What The Best Catch Up Numeracy Programmes Look Like in Year 6

Here at Third Space Learning, we’ve taught over 750,000 1-to-1 catch up numeracy lessons to over 60,000 primary school pupils across thousands of UK schools to help prepare those pupils for their KS2 SATs. As such, we feel we’ve got quite a lot of experience in supporting Year 6 to catch up in maths before SATs.

As the largest provider of 1-to-1 maths tuition and catch up numeracy programmes for SATs in the country, we are in a unique position to understand what really works for Year 6 pupils to achieve success from their maths intervention.

Teaching thousands of 1-to-1 lessons every week, getting to know the pupils, understanding their different misconceptions in maths, working out how we can best plug their learning gaps or deepen and extend their understanding… we’ve learnt a lot.

So, based on everything we’ve learnt, here are the five key ingredients every catch up numeracy programme for Year 6 should have, and insights we hope will be useful when preparing your pupils for the KS2 National Assessments.

Considering catch up tuition for your pupils following the National Tutoring Programme announcement? Read our post to find out everything you need to know.

1. Expose pupils to SATs-style questions

One of the best ways to prepare your pupils for any assessment is to make sure that they’re familiar with the types of questions they’ll be asked, and the different ways that they can be asked them in an exam.

For many schools, this means using SATs questions and practice papers as an assessment tool, but we would also recommend using practice KS2 SATs papers as a teaching tool.

By including SATs-style maths reasoning questions in the classroom environment – and outside of exam settings – pupils can discuss and verbalise their answers, becoming more comfortable with exam terminology. Moreover, using SATs-style questions as a teaching tool helps to normalise the work pupils will undertake during an exam, which will boost their confidence.

You can incorporate SATs questions into your lessons in all sorts of ways, whether as bell tasks, starters, or extension tasks. Try question from a practice SATs paper as a starter for your lessons several times a week and pupils won’t bat an eye when faced with the trickier reasoning questions come SATs week.

To make it easy for you to start this off you can use the images below – taken from the SATs practice papers in our Online Maths Hub – and try it out for a few days (simply click the images to open in a new tab, and print them off). If you do, let us know how you get on at @thirdspacetweet.

Sats reasoning 2 pack 1 q9
Sats reasoning 3 pack 1 q 3
Sats reasoning 2 pack 1 q11
Sats reasoning 3 pack 2 q 12

This style of learning mirrors our 1-to-1 interventions, where pupils and tutors work through SATs-style questions together. As they do, pupils are encouraged to explain their calculations. Tutors are then able to correct any faulty reasoning, whilst pupils improve their verbal reasoning with numerical concepts.

2. Focus on problem solving & reasoning skills

Often pupils come to us with good procedural knowledge but they struggle with KS2 problem solving or reasoning skills.

In the run up to SATs, it can be tempting to focus mainly on plugging any gaps in procedural understanding but, actually including problem solving tasks in your SATs preparation for all pupils helps to develop their reasoning skills and work independently in a more effective way.

Our tutors make sure that all of our SATs lessons contain a range of problem solving questions, even in lessons for pupils working below expectations.

Download Free Resources

KS2 Maths SATs Practice Papers: Set of 3 (Pack 1)

1 Arithmetic and 2 Reasoning Papers in line with the National Curriculum Assessment, including mark scheme to find out where your pupils need extra support

Download Free Now!

3. Get pupils to explain their reasoning

Getting pupils to explain their mathematical reasoning not only helps to deepen their understanding but ensures better information retention.

Third Space tutors regularly ask pupils to explain what they’re doing and why. They’ll use questions such as ‘how do you know’ ‘are you sure’ and ‘can you imagine’, the latter in particular helps to move them along to the more conceptual, deeper lines of thinking that are required for independent work and assessment.

This is essential in any catch up numeracy programme, otherwise you risk just reinforcing existing knowledge rather than developing new knowledge.

To extend the learning they might swap roles, and get the pupil to teach the concept back to the tutor.

Here are 9 questioning strategies to improve your pupils’ understanding of key concepts in maths.

4. Develop growth mindset

Growth mindset is really important in maths because it’s a subject where confidence can really affect their learning.

Just thinking a bit about how you give feedback – little phrases like “you worked really hard on that!” or “I like how you persevered with that question” rather than “you’re so good at maths” can make a big difference.

At Third Space, our tutors are trained to support pupils to develop a growth mindset. Tutors make a point however of not just praising effort but also following up with next steps or corrections where a pupil does need to try again. The tutor and pupil will evaluate mistakes together and the tutor can then help them to try a different strategy.

Related resource: Growth Mindset Questions resource can work wonders in the long run!

5. Personalise the learning & support

The most effective interventions are those that are highly personalised to the needs of the pupil. This means teaching directly to a pupil’s own misconceptions, adapting the lesson, and extending it as appropriate for the child.

Of course, you will have a good idea of a pupil’s strengths and challenges in Maths, but to really drill down into the detail of where their gaps lie, diagnostic assessment can be a really useful tool.

Pupils on Third Space Learning’s 1-to-1 intervention programme sit down to a diagnostic test before their first session which helps inform the sessions their tutor will teach, and at what level that session should be pitched. Plus, during the lesson, tutors use AFL (assessment for learning techniques) to vary the pace according to how the pupils are responding.

However you prepare your pupils for National Assessments, whether it’s group interventions or extra homework, we would always recommend doing a diagnostic assessment to identify the key gaps. 

Related resource: 4 free diagnostic tests for Year 6 Number: Place Value, Fractions, Addition/Subtraction and Multiplication/Division (Well over 5,000 downloads so far…)

Of course, all of the above isn’t just about preparing for SATs. Learning should prepare pupils for the real world just as much as SATs. Promoting growth mindset, improving reasoning, and building problem solving skills won’t just help them get the best grades possible in their National Assessments, it’ll help them become vibrant learners ready to face any challenge the world can throw at them!

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Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly maths intervention programmes designed to plug gaps and boost progress.


Since 2013 these personalised one to one lessons have helped over 150,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians.


Learn how we can teach multiple pupils at once or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions [FREE]

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions in primary and secondary schools.

Includes a 20 point checklist of techniques to improve your one to one teaching.

Download free