Helping students move from primary to secondary school is a delicate task. Last month, #mathschat discussed the transition process and discovered that there is a wide range of approaches.

One of the main differences in this process is how students are assessed and what information schools use to determine how best to teach the students.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to use SATs to predict outcomes, such as GCSE grades. Some schools also use that data to set students. Others do extra testing early in Year 7 and use these tests to determine the sets or additional support needed. But why do they feel these extra tests are needed?

I asked my ITT (Initial Teacher Training) trainees if they’d ever read a SATs paper.

‘Yes’ was the resounding answer.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘what if you exclude the SATs papers you saw as a 10-year-old taking SATs?’

That caveat brought them number who’d read a SATs paper down to one out of 20. I wonder if the proportion would be much different if I’d asked that question in the staff room?

Surprising similarities

There are more similarities between GCSE papers and SATs papers than many people realise.

Both have a timbre and a flow to them. Both have a clear beginning, middle passage and crescendo at the end. Both test non-calculator skills (on some papers) and both are timed. They both start with low-mark, more accessible questions, or questions that test key terms, and become more complex towards the end.

Some of the material that Year 6 students are tested on might surprise you too. There are similarities between the questions at foundation GCSE and the SATs . In terms of accessibility, a top performing student at KS2 would not be too far away from having a pretty good go at a Foundation Tier GCSE paper, or at least parts of it.

Have a look at the questions below. Some are from SATs papers and some are from the AQA Foundation GCSE topic tests.

Without the formatting differences, could you tell which was which?

Five questions that test addition and multiplication

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Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Two questions on multiples

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One question on co-ordinates and shapes

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 One question on data interpretation

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As with all tests, SATs have their limitations. The papers test how good students are at taking tests, and different school prepare students differently. It is the first formal test that some students have taken and the stress of the exam process affects students to different degrees.

Even so, these are tests that schools have prepared the pupils for, and they are taken in a setting that most students are familiar with, and the students have a reasonable understanding of the nature and mode of the assessment, and so they are a fair reflection of the students’ attainment at that time.

Perhaps secondary teachers should familiarise themselves with the material that has already been covered by a student who has scored 110 in their SATs. Chances are they’ve probably met simultaneous equations and algebra already.

Perhaps we should accept the judgement of primary teachers, and the SATs, and make the start of Year 7 about the awe and wonder of maths rather than about giving them another test.

That way we may make the transition from primary to secondary school a little easier on the students and give ourselves a better chance of building on the foundation already laid by our primary school colleagues.

Where the questions came from

Addition and multiplication questions

The first, second, third and fifth question are all SATs questions from this 2016 sample test.
The fourth question came from AQA’s GCSE Foundation Tier topic test on basic fractions. You can download more topic tests for free, but you will need to sign up for an All About Maths account.

Factors and multiples

The first question is from a SATs test
The second question comes from AQA’s Foundation Tier topic test on factors and multiples.

Co-ordinates and shape and data interpretation questions

Both of the last two questions are SATs questions.