SATs Results 2023: Headlines And Next Steps For Senior Leaders

This page was updated with all the results, SATs data and analysis on Tuesday 11th July 2023, including commentary from our expert author, Emma Johnson.

After considerable controversy over the level of difficulty of this year’s test papers and a week later than originally scheduled, the national SATs results 2023 are finally in.

Before we start, it’s worth remembering that Covid first struck when this year group was halfway through Year 3. With this in mind, the big question is how are things looking for this cohort of students? Is the disruption to pupils’ first two years of KS2 still having an impact on attainment? On another note, will this year’s reading results be affected by the level of difficulty of the 2023 paper?

In this article, we delve into the answers to these questions and provide a comprehensive analysis of this year’s results with a focus on Maths Arithmetic & Reasoning. We’ll also be discussing what these results mean for your school and offer guidance on the best course of action moving forward.


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National attainment is broadly consistent with 2022

Let’s begin by taking a look at the national picture for SATs 2023:

  • 59% of pupils reached the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths, unchanged from 2022 
  • 73% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, down from 75% in 2022 
  • 73% of pupils met the expected standard in maths, up from 71% in 2022 
  • 71% of pupils met the expected standard in writing, up from 69% in 2022 
  • 72% of pupils met the expected standard in English grammar, punctuation and spelling, unchanged from 2022 

At first glance, the national attainment for the 2023 Key Stage 2 SATs is broadly similar to that of 2022. The percentage of pupils achieving the expected level across the three subjects of reading, writing and maths has remained unchanged at 59%. 

The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard in both maths and writing has increased by 2%, whilst there has been a 2% fall in the percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard in reading.

Later in this article, we will delve a little more into these results by taking a closer look at the raw scores and corresponding scaled scores for each subject. Looking at these, it is clear that a higher national attainment percentage doesn’t necessarily mean that this cohort of students has reached a higher level of attainment than the students in 2022.

To be able to analyse the continued impact of the Covid pandemic, we need to take a look at the longer-term picture, to ascertain how the results achieved by the pupils in 2023 compared to those achieved by pupils prior to 2020.

Percentage of pupils reaching EXS nationally in past 5 years as a table

(Attainment in writing is not directly comparable to 2017 because of changes to writing teacher assessment frameworks in 2018)

Percentage of pupils reaching EXS nationally in past 5 years as a bar chart
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National attainment remains considerably below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019

While standards improved in the years leading up to the Covid pandemic, there was a noticeable drop in the overall attainment in reading, writing and maths. The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard in 2023 remains 6% lower than the percentage achieving this standard in 2019. 

With the Department for Education’s announcement last year of a ‘Levelling Up mission’ for 90% of pupils to meet the expected national standard in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school by 2030, there is clearly a considerable amount of work needed to achieve this mission. 

In the three years prior to the Covid pandemic, the trend in maths, writing and GPS showed an increase in the percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard. However, reading percentages have been less consistent (fluctuating between 72% and 75%). 

This fluctuation has continued with last year’s increase in percentage to 74% dropping back down to 73% in 2023. The question here is whether this fluctuation is down to an inconsistency in the level of difficulty each year, rather than a fluctuation in the ability of the pupils.

Reading SATs scores, unlike other subjects, seems to have been least negatively impacted from the school closures. In 2020, 73% of pupils achieved the expected standard, which is consistent with the percentage achieved in 2019 and surpasses 2017 by 1%. However, the same can’t be said for maths, writing and GPS which have all suffered considerably. Maths performance remains 6% below the level reached in 2019, whilst writing and GPS are still 7% and 6% below.

What were the raw and scaled scores for SATs 2023?

Pupils’ raw scores for each paper are converted to a standardised score, with a score of 100 required for a pupil to be considered to have reached the expected standard (EXS). A child achieving a standardised score of 110 or higher is considered to be working at greater depth, or ‘meeting the higher standard’.

Raw and scaled scores for past 5 years of SATs (Maths, Reading & GPS) as a table
Raw and scaled scores for past 5 years of SATs (Maths, Reading & GPS) as a bar chart

A drop in attainment for both maths and reading

A drop in the raw score required to reach the expected level in the reading paper probably hasn’t come as a surprise to many. Following the widely publicised level of difficulty of the paper, the pass mark was generally expected to drop. 

