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As you’ll know from your child’s stories and experiences, education changes quickly! As parents, it can be difficult to keep up to speed with what your child is taught at school and how their progress is assessed.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why does my child have to take SATs and what do schools test them on?” then this quick guide will help you to ‘be SATs savvy’. It’s a roundup of the current mandatory assessments, and it also gives you a look at some changes that may be on the horizon.

What are SATs?

SATs stands for Standardised Assessment Tasks. They are formal tests designed to assess teaching standards that children sit during their primary school years at the end of Key Stage 1 (usually in Year 2) and Key Stage 2 (usually in Year 6).

What is the history of SATs in English education?

Primary school testing became part of the English education landscape in the 1990s, first for seven year-olds, then for eleven year-olds, and finally, most controversially, for 14 year-olds. This system remained in place until 2009, by which time the then-Labour government had scrapped SATs at KS3 for 14 year-olds, and had also scrapped the testing of science for SATs at KS2, taken at the end of primary education by eleven year-olds. The decision to scrap SATs at KS3 was taken because it was felt that testing children mid-way through secondary school was overkill, with the national testing of GCSEs and A-levels adequate measures of secondary school standards. The move to scrap SATs at KS3 was largely welcomed: the argument was that their removal would take unnecessary pressure off students, and allow teachers to concentrate on a broad education, rather than ‘teaching to the test’. At the time, then-Education Secretary Ed Balls said the scrapped KS3 SATs “would be replaced by better and more intensive classroom assessment by teachers and more frequent reporting of pupils' progress to parents”.

Are SATs mandatory for children in all schools?

No, only for government-funded schools in England. Independent (fee-paying) schools are not required to set SATs, though many will either mark their own SATs or introduce an equivalent assessment for pupils at similar ages. Education is devolved to the regions, so Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own methods for testing pupils and teaching standards. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, children do not take SATs, but InCAS (interactive computerised assessment system) teacher assessment is used in their place. In Wales, primary school testing consists of National Reading and Numeracy Tests, which forms part of a recently-introduced National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF).

Why do children take SATs?

The purpose of SATs is to help teachers to identify each child's strengths and weaknesses, and to help the government to ensure that its schools are educating children to the expected standard, since children are taught from the same National Curriculum across England. A run of poor results may indicate to the government schools that are struggling.

Are SATs beneficial?

There is some debate among educators about whether or not SATs achieve their purpose. The stress they place on especially younger children is one major cause for criticism, and another is that education has become too results-oriented (which means teachers focus their time ‘teaching to the test’, and spend a lot of time with the testing process, where these efforts could be channelled into teaching a broader education). There are advocates for the scrapping of primary assessment altogether. Educators in favour of keeping SATs suggest they are helpful in ensuring children are reaching required attainment standards, and help them to prepare for more extensive testing during their secondary school years.

How do SATs assess children's and schools' abilities?

Teachers assess the students’ work, and then their assessments are moderated externally to ensure accuracy and fairness. There is a difference in emphases between KS1 and KS2 SATs. In the former, teachers are more involved in the assessment, whereas there is a move to external marking in KS2.

  • KS1: The KS1 SATs, which take place at the end of Year 2, help teachers check what children have learnt in English and maths in Y1 and Y2.

KS1 SATs papers are marked by your child’s teacher. Schools don't publish KS1 SATs results, and they are not sent to the government. You won’t receive your child’s KS1 SATs results from school automatically, but if you’d like to see them you can ask for them and the school is required to provide them to you. You will, however, be sent the results of your child's teacher assessment automatically, which will tell you if your child is working at the expected standard. 

  • KS2: Contrastingly, all papers taken at KS2 in English and maths are marked externally, which means that the government has the data on the results, and parents automatically receive both the results of the tests and the teacher's assessment. The proportion of children achieving the required minimum standards is published at national level, but not at school level, though they are used to calculate the progress that pupils make between KS1 and KS2.

What happens when children are tested on KS1 SATs?

The first formal tests that children sit during their school life are the SATs when they reach the end of KS1, which take place in Year 2. These tests assess the academic ability of children in the key subjects of maths and English. Separate teacher assessments also determine how well each child is doing. Parents are sent a copy of the teacher assessments and can request that the school sends them the test results. The tests can be given to children at any time during the year and they shouldn’t be particularly aware of what they’re used for or their significance, to lessen the concern and stress children may otherwise experience. The content of the SATs is set externally (by the Standards & Testing Agency), but the tests are marked internally by teachers in your child’s school.

What subjects are children tested on in KS1 SATs?

