The proportion of pupils meeting the government’s “expected standard” in reading, writing and maths SATs remained unchanged this year, after dropping six percentage points in 2022 following the Covid pandemic.
Results data published by the government this morning shows 59 per cent met the benchmark in the three tests.
Performance in reading has actually decreased since last year. In 2023, 73 per cent met the expected standard, down from 75 per cent.
Performance in maths increased from 71 to 73 per cent. And the proportion meeting the government’s benchmark in writing rose from 69 to 71 per cent.
The proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard in grammar, punctuation and spelling remained at 72 per cent, the same as last year. Performance in science rose from 79 to 80 per cent.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said it was “encouraging to see attainment levels improving in some key subjects”.
Government still far behind 90% target
The government has set a target of 90 per cent of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2 by 2030.
Tiffnie Harris, primary specialist at the ASCL school leaders’ union, warned the “ impact of the pandemic can still be seen in these results”.
“Schools are straining every sinew to improve results and we appeal to the government to support them by urgently addressing the national crisis caused by teacher shortages and inadequate funding.”
She pointed primary education was “very poorly funded to the point where small schools are sometimes close to being financially unsustainable”.
“The government’s target of 90 per cent of children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is a pipe-dream in these circumstances.”
Pandemic impact ‘may remain for some years’
The result in reading comes despite England having moved to fourth in the world in the international PIRLS league tables.
It also comes after warnings from school leaders over the difficulty of a SATs reading paper.
The DfE said at the time it was “confident” the paper was “set to an appropriate level of difficulty” despite complaints that it left pupils in tears.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said members “raised significant concerns about the difficulty of the reading paper this year and the impact it had on children”.
He pointed out the threshold for the expected standard in reading is five marks lower than last year and the lowest level since 2017.
“This is significant and clear recognition that this was a more challenging test for children. It validates what school leaders were saying and it is a real shame that the department was not willing to acknowledge this earlier.”
‘Time to change the system’
He said it was “time to change the system of statutory assessment which is of little benefit for teachers or children, yet has a range of negative consequences”.
Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the Education Policy Institute, said: “While there have been small increases in the percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in maths and writing, these are still well below pre-pandemic results.
“We will have to wait until the autumn for analysis by pupil characteristics, but our own analysis, published earlier this year, showed again that socio-economically disadvantaged pupils suffered greater learning losses due to the pandemic’s disruption.”
Andrews added that “although the immediate disruption of the pandemic has passed, the impact it had on younger cohorts may remain with us for some years yet”.
DfE to review writing ‘good practice’
The government has launched a new and updated reading framework.
This is an update to existing guidance published July 2021 and will cover more year groups. You can read more about that here.
In addition to the framework, the government “will also be launching a review of good practice in the teaching of writing to look at how best to improve attainment in writing”.
This will be a “valuable resource for schools to support best practice in teaching writing and will inform further research and guidance”.