best for me but the priorities for your class and cohort will ultimately be determined by what they need and what’s possible in your school. I’m also not suggesting these approaches will fix any major issues in KS2 curriculums or any significant underachievement; however, neither will constant test practice or a reduced curriculum.
I hope this blog post has been useful and offers some helpful best bets for the next few weeks.