  • English reading Paper 1: combined reading prompt and answer booklet (approximately 30 mins)
  • English reading Paper 2: reading booklet and reading answer booklet (approximately 40 mins)
  • Mathematics Paper 1: arithmetic (20 mins)
  • Mathematics Paper 2: reasoning (35 mins)

The English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests are optional.

Teacher Assessment (TA) at KS1

Teachers assess the progress and attainment of their pupils over time, judging them against a framework. TA during KS1 covers:

  • English reading
  • English writing
  • Mathematics
  • Science

Reporting to parents

By the end of the summer term, headteachers must report the following information to
parents of KS1 children:

  • each pupil’s phonics screening check score
  • an outcome for pupils who have left the school, were absent, did not participate in
  • the check, or if the results are affected by maladministration.

Headteachers must also prepare reports for parents at the end of each academic year. See section nine of Key Stage 1 2018 Assessment and Reporting Arrangements for more details of what reports must cover.   

What happens when children are tested on KS2 SATs?

Unlike the KS1 SATs, at KS2 the tests which children take are set and marked externally, so that the results are used to measure the school’s performance (removing any possibility of bias). Each child’s results are used together with their teacher’s assessment to offer parents a broader picture of their attainment and academic ability. KS2 SATs are taken in May, and parents receive the results, plus the teacher assessments, in July.

What are children tested on in KS2 SATs?

  • English grammar, punctuation and spelling Paper 1: questions
  • English grammar, punctuation and spelling Paper 2: spelling
  • English reading
  • Mathematics Paper 1: arithmetic
  • Mathematics Paper 2: reasoning
  • Mathematics Paper 3: reasoning

In 2018, KS2 SATs will be taken between 14th and 17th May. 

Is science tested in KS2?

No, not any longer. Since 2013, there has been no formal testing of science at KS2 level. However, science sampling tests are conducted biennially, with the most recent tests in June 2016. The next tests will be administered in June 2018. A sample of approximately 9,500 pupils is randomly selected to sit science tests, based on five pupils from 1,900 schools. Results are reported as national data only and individual results are not returned to schools or to pupils. This assessment provides an understanding of national performance in science and is not intended as a reflection on individual pupils’ attainment. 

Teacher Assessment (TA) in KS2

Teachers continue to assess general pupil performance throughout KS2. TA covers:

  • English reading
  • English writing
  • Mathematics
  • Science

How are SATS marked?

Each section of the SATS test for Year 2 (or KS1) has a maximum amount of points or marks that can be achieved. This year, the maximum amount of marks were as follows:

  • English reading: 40 marks
  • English grammar 40 marks
  • Maths 60 marks

These marks above are called the raw score. This raw score is then converted to a scaled score between 85-115. (Check the conversion table to see how raw scores are converted to scaled scores.) Pupils with a score of 100 or more will have met the expected standard of knowledge expected in year 2, pupils with scores of 99 or less will not have met the standard. The SATS make no other distinction in the markings. See the Department for Education's guidance for more information on how the scores are worked out (note that this information is written for school staff and governors).

Haven't the KS2 SATs recently changed?

Yes. The SATs at KS2 taken by pupils in May 2016 had changed after government reforms, and were universally agreed to be harder, with new content and a higher standard of knowledge expected from students.

Are children tested at KS3 level?

No. SATs for 14 year-olds in Year 9 were scrapped in 2009. There is no formal assessment at the end of KS3, though some schools may informally test their pupils.

Is primary assessment changing beyond this year?

The government held an open consultation on Primary assessment in England which launched in March 2017 and closed on 22nd June 2017. The have published their response, and will introduce a new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA). Tests to check whether eight- and nine-year-olds know their times tables will be trialled in some primary schools in England in early 2018 before being rolled out nationally. The test, which ministers hope will improve pupils’ numeracy, will become mandatory in 2020 for all Year 4 students.

Hasn't there recently been some controversy about SATs in the news?

SATs hit the headlines back in 2016 when the controversial new, tougher KS2 assessments were introduced. They have recently been in the headlines again when the government announced the introduction of a Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) for children starting school. This will be introduced nationwide in 2020. As a result of the new RBA, KS1 SATs will become non-mandatory from 2023, but KS2 SATs will remain in place for the foreseeable future. 

Teaching union the NEU ran their survey of teachers to gain opinion of those working in the profession about primary assessment, in The SATs Effect: Teachers’ Verdict. In general, the teaching union has positioned themselves against primary school testing.

What can I do to prepare my child for SATs?

We have some advice on coping with exam stress, and blogs with top tipsGeneral advice is for home and school to not make a big deal out of them, and to see them more as a way for the school to measure progress and its own teaching efficiency rather than an assessment of your child’s academic ability.

Reviewed: January 2018

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