The raw score dropped considerably not only for reading but also for maths, despite the paper containing less Year 6 content than previous years (only 36%). This strongly suggests that the level of difficulty of the papers is not the only factor at play here. School closures during the Covid pandemic have clearly continued to impact this cohort of pupils.

The raw scores to achieve both EXS and GDS in maths are the lowest ever, with 56/110 (51%) being a drop of 2% compared to the score needed in 2022 and a drop of 4% compared to the score needed for the 2018 papers. This year, a raw score of 94 (85%) was needed to achieve GDS, also a 3% decrease compared to the score required in 2022 and 3% lower than the highest score needed over the past 5 years (in 2017).

In the SATs reading paper, the fall in attainment is even more dramatic, with a drop in the pass mark for achieving EXS from 29/50 (58%) in 2022 to this year’s mark of 24/50 (48%). There was a huge 10% drop in the mark needed to reach EXS and a 3 mark drop to reach GDS, from 41/50 (82%) in 2022 to 38/50 (76%) this year.

The GPS paper is the only paper not to have followed this trend for a fall in attainment, with the raw score needed to achieve the expected level increasing by 1 mark to the pre-pandemic level of 36/70 (51%), compared to last year’s score of 35/70 (50%).

While not a significant increase for the GPS paper, the question here is, why has attainment fallen so considerably in maths and reading, but has remained consistent with pre-pandemic levels for GPS? How much is this down to the difficulty of the paper and how much is down to the impact of Covid? Considering last year’s reading actually showed a rise in attainment, then questions do certainly need to be asked regarding how appropriate this year’s reading paper actually was. 

Little change in average scaled scores

The average scaled scores show the mean scaled score for all pupils (from 80 to 120). These scores show us the typical performance of all students taking the tests, taking into account the performance of pupils across the full range of scores. The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard only takes into account the pupils working at or above a scaled score of 100.

Average scaled scores over past 5 years in SATs

On the surface, the average scaled scores appear to have changed very little over the past 5 years. Reading scores were higher in both 2022 and 2023 than they were before the pandemic and maths scaled scores were 1 point below but in line with scores achieved in 2017 and 2019. GPS came out at 1 point lower than pre-pandemic scores.

Looking more closely at the conversion tables that show how the raw scores match the scaled scores each year, it is clear that these vary considerably from year to year. Children across the full range of scores needed to score less for the average scaled score to remain the same. 

If we take the controversial 2023 reading test, for example, the lowest scaled score which could be achieved in the paper was 82 for a pupil with a raw score of 3 marks. This compares to 2022 when a pupil scoring 3 or 4 marks would only achieve a scaled score of 80. This continues throughout, with a raw score of 20 in 2023 being given a scaled score of 97, whilst 20 in 2022 would have received a scaled score of 93. 

This variation in scaled scores does seem to imply that the DfE has tried to ensure a higher percentage of pupils have achieved both the expected and higher standard in the reading paper in particular and, again, raises the question of how appropriate this paper was for assessing this cohort of pupils.

SATs 2023 maths paper analysis: how did content domains relate to marks?

Highest percentage of content from Year 3 to Year 5 and lowest ever pass mark

KS2 maths SATs papers analysis 5 years
KS2 Maths SATs papers analysis by year group over past 5 years as table

The 2023 paper had the highest number of marks from content from the Year 3 to Year 5 curriculum than any paper in the past 5 years. This, coupled with the lower percentage required to pass does suggest that attainment in maths is lower than the headline figures would suggest. 

The possibility of passing the test without any knowledge of the Year 6 curriculum was clearly higher in 2023 than it has been in any of the years previously. This year, the pass mark was 51%, with 64% of the paper being from Years 3 to 5. If we look back to 2019, the pass mark was 53%, with 52% of content being from Year 3 to 5.

Children could have reached the expected standard in the 2023 SATS by focusing on just two content domains

KS2 Maths SATs papers analysis by content domain

As with previous years, the two most content-heavy domains were calculations and fractions, decimals & percentages (FDP). With these 2 areas accounting for 58% of the total marks and the pass mark being 51%, pupils could have comfortably reached the expected standard by focusing solely on these two domains. 

