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Key Stage 2 Reading SATs 2016: A Response

It was hardly surprising to hear from colleagues in primary schools across the country that the subject in which Year 6 children performed least well in this year’s SATs was reading, with only 66% of pupils nationally meeting the new expected standard. Here at TT Education we’ve now see a subsequent increased demand for INSET training and CPD courses in reading as a direct result.

The test paper certainly ruffled a few feathers and, by the end of SATs week, various comments were posted on-line about the inadequacies of the test along with the inappropriateness of this form of assessment. Many schools now have to consider how to address this slump in performance and although we have clear directive that 2016 results are non-comparative to previous years’, school leaders and teachers will undoubtedly be reflecting on their practice in order to make a difference next time round.

Pleasure in reading?

It seems, however, that there is a real mismatch. The 2014 National Curriculum emphasises the importance of “developing pleasure in reading and the motivation to read” (Hooray! Chorus teachers across the land!) yet, clearly, the content matter, complexity of vocabulary and sheer quantity of reading material presented in the 2016 paper was a challenge for all but the extremely confident and avid bookworms in our classes!

Analysis of the paper and identification of the focus of questions has led to rumours that the format was chosen to make on-line marking easier. There were, after-all, only 3 questions of the evaluative type warranting 3 marks – much to the frustration of many Year 6 teachers who have spent hours “training” their pupils to respond to such questions. Nevertheless, 30% of questions involved retrieval skills, 36% were rooted in inference and 20% related to word meaning.

Whatever the thought processes behind the paper’s creation, let’s not dwell too long on what now is beyond our control. Let’s keep in mind why reading is a core part of our daily lives in schools. We have to take children on a journey from learning to read to reading to learn. And with all the palaver over the SATs, it’s sometimes too easy to lose sight of the key skills that we must explicitly teach and model to our children in order for them to become successful readers.

The Interim teacher assessment framework at the end of KS1 and KS2 for reading (July 2016) clearly guides us to these key skills. Therefore, we must consider how best to provide opportunities for children to develop and “play with” this knowledge and understanding. At the heart of our ethos at TT Education’s is the “Path to Success” model, which promotes exactly that – gamification of learning is a key way to excite and inspire children and help them to learn.

Nurturing reading confidence

To help children to become confident readers, our call to arms as teachers (despite whatever the 2017 SATs and beyond throw at them) is to reflect on our planning and approach to reading. We must take pupils on a journey from direct explanation, through modelling and guided practice to independent application – whilst keeping it exciting!

Give the children control over discussions about texts through “Book-Talk”. Allowing them to think for themselves about the questions that come to mind when reading a text is the way to help them develop these skills, be it independently or collaboratively.

Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the clear emphasis on developing a love of reading. After all, it is stated in black and white in the National Curriculum itself “reading also feeds pupils’ imagination and opens up a treasure house of wonder and joy for curious young minds”. Reading is the key to open this treasure house and we must try to remember that SATs are only a stepping stone (and hopefully not a stumbling block) on our pupils’ road to lifelong learning. Playing games and experimenting with language is how we help them to retain the joy and wonder of reading.

For more insight into improving reading, take a look at our popular Primary CPD course: Raising attainment in Reading.