What To Expect From A SATs Tutoring Programme (& The Key Questions To Ask SATs Tutors)

SATs tutoring is increasingly recognised as a valuable resource for primary schools in the lead up to Year 6 SATs. With evidence clearly highlighting the benefits of tutoring programmes, the crucial step for schools is to determine the most effective ways to utilise tutoring in their context to deliver the desired impact.

This blog focuses on the implementation of SATs tutoring for schools, looking at the factors that senior leaders should consider when starting up tutoring in their primary schools. While private SATs tutors, both face-to-face and online, are an option for students outside of school, our focus will be on the considerations and benefits associated with school-based tuition.

What is SATs tutoring?

SATs tutoring is a way of supporting pupils in preparation for the SATs tests. SATs are taken by primary school pupils at the end of Key Stage 1 and the end of Key Stage 2. Children are assessed at these two points during their time in primary school with the aim being to establish how each child is progressing compared to other children in the same year group. SATs tutoring can start from Key Stage 1, but specific exam-focused tuition is generally focused more on the Key Stage 2 SATs tests. SATs tutoring generally starts in Year 6, however KS2 tutoring at any age will help prepare pupils for the tests.

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The KS1 SATs take place in Year 2 (for children aged between 6 and 7). These usually take place in the classroom and are marked by the teacher. The SATS consist of formal assessments in maths and English through a total of seven SATS papers. These cover:

  • Reading (2 papers)
  • Spelling 
  • Punctuation and grammar (3 papers)
  • Maths (2 papers)


The second assessment point falls at towards the end of primary school, in the May of Year 6 (for children aged between 10 and 11). Unlike the KS1 SATS, these are more formal, often taking place in a more formal setting such as the school hall. Also, these papers aren’t marked by the class teacher, but are sent off to be externally marked. These tests consist of seven papers: 

  • Reading (2 papers)
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation and grammar (2 papers)
  • Maths (3 papers)

What SATs tutoring options are there?

For school-based tuition, there are several key decisions to consider: 

  • One to one or group tutoring
  • Online or in-person tutoring
  • Internal or external providers

One to one or group tutoring

On a one to one basis, suitably qualified teachers or tutors work with one child individually, whereas small group tutoring usually involves groups of up to 6 pupils. 

Both approaches can have a significant impact on a child’s progress, however research shows that one to one tutoring consistently results in the most accelerated progress. This is likely due to the highly personalised instruction designed to focus on an individual pupil’s learning gaps. This is more difficult in a group setting where pupils may have different gaps. 

Online or in-person tutoring

Both one-to-one and group sessions can be delivered in person, with the tutor in the room with the children, or online SATs tutors can deliver the sessions remotely using video conferencing tools or online classroom platforms to work together. There is currently no evidence to suggest that in-person or online tutoring is more effective – so it comes down to the school’s preference.

Online tutoring

online sats tutoring strength and weaknesses

In person tutoring

in person sats tutoring strength and weaknesses

Internal or external providers

If you are looking to start up SATs tutoring with internal staff, there are some benefits to this. Existing staff will likely find it easier to build the rapport and supportive environment necessary for tutoring. However, teaching staff and teaching assistants are likely already stretched and may be unable to take on this additional workload. School-led tutoring comes with a lot of planning and administrative tasks, such as diagnostic and on-going assessment, training and CPD for staff delivering the tutoring, timetabling and scheduling, hiring and interviewing, and so on – whose shoulders will this fall to?

External providers can alleviate some of these pressures. Advantages of external learning interventions include:

Through the National Tutoring Programme, schools can work with quality assured external tuition partners. Third Space Learning is proud to have been an official Tuition Partner with the NTP since it first launched in 2020. Learn more about choosing a tuition partner.

Is SATs tutoring worth it?

Primary school tutoring for SATs can be beneficial for all pupils preparing for their SATs exams but particularly for pupils with gaps in their learning. Benefits include:

  • Improved SATs results: Carefully tailored tuition has been demonstrated to improve test scores for these children.

    Third Space Learning found that 93% of teachers felt Third Space Learning lessons helped their pupils achieve higher SATs scores, with students on average achieving higher scores in their maths papers than the rest of their year group and the national average in 2022.
  • Targeted preparation: Tailored specifically to the content and format of the exams, SATs tutoring helps pupils to understand the structure of the tests, the types of questions they may be asked and the specific skills and knowledge they need to show what they are capable of within the exam format.