The SATs arithmetic test is still the key to achieving good maths results

Of the three maths papers, the arithmetic paper is the easiest to prepare the children for. There are also far fewer surprises in this paper, compared to the two reasoning papers. As a result, children generally achieve higher scores in this paper.

This year, only 56 marks were required across the 3 papers for pupils to achieve the expected standard. With this in mind, if children were to achieve a score of 30 out of 40 in the arithmetic paper, they then only needed a total of 26 marks (37%) across the 2 reasoning papers to be considered as having reached the expected standard.

KS2 SATs results 2023: the next steps for your school

1. Compare your school performance to the national data

You will want to know how your school has compared to the national data for the combined reading/writing/maths expected standard, alongside the expected standard levels for each individual subject.

It is important to remember that the smaller your cohort, the less statistically relevant the national data is.

SATs Key Stage 2 results by school are available from the government’s school comparison service.

2. Check carefully whether any papers need to be submitted for remarking

When the SATs tests are marked, there will always be some mistakes, particularly with the huge volume of papers involved. Check through your school’s results for each subject and highlight any pupils scoring within 3 marks of the cut-off mark needed to be classed as reaching the expected level.

Download the published mark scheme and carefully check through the papers of each of your borderline children to ensure no marks have been missed. This could be where children have been given a zero but should have received marks for the calculations. Particularly check that any workings outside of the answer area have been taken into account.

If you feel a child may have been given a lower score than they should have been, it is worth applying for those papers to be reviewed and marked again.

Be aware: SATs paper marking errors can go either way!

Whilst it is true that marks can be missed when the paper is marked, there is also the possibility that marks have been given which shouldn’t have. You should be aware that when sending papers to be remarked, there is also the risk that the student will lose marks.

If, for example, you find missed marks on the maths paper and request a remark, all 3 papers will be remarked. This means you do need to check carefully before submitting! There is a cost associated with the review if no changes are made to the original marking decision.

3. Analyse the results to identify areas of strength and areas of development

Take the time before the end of term to carefully review the SATs results to gain a full understanding of how the cohort has performed. Identify which topics the cohort has done well in and which topics children have struggled with. Take these findings into account when planning for the following year.

This isn’t just an area for Year 6 teachers to focus on. With 64% of the 2023 maths content being content from Year 3-5, it is worth identifying how children can be supported in these year groups, to ensure a solid understanding of each topic.

Is there a gap between attainment of any key groups? If so, how can these gaps be addressed?

It is important to look at the key groups, such as Pupil Premium/non-Pupil Premium, boys/girls and EAL/non-EAL.

Look for any trends and patterns within this data and consider what the reasons could be for any variation. Once you have done this, think about how these variations can be addressed in future years to ensure any gaps are narrowed as much as possible.

Remember, SATs are a measure of the whole of KS2, therefore any measures you decide to put in place need to be across the whole of KS2 and not just in Years 5 and 6.

4. Predicting progress scores from your KS2 SATs results 2023

Once you have looked at the attainment of your current cohort, you may want to begin to attempt to predict what your school-level progress scores will be. This is a time-consuming process, so thought needs to be given to the value of doing this, rather than waiting for the progress scores to come through in the autumn.

School progress scores are calculated based on an average of pupil progress scores, but the progress score measure is only statistically reliable as a school average. Individual scores should not be reported to parents.

Pupil scores are calculated separately for English reading, writing and mathematics. It’s important to remember that pupils who don’t have KS1 SATs data for all three cannot be included in the progress measures, but their KS2 scores will be included in the school’s attainment measures.

Each pupil is put into a Prior Attainment Group (PAG) based on their Key Stage 1 average point scores. It is important to make sure that you are calculating these correctly, understanding that it is not simply a case of adding up the three-point scores and dividing by 3.

To calculate the child’s average point score (and therefore their PAG), the calculation you need to do is:

  • Add the child’s point score for reading and writing together.
  • Divide this by 2.
  • Add the child’s point score for the maths to this total.
  • Divide this new total by 2.

What is the next step when predicting progress scores?

After the calculation above, each PAG is given an average scaled score.

This is the actual average of the scaled scores of all children nationally who fit into the PAG. Therefore, it is likely to be slightly different year on year. However, given the change in scaled scores, we can expect these to be roughly the same.

