Key stage 1 attainment down across the board in first tests since 2019

Proportion of pupils meeting 'expected standard' falls in phonics, reading, writing and maths - with poorer pupils further behind

Proportion of pupils meeting 'expected standard' falls in phonics, reading, writing and maths - with poorer pupils further behind

Attainment at key stage 1 has dropped across the board in the first set of tests since 2019 – with poorer pupils falling further behind their better-off peers.

Performance in the phonics screening check, one of the government’s key measures of success at primary school, is now the lowest it has been since 2014.

Writing attainment in key stage 1 SATs dropped more than 10 percentage points.

The findings will further fuel fears about the impact Covid-19 had on the youngest pupils, whose entire time at school has been affected by the pandemic, and whether government has done enough to combat it.

Primary tests were cancelled because of Covid in 2020 and 2021.

Phonics results lowest in 8 years …

Department for Education data shows the proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard in the year 1 phonics screening check fell from 82 per cent three years ago to 75 per cent this year. It is the first fall since the check was introduced in 2012.

The proportion of pupils meeting the standard by the end of year 2 also fell, from 91 to 87 per cent, though this figure also fell slightly in 2019.

Meanwhile, in key stage one SATs, the proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard dropped from 75 to 67 per cent in reading, 69 to 58 per cent in writing and 76 to 68 per cent in maths (see graph below).


It comes after key stage 2 results for year 6 pupils published earlier this year also showed a drop in attainment in most disciplines.

This year saw the first primary tests held since 2019 after they were cancelled because of Covid in 2020 and 2021.

… and poorer pupils fall further behind

The proportion of non-disadvantaged pupils meeting the expected standard in year 1 phonics checks fell from 84 to 80 per cent. Whereas attainment among disadvantaged pupils dropped from 71 to 62 per cent.

In SATs, poorer pupils also saw sharper drops in reading (11 percentage points), writing (14 percentage points) and maths (10 percentage points) than their better-off peers.

In comparison, non-disadvantaged pupils saw their performance fall 6 percentage points in reading, 10 percentage points in writing and 6 percentage points in maths.

The DfE said the data “shows why it is so important to keep rolling out our ambitious recovery plan across the country”.

They are investing nearly £5 billion in catch-up. Schools should “continue to work with parents to make them aware of the additional support on offer”, a spokesperson added.

The government’s target is for 90 per cent of children leaving primary school at the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030.

Lower-prior-attaining pupils fare worse at KS2

The proportion of pupils meeting expected reading standards at the end of key stage 2 has fallen among those with low prior attainment since Covid hit – but held up among higher-attaining pupils.

Previous data has shown reading results overall improved between 2019 and 2022, whereas it dropped in writing and maths.

New analysis published today suggests the trend masks varied outcomes for different pupils.

Among pupils who met the phonics standard in year 1 in 2017, 85 per cent went on to meet expected standards in the KS2 reading test. This was the same proportion as in 2019, despite Covid disruption to education.

But among pupils who only met phonics standards a year later in year 2, the proportion meeting expected reading standards in year 6 SATs dropped 6 percentage points to 56 per cent.

Among those who did not meet phonics standards at all, the figure dropped 5 percentage points to 18 per cent. 

In writing, the proportion meeting expected standards in year 6 dropped for all pupils compared to pre-pandemic – but by a more significant margin for those with lower prior attainment.

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