    In Third Space Learning’s SATs programme, we teach pupils key exam skills alongside revising maths content.
sats tutoring programme question style
Third Space Learning’s SATs programme
  • Personalised instruction: Working with students on a one to one basis or in small groups enables tutors to quickly identify pupils’ strengths, weaknesses and learning gaps. The best SATs tutoring will have sensitive diagnostic assessment to clearly identify these. These can then be targeted when designing a tutoring programme to meet the specific needs of the pupils.
sats tutoring diagnostic assessment question
An example question from Third Space Learning’s diagnostic assessment
  • Increased confidence: Tuition can help boost children’s confidence and raise self esteem, particularly in the areas they find more challenging. Additional support can also help reduce self-doubt and anxiety, raising confidence in tackling the exams.

    This can be especially helpful in maths, which can often become a source of anxiety for pupils. By creating a nurturing and safe environment for maths tutoring, pupils can experience positive learning experiences that will have positive effects far beyond their SATs exams and set them up for the transition to secondary school.

    Read more: Maths anxiety
  • Exam preparation: This is likely to be the first formal test pupils will experience and may differ greatly from their usual classroom content. Regular exposure to questions that are similar in style to SATS questions can help them to work on strategies for solving, whilst also building confidence and improving time management skills.
  • Increased motivation and confidence: Tutors can provide children with guidance and encouragement. Pupils are also able to see the progress they are making, through the regular feedback tutors are able to give.

“The use of Third Space Learning’s one to one tutoring supported children in developing their skills and more importantly, confidence in maths, particularly in the build up to SATs.”

Headteacher, Exeter

When should schools start SATs tutoring?

Determining when to start a SATs tutoring programme depends on a range of factors, including:

  • The level of preparation the children have had previously;
  • Where they are in relation to the targets they are aiming for;
  • The availability of time to undertake the tuition.

School leaders need to evaluate the current curriculum and provision students have received in lessons so far. Some schools provide comprehensive SATs preparation within regular lessons, whilst others may not have the resources or capacity to dedicate time to focusing on SATs. Once this has been established, the children who will benefit most from tuition can be selected.

Individual learning needs of the pupils is also an important factor. For pupils with significant learning gaps or specific learning difficulties, intervening often and early may be the best approach.

It’s important to understand that there is no set time when tuition should begin. It varies form pupil to pupil. Some students will benefit from tuition over a longer period of time, whilst others may only need a shorter catch up tuition programme to fill any gaps.

However, as one to one online maths tutoring providers, we speak to thousands of schools every year about their SATs preparation and one key theme that emerges is that primary school teachers wish they had started their SATs lessons and preparation earlier in Year 6. Many teachers even wish they had worked on more basic mathematical skills to fill learning gaps from Year 5 and earlier. 

 What to expect from a SATs tutoring programme

  • High quality and delivered by qualified tutors: Any school-based tuition, whether it is face-to-face or online, should be carried out by an experienced tutor or member of staff with high quality, national curriculum-aligned resources. If non-specialist staff are delivering tutoring, they are most successful when they receive training and support from qualified and experienced teachers. Of course, tutors should have both minimum qualifications and security checks, including DBS, to work closely with pupils.
  • Personalised support: Tutoring programmes provide the opportunity for much more individualised attention than is usually possible in a whole class environment. Tutors should identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps to tailor the tuition to be specific to the needs and learning styles of each individual child.
  • Familiarise pupils with the exam format: Tutors should support pupils to select and use appropriate strategies to approach questions in the SATs exams. Children can focus on past questions and practice tests, looking at the different ways to approach and answer the questions, in preparation for any similar questions which may come up.
  • Timed conditions: Pupils should have the opportunity to work under the conditions they will be working in during the test. Working under timed conditions can help children to reflect on their time management and make decisions about the pace they work at. This isn’t something to advocate all the time, however it is an important skill that will help them in any future tests, far beyond their SATs.
  • Use evidence-informed strategies: A good tutoring programme takes relevant research into account. Read about the 11 pedagogical principles which inspire our SATs programme on our blog to know what to look out for.
  • Focus on the highest impact topics: A SATs tutoring programme will typically focus on the core subjects of maths and English and will provide targeted support to help children to improve their skills and understanding in these areas.

