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Should parents be worried about Key Stage 1 SATs?

If you have a child in Year 2 at primary school, you may have lots of questions about Key Stage 1 SATs (Standard Attainment Tests) and it's easy to find yourself worrying about them, but there's really no need.

Your child's teacher will already be building a picture of your child's learning through their day-to-day tasks and activities. It's important to know that the tests are just one piece of the jigsaw that contributes towards your child's Key Stage 1 assessment: many teachers will know if a child is working towards the expectations, working at the national standard, or working above the standard, often called working at greater depth, without needing to do the tests at all. They make their final judgement in the summer term, using all the evidence they gather from your child's work and the tests. From 2023, the SATs are set to become optional for schools but in 2022, they are statutory in most schools. Some independent schools won't do them.


It's important to remember that your child is making progress from his, her or their own personal starting point. Many children will meet the expected standard and many will continue working towards the standard as the school year draws to a close. Your child's own personal journey is what matters and it's good to celebrate progress, (the small steps achieved towards a goal) where SATs focus on attainment, the standard reached.


In the classroom, children are working hard all year round. In reading, they're working on word-reading, fluency and understanding, where in writing, they're working on using different types of sentences and words, spelling and punctuating correctly as they go. They can always go back and edit their work, making their own corrections, often after discussion with their teacher or teaching assistant, and this all counts as independent writing. In maths, there's a focus on arithmetic and being able to answer mental maths questions, but also in understanding word problems and reasoning in their answers. Reasoning is a key element in maths at the moment, and the mastery curriculum supports this, with children finding and demonstrating lots of different ways to solve problems and explaining their findings.


For the actual tests, schools can do them any time in May and will try to keep things light so there's no extra pressure on children. My best advice to parents is not to make SATs a big deal at home - if your child knows you are worried, they might think they should be worried, too.


What are the reading tests?


There are two reading papers: one where children read short texts with questions interspersed, and a second where the text is in one booklet and the questions are in another. These take around 30 minutes each but schools can allow children longer or take a break in the middle.


What about the spelling, punctuation and grammar tests?


There are two papers for spelling, punctuation and grammar (one for spelling, and one for the rest). For spelling, the teacher will read the words in the context of sentences, then tell the children the word they need to write. This takes around 15 minutes. The other paper is in two sections of around 10 minutes each and contains a range of question types, which children will have practised at school.


What will be tested in maths?


In maths, there are two test papers: one for arithmetic, taking around 15 minutes, and one for fluency, problem-solving, and reasoning, taking around 35 minutes, again with a break if needed.


Will my child have had a chance to practise?


When I first taught Year 2, my school's assessments were moderated in 2010 and I was told that children should not practise the SATs and should only be tested in May. I did wonder at the time how they would know how to approach the questions if they had not seen them before! By the time I became a KS1 moderator for the local authority around seven years later, times had changed, and we were told that schools should give children lots of opportunities to practise the question types so they were comfortable with the test papers and would know what to do.


Is there anything I can do to help my child?


In order to strengthen your child's skills during Year 2, there are a number of things you can do that can fit in with your daily routines, without being too time-consuming:


Comprehension:

  • Audio books are brilliant for developing comprehension - listen in the car where your children can be like sponges, absorbing all the lovely vocabulary and language structures;

  • Read to your children daily or at least a few times a week - reading books above the level they can read for themselves up-levels their understanding just like audio books do;

  • Ask questions when reading with your child that encourage him, her or them to find the answers in the text (literal retrieval questions) or to think about an answer more deeply (inferential questions) and explain their thoughts - see examples here: https://www.literacyshedblog.com/uploads/1/2/5/7/12572836/ks1_reading_vipers.pdf

  • Liken books to others you have read, comparing similarities and differences;

  • Predict endings before you read them together;

  • Ask why the author might have chosen particular aspects such as characters, settings or events.

