Review Of Maths SATs 2023: Results Of Our Teacher Survey! What Do You Think?

Originally published Friday 12th May 2023

Somehow, SATs week has come and gone again. It won’t be long before the SATs results 2023 come into focus again but, for now, we’re back on the scene with our eagerly anticipated annual SATs survey review blog!

Every SATs week, we ask thousands of teachers to share their views on that year’s papers, and this year is no different. 

This week, we sent our annual survey to over 37,000 teachers and senior leaders, kept an eye on social media, and spoke to as many of the 800+ schools signed up to our online one-to-one tutoring programmes as we could to get their thoughts on the 2023 maths SATs.

With strike action, polling days and a coronation thrown into the mix, it’s clear that it’s been a SATs season like no other, but what did the nation’s Year 6 teachers and school leaders make of the whole experience this year, as well as the papers themselves? Read on to find out!

Please note, this blog post does not go into question-level detail, but we’ll be back on your device screens with a full SATs breakdown and analysis after the 22nd May.

Twitter post from @MissLGresty on SATs 2023

Want to draw comparisons of your own with previous years?

A huge thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts. Didn’t get a chance? Let us know what you thought of #SATs2023 over at @thirdspacetweet.


The SATs 2023 experience: not plain sailing

Let’s kick off by looking at the overall SATs 2023 experience. The survey broadly suggests that it was a difficult set of papers, but there is naturally nuance from paper to paper, school to school, and pupil to pupil. How does your experience compare?


2022 v. 2023 comparison: SATs were harder than last year

Twitter post from @BookinaBox3 on SATs 2023

For 77% of those respondents, this wasn’t their first year supporting Year 6 pupils through SATs. Approximately 3 out of 4 of those SATs veterans said their overall SATs experience was harder than last year. When thinking about the maths papers specifically, two thirds felt they were harder than 2022.

A bar graph showing teacher survey results which shows teachers found SATs 2023 harder than 2022
Quote from Year 6 Teacher on SATs 2023 compared with SATs 2022
Quote from Year 6 Teacher on SATs 2023 compared with SATs 2022
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Maths SATs 2023 papers were notably difficult

Let’s now focus on teachers’ maths experience this year, whether or not it was their first year.

Twitter post from @DanJCrossman on SATs 2023

60% felt the maths SATs 2023 papers were difficult or very difficult, while 31% felt they were average.

A bar graph showing results of teacher survey on SATs 2023

Teachers who have used Third Space Learning’s online one-to-one maths tutoring in the run-up to SATs were more likely to respond that the papers were easier.

But did this meet people’s expectations for how SATs 2023 would be?

42% of respondents thought it was more difficult than they expected, while 36% felt it was as they expected.

A bar graph showing results of teacher survey on SATs 2023
Quote from KS2 Leader on KS2 maths SATs 2023

But the papers should broadly provide a fair assessment

Overall, respondents were about in the middle as to whether they feel the 2023 SATs papers will provide a fair assessment of pupils’ understanding of maths, with 0 being ‘Not at all confident’ and 10 being ‘Extremely confident’. 

A bar graph showing results of teacher survey on SATs 2023

The average score of 4.3 is about the same as we saw in last year’s survey.

Teachers who used Third Space Learning’s online one-to-one maths tutoring to support their pupils in the lead-up to SATs feel more confident that the papers will provide a fair assessment of their pupils’ understanding – with 46% of this group of respondents choosing 7+ out of 10, compared to just 15% for those who hadn’t.

Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023

Many teachers feel pupils could be assessed in a less stressful way 

Teachers across the UK reported that pupils who are usually Greater Depth and have completed practice papers in plenty of time did not manage to finish the maths papers this year. Many commented on the wordy nature of the questions and the need to use multiple areas of maths to complete multiple steps for low-mark answers.

Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023

While plenty commented that SATs should be cancelled altogether, many felt that at least removing time limits would provide slower pupils with a fairer chance to reach age-related expectations. Lots of teachers questioned whether timing matters, within reason, if a child has the ability to arrive at the correct answer.

Both timing and the difficulty of the tests bring into question the grade boundaries for achieving that golden standardised score of 100. 2022 and 2019 saw a raw score of 58/110 equivalent to achieving Age Related Expectations for Year 6 pupils. 