    Every year, the curriculum team at Third Space Learning analyse the data and identify the highest impact SATs revision topics for maths, organised by priority. This is what informs our SATs programmes and can be used to inform your own maths revision for Year 6.
  • Support pupil wellbeing: Tuition programmes should build motivation, confidence and a growth mindset for the pupils participating. Some children can feel very anxious with the formality of the tests, but with the appropriate support pupils can approach the tests with confidence.

10 key questions to ask your SATs tutor

If your school is about to embark on a SATs tutoring programme, you will want to be sure that the tutor is right for your fit for your school’s needs. Asking the right questions regarding the level of expertise, knowledge of the SATs exam format and teaching methods is essential to gauge this.

Here are some essential questions to ask before making your decision:

  1. What is your experience in preparing students for the KS1/KS2 SATs exams?
  2. How many years’ experience do you have and how long have you been tutoring?
  3. Are you familiar with the KS1/KS2 SATS curriculum and the format of the exams?
  4. What teaching methods and strategies do you use to help students prepare for the SATs exams?
  5. How do you ensure that a student’s strengths and weaknesses are accurately assessed, to ensure they receive the best preparation?
  6. Do you use diagnostic assessments?
  7. How will you tailor your sessions to meet the needs of each child?
  8. How will you monitor pupil progress throughout the programme?
  9. What resources will you use to support your teaching during the tutoring sessions?
  10. How do you build confidence in your students and help to reduce any anxiety towards SATs that they may be feeling?

Activities for Year 6 maths SATs

When structuring a SATs tutoring programme for maths, it is important to think carefully about which activities are most likely to engage pupils and, therefore, be the most effective in producing results. Here, we discuss some of the different activities which can be included in a SATs tutoring session.

Question analysis: Look at sample questions together and discuss strategies for approaching and solving them. This will help pupils to build up a range of strategies, whilst also building confidence in answering the types of questions they will experience in the SATS exam.

year 6 math sats tutoring
Third Space Learning SATs revision lesson

Practice tests: If children are exposed to tests in the same style and format as the Year 6 SATS, they will become less daunting and children will feel more confident in their ability to approach them successfully.

Download our KS2 maths SATs practice papers for FREE practice tests. 

Concrete resources: Use concrete resources and visual images to help children to really understand the maths behind any questions they do. Although pupils won’t be able to use concrete resources during the tests, it can build comprehension and confidence with new topics. However, pupils will be able to draw concrete representations, such as bar models, to help them during the tests so ensure this is included in SATs preparation.

Discussion and reasoning: One to one and small group tutoring offers the opportunity for rich, purposeful maths talk where pupils can verbalise their maths in a supportive environment. This isn’t always possible in a whole class environment and pupils may feel self conscious doing this in larger groups.

“[Third Space Learning’s SATs revision programme] is very effective at preparing Year 6 pupils for SATs because the children have to read the reasoning questions and explain their reasoning verbally to their tutors.”

Headteacher, London

Games (online and physical): Integrate maths games into the tutoring sessions. These are enjoyable and particularly good for improving mental maths skills and reinforcing key concepts. These may be just a few minutes at the end of the session, but children can be encouraged to play the games outside of the session, with their families at home.

Here are some games and activities that might be suitable for your SATs tutoring programme:

Here are some of the other resources we have put together to help with the SATS preparation:

Do Year 6 SATs matter?

Some secondary schools use SATs scores to help stream Year 7 pupils, whilst other schools carry out a separate assessment once children start secondary school. SATs results are also used to forecast a predicted grade for GCSE, which is again important if schools are using this to stream cohorts.

SATs are more important for schools than they are for children, with the results used to measure attainment and a child’s progress and as a measure to show how schools are performing academically.

What is a good SATs score UK?

A score below 100 means a child is working towards the expected level for that year group. A scaled score of 100 or more shows that a child is working at the expected level. A score of 110 or higher means a child is working at greater depth or higher standard.

How to pass the SATs Year 6?

The best way to ensure success in the Year 6 SATs is to ensure that the key topics have been mastered and that pupils are familiar with the exam format and question styles. In maths, take account of the weighting of different topic areas so that pupils are confident in the topic areas which will definitely come up. For example, calculation and fractions, decimals and percentages are two areas which carry significant marks. Ensuring children are confident in these areas will have a significant impact on results.

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