KS2 Reading: What Next?


By Laura Lodge
on 18 September, 2016

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Improving Reading Outcomes at Key Stage Two

Ask any Key Stage Two teacher about the SATS tests and you are sure to start a discussion on the reading test above all others. But what now?

Key Stage Two Reading Results

We were warned that outcomes couldn’t be comparable to previous years, however the real scale of the change in expectations was unexpected to most of us. Only 66% of children reached the expected standard in Reading, the lowest of all subjects. Following a test that resulted in children leaving in tears, the low national average wasn’t surprising. Results also showed a discrepancy between test and teacher assessment, as teachers stated that 80% of children were at the expected standard. Whether the difference is down to the harshness of the test or teachers being unfamiliar with the new standards is up for debate. Even the DfE accepted that the reasons for discrepancy were unclear:

“This may be due to pupils performing less well on the tests as they were unfamiliar with them. In addition, the teacher assessment framework was new in 2016 and teachers may need more time to become fully confident in using it.” National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2 in England, 2016 (provisional), DfE, 2016.

Just how difficult was the reading test?

The reading test was hard, ask almost any child or teacher in the UK and they will say so. Twitter was awash with angry comments and the backlash from staff was fierce. Headlines included the TES, Full marks for literary criticism: 12 reasons why children were right to burst into tears over Sats papers’ and the unions called for the tests to be scrapped. People began looking for answers; Primary Timery, an educational blogger, analysed the SATs reading paper to find the average reading ages below:


Flesch-Kincaid Level

The Lost Queen (first paragraph)

13-15 years

Wild Ride (first paragraph)

13-15 years

Wild Ride (bewildered paragraph)

18-22 years

Way of the Dodo (first paragraph)

13-15 years

Way of the Dodo (second paragraph)

13-15 years

So there is the proof in black and white – the text was difficult, even if you disregard the questions. There are so many blog posts about the test that are well worth reading, these are just a few:

Primary Timery have produced an in-depth look at the facts behind the reading test: https://primarytimery.com/2016/05/20/milling-around-in-bewilderment-that-reading-comprehension/

Sarah Rutty at The Cambridge Primary Review Trust has also written about the complexity of the test questions: http://cprtrust.org.uk/cprt-blog/joyless-inaccurate-inequitable/

***The links above are written by independent authors. They have not been checked for factual accuracy and are not representative of One Education’s views.***

Aside from the difficulty of the test, what made children and schools unprepared? For one, many schools found themselves focusing on writing due to the number of changes with the framework, whilst reading looked similar to the past. Despite the test framework guidance being available (although well hidden in the mass of other updates), some schools didn’t plan their reading teaching from the new content domains introduced. Many schools did what they always do for reading and, for some, this meant that results were affected.

Key Stage Two Reading Best Practice

In Manchester, 60% of pupils met the expected standard in Reading, so what can we learn from the schools that succeeded?

Oasis Academy Aspinal achieved an amazing 91% of children reaching the expected standard in reading. Their English Lead, Rachel Hughes, was asked to review what had made the difference. Read an excerpt from Rachel's review.

Oasis Aspinal have piloted working towards the One Education Reading Award which illustrates the skills, commitment and knowledge shown by schools who build a successful reading curriculum, create an inviting reading environment and inspire children to read. Hear Rachel’s views about the Reading Award in the video below. 

Reading initiatives in school

We have to remember that Reading is about enjoyment and creating lifelong readers, not teaching to the test. By giving children free choices and encouraging enjoyment, children have opportunities to develop their skills as a reader every day. Celebrating achievements, making good use of author/library links and creating fun reading areas are so important.

School-wide initiatives to encourage reading can make a huge difference if implemented with all staff on board. One such idea is the ‘Reading Buddies’ system where older children are paired with younger children to read and mentor using prepared question stems and resources. The older children gain additional skills formulating and teaching questions, whilst the younger children gain comprehension and decoding skills. Both children also benefit from the chance to interact with one another in this way.

Books and other texts must be embedded across the curriculum, but especially in English lessons. Analysing and unpicking texts needs to be a part of everyday practice. A text-based approach to planning and teaching, such as One Education’s Predict, Interrogate, Capture, Create (PICC), is perfect for this. Having a strong and in-depth knowledge of children’s literature is also essential in promoting a love of reading within schools; staff members should confidently be able to recommend books that appeal to individual children and, in the process, inspire them to read.

Children also need to learn reading techniques such as skimming and scanning. This has always been true but it especially important with the new harder tests as children do not have the time to read a text as deeply as we all would like. They need to be given the skills to find information and key words quickly – a skill needed in daily life, not just for the test! Try out our skimming and scanning word game here.

Yes, schools do need to prepare their pupils for the fact that they will sit a test. However this preparation needs to be embedded by teaching the children how to answer test-type questions as a specific skill. Planning for reading must make use of the new reading content domains as published by the DfE.

Some schools are even splitting their teaching time between the content areas following the same percentages as the content domain, e.g. spending between 10% and 20% of teaching time focusing on ‘give/explain the meaning of words in context’. Schools, however, need to keep sight of what is important; ensuring children develop skills to answer these questions whilst reading for enjoyment. It’s not about teaching to the test but preparing them for test-style questioning whilst supporting the creation of life-long readers.

Improving Literacy In School

As always, schools need to analyse their own approach to teaching reading. What is working? What isn’t? Why? Then it’s a case of planning for the future. Building teacher confidence is key. The One Education Literacy Conference brings together keynote speakers Michael Tidd, Lee Parkinson and John Murray, alongside a whole host of workshops from literacy experts. There will be a fantastic range of opportunities to build skills in both reading and writing including assessment, SEND provision and how to create your own text-based approach to Literacy. Take a look at the conference agenda here.

For further information or support around any of the topics raised in this email please contact Laura Lodge, Literacy Consultant on 0844 967 1111.

Comment (1)

  • Simon Bedford avatar

    Simon Bedford

    I've been asked to apply for English coordinator role at my school and need to devise a plan and some ideas to develop English but more importantly reading. Any advice or literature would be appreciated as well as possible courses and support that your organisation may be able to offer.

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