Reflections from a Primary Maths Leader on KS2 SATs and the New Curriculum [Blog]
‘Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.’ - Margaret J. Wheatley
Perhaps that’s a little over the top, but there’s something in it. As a teacher it’s always worth reflecting on a year just gone, looking back at what went well and what might need changing for the next year. I spent the year as Maths and UKS2 lead whilst teaching in Year 6.
As such I have the privilege of being up to date with the changes taking place in primary education, especially with regards to the expected standards in assessment. Now that I’ve got a few weeks of holiday under my belt, my mind is a little fresher. It's on natural then, that I begin to look back upon KS2 Maths SATs 2017. Read on for my reflections on the end of July and the ever-present changes to how Maths is assessed in UK primary schools...
No more mental maths: the second "Arithmetic" SATs paper
The biggest change to the way Maths is tested recently has been the abolition of the mental Maths test. Now replaced by the Arithmetic test. The 2017 SATs was the second year for that particular paper and - in summary - we felt much better prepared for it.
The Arithmetic test provides the opportunity for children to show off their calculating skills without all the confusion of reasoning problems. In contrast to the reasoning tests, it is much easier for teachers to prepare children for.
At my school, we dedicated a portion of each lesson towards the practice of these calculation methods and, as a result, many children did very well on Paper 1.
This year, we found that as the year went by we increased our focus on calculation practice. However, next year we are going to try to reverse this, making more time in the first term to practice these skills, leaving more time as the year goes on to apply those skills to a range of mathematical problems.
SATs Reasoning Papers: an ode to practically applying maths skills
The Reasoning Papers divided opinion as to which one was the more difficult but, as ever, the test writers found new ways of presenting problems. Some in ways that are often confusing to children without proper exposure to a wide range of mathematical problems.
As a Maths Lead, the main focus next year (and not just because of the tests) will be to continuously encourage teachers to creatively challenge children with a broad range of mathematical problems and situations. In problem solving, knowledge of Maths facts and strategies meets real life. Therefore it must remain a focus, particularly as children become more confident with calculation techniques. After all, learning how to use calculations is pointless unless children use them in real life contexts.
Can the bar model method help prepare pupils for SATs?
Last January I started training staff on bar modelling after receiving some training myself. The use of them to help children to visualise Maths problems has begun to become embedded. I saw encouraging signs, particularly amongst children who arrived in Year 6 with significant ‘gaps’ in their Maths understanding, and also in younger children further down the school.
What I haven’t seen a lot of yet is children using them in an independent capacity, for example in tests.
2017/18 will be a year for encouraging children to use bar models, and other pictorial representations, so that eventually they choose to use them as and when they need them. This will only be achieved if bar modelling becomes part of the everyday ‘furniture’ of Maths lessons.
For a brief introduction and overview to bar modelling, read my blog post on How to Teach the Bar Model Method to Ace Arithmetic and Word Problems in KS1 & 2. Or, if you're looking to teach bar models with a view to SATs preparation, read more on Using Bar Models to Solve Multi-Step SATs Problems.
A continuing challenge for any teacher is to support children who are already working at greater depth. How do you challenge them? How do you enable them to make progress when they seem to know so much already? I don’t have all the answers for this one but it will my mission this year to ensure that school-wide those children are supported and challenged. I have an inkling that the key will be to reveal the joy that can be found in grappling with open-ended Maths problems which require patience and perseverance.
Mastery focused teaching: the best way to prepare for KS2 Maths SATs
Part of my new role as Primary Lead Practitioner for the multi academy trust I work for will involve curriculum planning for two schools who don’t yet have UKS2 classes.
The chance to plan from scratch means that there is the opportunity to look at the methods of spacing and interleaving of Maths curriculum content, ensuring that once a Maths topic is taught, that it is returned to and built upon in a number of ways.
Alongside this there is scope to consider how low stakes testing can play a part in helping children to retrieve information that they have learned.
In my own school we will be trialling the use of 100% Sheets (or Knowledge Organisers) across the curriculum to help children learn and memorise basic facts, which I have written about in detail in my blog post on the matter.
Naturally, each and every school will have its own priorities for the coming year and whatever they are its worth spending some time in reflection before beginning to forward plan. The great thing about Maths is that although curricula and tests change, Maths stays the same: 1 + 1 will always be 2; the square of 4 will always be 16; Pi will always be 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841…