A hard one to predict, 32% of respondents feel the raw score required to meet expectations will decrease due to the difficult nature of SATs. On the other hand, 26% of educators believe the grade boundaries will increase with many of the opinion that, while still a problem for many, the gaps in learning have not been accounted for. Others believe that higher grade boundaries will be favoured to align with the policy of making maths education compulsory up to 18.

Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023

Maths came after an extremely difficult reading paper

Now, let’s focus on the individual maths papers, without giving anything away about the actual questions or content. We’ll be covering that in a couple of weeks!

Twitter posts from @Mr_Mac_Primary on SATs 2023

Before we continue, we should address the elephant in the room which is the Reading paper. We might be a maths tutoring company, but we know you’ll be thinking about the SATs experience as a whole.

Many teachers felt that pupils were at a disadvantage before they even began their first maths paper due to the difficulty of the Reading paper in particular.

Quote from Maths coordinator on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Maths coordinator on Maths SATs 2023

Arithmetic paper was mostly on par with what was expected

64% of respondents thought the Arithmetic paper was average, while 26% thought it was difficult. Only 10% thought it was easy or very easy.

Bar graph showing results of teacher survey on SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023

This follows last year’s trend, where 65% of teachers that answered our survey felt that the Year 6 arithmetic test was average.

Twitter post from @Chazacox on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 pupil on Maths SATs 2023

Reasoning 1 was pretty tough

As in 2022, Reasoning 1 was more difficult than Arithmetic, but markedly more so this year. In 2023, nearly 60% of teachers felt that Reasoning 1 was difficult or very difficult, followed by 35% that thought it was average. Very few thought it was easy or very easy this year.

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Reasoning Paper 1 difficulty
Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023

Reasoning 2 was a bit more palatable

For Reasoning 2, ‘average’ and ‘difficult’ responses were more evenly pitched.

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Reasoning Paper 2 difficulty
Quote from Year 6 Teacher on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 Teacher on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 Teacher on Maths SATs 2023
Twitter post from @MissEmilyK_ on Maths SATs 2023
Quote from Year 6 pupil on Maths SATs 2023

Teachers felt prepared and had covered most if not all of the curriculum

It’s clear to anyone who works closely with schools that teachers put an incredible amount of effort into ensuring their pupils head into SATs week feeling confident and prepared. 

Our survey suggests that, on the whole, teachers felt their pupils were well prepared for SATs week, and, when comparing to the same question in last year’s survey, they felt they were slightly better prepared this year than they were in 2022:

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Maths SATs 2023

The majority of respondents’ schools have followed the White Rose scheme of work and, when it comes to content coverage, it seems teachers were able to progress through the curriculum a little more efficiently this year, too, with a higher percentage of teachers enjoying plenty of time for revision than last year and fewer who’d had to leave some topics uncovered.

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Maths SATs 2023

28% of teachers who used Third Space Learning’s online one-to-one maths tuition to support their target pupils were able to cover the curriculum with plenty of time for revision – more than 2.5x the percentage of those who hadn’t.

We also asked teachers which topics their Year 6 pupils struggled most with, and the results were mixed.

The top three most challenging topics (Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, Properties of Shape and Ratio and Proportion) have stayed the same since last year, but this year the top spot is taken by Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, compared to Ratio and Proportion in 2022.

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Maths SATs 2023

It’s interesting to note that no one topic was selected by a majority of respondents, so if you didn’t feel your pupils struggled with Fractions, Decimals and Percentages – you’re certainly not alone!

On the whole, teachers selected these topics for one of two reasons; because pupils have come into Year 6 with gaps or insufficient foundational knowledge, or because schools simply didn’t have time to cover these topics in as much depth as they would like.


The pandemic has continued to have an impact on this year’s cohort

As one may expect, the pandemic undoubtedly impacted this year’s cohort as much as, if not more than, last year’s. Although there have been two full years of ‘uninterrupted’ education since the pandemic, the disruption of previous years has continued to impact the SATs experience.  

Teachers across the country were asked how they felt the pandemic continued to affect the SATs experience this year. Unsurprisingly, given that this year’s cohort missed out on class-based learning in Year 3 and 4, outstanding gaps in knowledge ranked as the number 1 answer. 