Grammar & punctuation:

  • Point out examples when reading of things you know your children are working on - ask them to look for certain words on the page, comment on the punctuation used, and any joining words (conjunctions) like because, so, but and when;

  • Expand description using noun phrases when talking, e.g. a blue pen, a smooth, furry blanket;

  • Build words using prefixes and suffixes (prefixes go on the beginning, suffixes on the end), e.g. appear - disappear - disappeared. You can do this when talking as thinking about word structures can be as effective as writing them;

  • Model correct spoken grammar e.g. 'We were going to the park,' rather than 'We was going to the park,' - if children can say it correctly, they'll be more likely to write it well.

Spelling:

  • Break words into syllables for spelling - you can do this when talking to help children master this skill. They may have done this very early in their phonics lessons (we start this in our face-to-face classes with pre-school children) but lots of children find it difficult to apply to spelling words, e.g. Wed-nes-day, hipp-o-pot-a-mus, ban-an-a;

  • Have a word mat to hand with the common exception words from the KS1 curriculum and ask your child to use it to check their spellings when they are writing - the common exception words are those that don't necessarily follow the rules of phonics, they're the exceptions! Your child's teacher should be able to provide a list;

  • Have a sound chart at home, like the one your child uses at school - it may be available on the school website. This can be used to make informed choices when spelling, e.g. when choosing which ee sound to use in words like Peter, chief or please;

  • The high frequency words have gone out of fashion a little with new phonics schemes taking priority, but they're still important for spelling, so having these to hand is useful, too. You can find them here: http://www.highfrequencywords.org. When I was studying, the best place to display things I needed to remember was the bathroom wall! If your child is struggling to read or spell a particular set of words, pop them on the wall near the sink so they can read them each time they go near (assuming they willingly wash their hands and clean their teeth!).

  • If your child says /f/ for /th/, model this carefully so they know which is the correct spelling for words containing /th/;

  • Encourage your child to write at every opportunity: thank you cards, invitations, greetings cards, instructions, stories etc, using the word mat to help with common spellings.

Maths:

  • Ask each other maths questions in the car - these could be mental maths, such as times tables, addition, subtraction, multiplication or division, or make up word problems to solve;

  • Make errors in maths questions or pose scenarios where you make a mistake and see if you child can help you solve the problem;

  • Build maths into your daily routines with measuring in different ways (reading scales is a tricky one and is part of the curriculum);

  • Work out the coins used to pay for something, or the change from different amounts - children don't have opportunities to use money now that we are moving towards a cashless world;

  • Refer to the clock together as often as you can, both digital and analogue - reading the time to quarter past and to is included in the expected standard, with 5 minute intervals at greater depth - this is always a tricky one!

  • Try Sumdog, where you can set up a free parent account and check your child's progress: https://www.sumdog.com/en/

What about writing assessment?


Writing is not assessed through a test but assessment is made over time, over a number of pieces of work. Sadly, creativity is a little lacking in the assessment framework and there is a big focus on accuracy so your child's teacher will be looking out for children doing the following if they're working at the expected standard:


  • write simple, coherent narratives about personal experiences and those of others (real or fictional)

  • write about real events, recording these simply and clearly

  • demarcate most sentences in their writing with capital letters and full stops, and use question marks correctly when required

  • use present and past tense mostly correctly and consistently

  • use co-ordination (e.g. or / and / but) and some subordination (e.g. when / if / that / because) to join clauses

  • segment spoken words into phonemes and represent these by graphemes, spelling many of these words correctly and making phonically-plausible attempts at others

  • spell many common exception words*

  • form capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another and to lower-case letters

  • use spacing between words that reflects the size of the letters.

Taken from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/740343/2018-19_teacher_assessment_frameworks_at_the_end_of_key_stage_1_WEBHO.pdf 20/2/22.


The link above has information for working towards the standard and working above, for each of the aspects being assessed.


If you would still like to do more, there are lots of books available to help children to practise questions like those in the SATs, but you really don't have to. The books by CGP tend to be quite good, but those from the middle aisles in LIDL and ALDI are based on the curriculum, too, so you don't have to spend a lot!


As always, group classes with Wilbur and Flops online on Saturday mornings help children to consolidate the skills they need to develop their learning towards the phonic screening check (Year 1) and the SATs (Year 2). Do get in touch at wilburandflops@gmail.com if you would like your child to join a group class - a quick 30 minute boost to their learning before their Saturday begins.


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