The individual progress scores for all children who have KS1 assessment data available are totalled per subject and divided by the number of eligible pupils (i.e. removing those that have been ‘disapplied’ and those that don’t have KS1 assessment data) to give the school an average.

You can only make a rough prediction at this stage as the tables that give the average scaled scores for each PAG will not be published until at least October. 

It’s important to note that the DfE put measures in place to help reduce the impact of pupils with disproportionately negative progress scores, however, these only apply in very rare circumstances. 

5. Reporting the KS2 SATs results to children and parents

Remember that schools have a statutory responsibility to report the pupils’ results SATs to parents.

For pupils in KS2, end of year reports must include the following:

  • The child’s SATs results, including the pupil’s scaled score and whether they met the expected standard.
  • The outcome of statutory national curriculum TA in English, writing and science.
  • Where appropriate, a statement explaining why any national curriculum test has not been taken.

KS2 reports must also include comparative information about the attainment of pupils the same age:

  • In the school.
  • In the core subject nationally.

It is also a legal requirement that you provide enough time for parents to have the opportunity to discuss the results if they wish.

6. Headteachers: remember to support your staff, regardless of the results

SATs results day is a stressful time for leaders but it is also important to remember that other staff members will need your support too. 

If the 2023 SATs results are good, it is important to celebrate this with all staff, not just the Year 6 teachers. Many of your other teachers and support staff will have had an input into these results which should be recognised and celebrated.

If the results are not the results which were hoped for, leaders need to be there to support staff, particularly the Year 6 teachers who often feel a disproportionate level of responsibility. It is important to make it clear to these teachers that the results are not all on their shoulders.

The key factor to remember here is that regardless of the outcome, the KS2 SATs are a whole school effort. 

7. What else can you do for your Year 6 pupils?

Beyond the statutory letter, it is up to each individual school what else they do.

It is important to remember that children will vary considerably in their response to the SATs results. Whilst some will take the results in their stride, others will find them upsetting. 

Where possible, it is worth taking the time to sit with each child and explain their test results alongside the teacher assessment data. This gives staff an opportunity to show students that the test is not the be-all-and-end-all. It also gives the opportunity to help children understand that it is their full year of progress, not just the scores from SATs, which matter.

8. Look on the bright side of your 2023 KS2 SATs results!

While it is natural to sometimes focus on the negative, particularly if your headline figures aren’t what you had hoped for, it is important to look for the positives too. These may be successes for particular individual children or groups of children, or certain elements of the tests which have gone well for your whole cohort. These are all reasons to celebrate.

Certainly, take the results and use them as a focus for areas to develop next year but remember, your children are so much more than the score they achieved in their SATs.

How can Third Space Learning improve SATs results in maths?

Our SATs revision programme has supported thousands of Year 6 pupils over the years, providing targeted revision that combines a focus on the individual’s gaps with the key topics they need to know for the SATs exams. Every year, our Curriculum Team reviews the SATs papers to identify those high-impact topics and embed these learnings into the programme.

Our SATs revision lessons have been designed around a maths mastery approach building fluency, reasoning and problem-solving.

Third Space Learning SATs revision programme lesson slide
Third Space Learning SATs revision lesson slide

Schools often use Third Space Learning to support their target pupils who would otherwise not be securely on track to achieve the expected standard. With the support of our one-to-one tutors, most of them are able to turn around their SATs results.

We sent out a post-SATs survey to our wonderful community of schools to hear about how Third Space Learning’s revision programme supported their Year 6 pupils this year. Here’s what they had to say:

  • In their 2023 SATs results, Third Space Learners were more likely to achieve higher scores in their maths SATs than the rest of their cohort and than the national average
  • 100% of teachers agreed that weekly one to one sessions with their tutors helped their Third Space Learners to achieve a higher score than they otherwise would have – with the majority saying they ‘helped significantly’
  • 100% of teachers agreed that Third Space Learning has had a positive impact on their Year 6 pupils’ overall engagement and confidence in maths
Quote from Year 6 teacher on Third Space Learning
Quote from Year 6 teacher on Third Space Learning SATs revision programme
Quote from Deputy Headteacher on impact of Third Space Learning tutoring
Read more about SATs results: 
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Every week Third Space Learning’s specialist primary maths tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1 to 1 maths lessons 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 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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