Bar graph showing results from teacher survey on Maths SATs 2023

Many respondents referenced children ‘missing out on large chunks of the LKS2 curriculum,’ particularly times tables fluency, with the Year 6 curriculum taking a longer time to cover due to learning gaps and pressure on school timetables without enough time to catch up on learning or revise topics.

Quote from Headteacher on Maths SATs 2023 and the effect of the pandemic on pupils

Interestingly, many teachers told us they feel attitudes toward education have changed since the pandemic with parents taking children out of school more frequently for term-time holidays than pre-pandemic. 

Respondents also felt that ‘many pupils have become disengaged with learning and lack the stamina to see a problem through to the end.’ A ‘laid back approach to learning’ has been observed by many up and down the country with a lack of stamina in maths and academic resilience to challenges.  

It is felt by many as though the pandemic has already ‘been forgotten’ and the ‘tests weren’t reflective’ of the curriculum content that the children had missed in previous years with many Year 6 teachers and SLT referring to this year’s SATs papers as the most difficult set of papers yet. 

Quote from Year 6 teacher on Maths SATs 2023 and learning loss due to the pandemic

Teachers have done all they can to consider pupil and staff wellbeing 

Earlier this week, TES published an article by Nuffield Health referencing a ‘notable increase in the percentage of highly anxious Year 6 teachers during SATs week’ and our survey definitely supports this result.

As well as teacher anxiety, our survey found pupil anxiety also remained high this year and, for many, it seems there were tears during the exams.

Quote from Year 6 on the effect on SATs 2023 on pupil and staff wellbeing

Breakfast clubs made a popular annual return for SATs week in a bid to ease anxiety and stress surrounding the daily tests. Year 6 pupils across the country enjoyed tucking into breakfast, prepared by their teachers, surrounded by their friends.

Whilst this is an enjoyable experience for staff and pupils, some said it adds to the pressure and duties put on teachers. Some were up as early as 5.30am to ensure their pupils started the day with a sufficient meal before combatting the papers. 

However, SATs don’t always need to have a negative impact on wellbeing. Lots of respondents shared ways they made their revision lessons fun by using games and outdoor learning to tackle the task of revising. 

An overwhelming consensus from respondents stated that mindfulness was used as a common practice to help promote wellbeing in the lead-up to SATs. Moreover, the majority of respondents reduced or scrapped homework altogether in the weeks nearing the SATs examinations to ease the pressure placed on pupils. 

Others included daily yoga practices to help calm nerves, breathing exercises, fun activities, and a big focus on PSHE lessons to help improve the wellbeing of their Year 6 cohort. 


Maths tutoring had a positive impact on Year 6 pupils this year

Two thirds of respondents had maths tutoring in place for their Year 6 pupils this year, with an average impact score of 8 out of 10. 

Out of all the schools that used tutoring, most opted for group tutoring over one-to-one, but this did make a difference in how impactful they found it. Across every tutoring type (face-to-face/online and internal/external), those who’ve used one-to-one tutoring found it more impactful than those who had used small group tutoring.

Small group tutoring is often the preferred choice as it is often more affordable than one-to-one tutoring. 25% of schools surveyed have chosen Third Space Learning’s personalised online one-to-one maths tuition in the run-up to SATs this year, meaning they’ve been able to implement one-to-one support for the price of small group. 

Third Space Learning provides online one to one maths tutoring from primary and secondary schools across the UK

As the UK’s most affordable DfE-approved one-to-one tutoring provider, support from Third Space Learning is 56% cheaper than the average cost of one-to-one tutoring. 

Quote from Maths Coordinator on the benefits of tutoring with Third Space Learning

Just over 25% of respondents have used Third Space Learning’s online one-to-one maths tuition in the run-up to SATs this year. 98% told us it has been effective at preparing their Year 6 pupils for SATs.

Quote from Year 6 Maths Teacher on the benefits of individualised one to one maths tutoring with Third Space Learning

The majority noted improved confidence and engagement, plugged learning gaps and stronger reasoning and problem-solving skills in their Year 6 Third Space Learning cohort.

Quote from Year 6 Teacher on the benefits and student enjoyment of tutoring with Third Space Learning

Practice makes perfect: daily arithmetic and reasoning questions and practice papers are key

As well as tutoring, teachers also told us about the resources that had made the most impact on their pupils’ SATs preparation. 

78% of respondents had made use of the free downloadable resources available on our online resource library, the Third Space Maths Hub, with 97% finding them helpful for preparing their Year 6 pupils for SATs. 

For those of you who use our resources regularly, it won’t come as a surprise to find out that the resources most often mentioned as particularly helpful were Fluent in Five, Rapid Reasoning and our collection of SATs practice papers.

Quote from Year 6 teacher on the benefits of rapid reasoning - a resource from Third Space Learning
Quote from Year 6 teacher on the benefits of Fluent in Five - a resource from Third Space Learning

You can download any of these as a guest above, but to benefit from the full collection of our free resources you’ll need to create a free account for the Third Space Maths Hub here.

Many teachers also mentioned that the tips, activities and guidance available on the Third Space Learning blog had been extremely helpful in the lead-up to SATs, with our hugely popular Long Division blog getting a lot of mentions, as well as our annually-updated analysis of highest-impact SATs revision topics broken down by the number of marks, frequency of appearance and average difficulty. 

Quote from Year 6 Teacher on Third Space Learning blogs and how they helped during SATs 2023

Strikes and elections and coronations, oh my!

Just as in 2022 teachers faced an extraordinary year after several years of Covid-related disruption, this year also had its fair share of uncertainty. 

This time last year, you may have been hoping for a relatively smooth SATs preparation season in 2023, but strike action and the King’s coronation – not to mention closures for polling days – have led to many unanticipated changes to the timetable for this year’s Year 6 cohort.

Quote from Deputy Headteacher on impact of bank holidays and strikes on SATs 2023

An extra bank holiday meant many children were less ready for assessments

Twitter post from @MrB_online

The impact of the additional bank holiday for the King’s coronation was, according to our survey respondents, more negative than positive, with a few common factors; children were tired after two long weekends, children felt more anxious, and children (and staff!) will now miss out on having the Friday of SATs week to celebrate all their hard work.

Quote from KS2 leader on SATs 2023 prep

Many teachers felt that, despite the week being shorter, the additional bank holiday meant it felt anything but!

Many teachers felt conflicted over the strike action

Over the spring and summer terms, strike action has taken place across the country. We asked teachers if there was anything they’d like to share, and many told us they felt conflicted about the best course of action. 

On the whole, respondents supported the strikes, yet noted the impact this would have on learning. In a large proportion of schools, the Year 6 teachers were not afforded the opportunity to strike in a bid to reduce the number of learning days lost for pupils. 


Looking ahead: some would do things differently next year

While the last thing you might want to do is think about next year, our respondents have offered some interesting parting reflections on 2023 SATs. 

Lots of respondents were content with their SATs preparation this year, but what would others like to do differently in 2024? There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and each cohort is unique, but here are a few ideas. What do you think?

Third Space Learning’s SATs revision programme might just be the answer!


Last but not least: celebrating teachers and pupils alike

While we can’t mention each and every response, we have seen so much support for one another in the survey comments, and know that SATs don’t measure lots of other skills. 

We’ve seen lots of teachers celebrating their pupils…

Twitter post from @RFewStAnnes on SATs 2023

… and teachers supporting each other too!

Twitter post from @petch_matt on SATs 2023

Whether you’ve used our free maths resources, got advice from our blog or benefitted from our online one-to-one maths tutoring, it’s been an honour and a privilege to be part of your maths journey this SATs season.

We’ll miss each of the 8,080 Year 6 pupils who’ve been learning with Third Space Learning tutors this year, but we’re looking forward to getting to know a new cohort of pupils over the next few weeks!

Before you go, don’t forget to download our Maths SATs Survival Bundle, full of our most popular FREE maths resources in one handy place!

And if you need a chuckle at the end of a stressful week…

Twitter post from @MrBoothY6 on SATs 2023

We’ll see you again after 22nd May with a comprehensive question-level analysis from one of our brilliant authors, Emma Johnson. Until then, all of us at Third Space Learning want to wish you a restful weekend – SATs 2023 is over!

Twitter post from @TTRadioOfficial on SATs 2023
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Learn about the SATs revision programme or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.

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Includes 2 Arithmetic and 4 Reasoning Papers, with mark schemes and answer booklets, that follow the National Curriculum Assessments.

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