Working in Year 6 can seem daunting for some, especially if it’s your first time. Some feel their subject knowledge isn’t good enough and that the pressure can be too much; others worry about the behaviour that can come with teaching older children. However, from my own experience and with working/ supporting a number of Year 6 teachers in recent years, I can tell you that for most, they couldn’t imagine teaching any other year group.
Working and leading on this year group, it has become somewhat second nature to me, and although there’s always something new, having a good grasp of what’s to come and what you need to be prepared for throughout the year will put you and your team in really good stead. The school academic year 2021/2022 was a triumphant year for my school’s Year 6s, especially since COVID-19, and having robust and strategic measures in place early on was instrumental to our success. For what I hope will be of use to many, I have detailed what I believe to be key points to considered throughout the year:
- Classes/ groupings
- Lesson planning and subject knowledge
- Parent information workshops/ meetings/ trips prep
- SATs’ practice
- Writing moderation
- Data tracking & analysis
- Extended Learning opportunities (home learning, booster groups)
- Preparing for SATs week
- Post SATs – Summer term and next year’s prep
*Scroll to the bottom of the page for a visual timeline
Whether this is something you have control over or not, it is still worth considering for future reference. Depending on school budget, some schools are able to offer an additional class for Year 6: this is extremely helpful as it reduces the adult-to-pupil ratio which allows more time to support those in need. If you have the option to regroup pupils, I would only do so in the best interest of balancing and splitting the needs across the year group to avoid specific ability-heavy classrooms.
What about setting?
Everyone has an opinion on this. I have worked in schools where we have set for core subjects, created base classes that are ability focused, and not set at all. I have also looked into research for this but unfortunately there isn’t really anything substantial to validate one option over the other, so in my experience, I have come to value that mixed ability should be the default choice initially. The reason for this is quite simple – children learn as much from us as they do their peers. In maths, I do advocate setting later on in the year, and for reading, possibly some focused grouping much closer to SATs.
Setting for maths usually happens in Spring term as we would have had two rounds of summative data from Autumn term plus the ongoing formative data that usually highlights this need. Maths is often very teacher-led and allows itself well to scaffolding and challenging similar needs en masse. But with reading, I’d be hesitant to group until a couple of weeks before SATs only with the intention to create a specific targeted focus group which would involve increased adult support in one class.
However, in writing, mixed ability all the way! In order to develop pupils’ vocabulary acquisition and to be confident in being coherent, they need to hear and learn from others. The higher-able pupils always love offering their ideas and actually, this in conjunction with yours, is what is needed to ignite excitement and engagement for all pupils (see my Invisible Lead Balloon blog, my Completing the Circuit blog and my Unboxing Vocabulary blog for some ideas). Then usually once a week/ fortnight (depending on the need), we would create a GD focus group where they can work with like-minded peers to challenge their ideas and syntax further whilst offering some wonderful phrases generated in the individual classrooms – this really does help breathe new life into their work.
So to sum up, I’d recommend mixed ability initially, with setting for maths in Spring term (perhaps a little earlier if needed), some grouping (if required) in reading and scheduled GD focus groups in writing.
Lesson planning and subject knowledge
Like every other teacher, the hard work is in the preparation. Work collaboratively with your team and support one another with planning. Collaborative planning is a must in my opinion as it’s constantly a form of CPD that provides consistency, clarity and sustains high-quality throughout the year group: every child deserves the same educational offer. If you work in a single-form entry, you can still work with other year groups creating a space for challenge and new ideas. Across the year it can get tough so having colleagues to bounce ideas off is extremely helpful and valuable.
Although there is a lot of demand on Reading, Writing, Maths and GPS, it is fundamental to stick to a broad and balanced curriculum. In doing so, it will help offset the pressures and extra efforts required in these core subjects but also allows pupils the opportunities to work on other aspects that they love. Continue to plan in your WOW days, your hooks, experiences and trips but be more mindful to plans these well in advance (especially your residential trip) to ensure the busy weeks that are to come do not distract your efforts into planning these out. Trust me, it does pay off to plan ahead.
Worried about subject knowledge? Well, don’t be. There are plenty of history and geography topics that many of us are expected to teach with little to no prior knowledge of these; yet researching as part of your planning is often all that’s needed – the same with core subjects too. I’d recommend joining teacher forums via social media (Year 5/6 teacher groups on Facebook and Twitter) as there are many like-minded teachers requiring help and/or in-need of some inspiration; it can be a really useful platform. There is often a lot of guidance in CGP books (or other similar workbook providers) as well as guidance in the national curriculum and SATs mark schemes. Also speak with your colleagues and subject leaders too as there is bound to be expertise within your school who can also direct you to useful websites; for example, White Rose premium and SATs companion offers guidance and detailed explanations. If you still require further support then don’t be afraid to branch out to other schools within your Trust or Local Authority as there will be many willing to share and help. I am always willing to help and share my experience and knowledge base without any judgement as I remember what it was like for me, so please ask – it’s for the benefit of the children!
Parent workshops/ meetings/ trips prep
Just as the children are, parents can become anxious with concerns around the pressures and expectations on them and their child, so it is important to address these early on. Depending on how your school communicates with parents will often dictate how you do this but in short, schedule a meeting in the first couple of weeks to let them know what is in store e.g. SATs expectations – the support in place; what key terms means; home-learning opportunities.
Secondary schools tend to have open evenings very early on so although it is not usually the responsibility of primary schools to inform, it is really helpful to let them know how and where they can access secondary school dates. Usually, secondary school admission forms need to be completed by 31st October via the Local Authority in order to be considered for the first round of allocation. As a lot of admissions are now completed online, there may be many families who have limited to no online access. When I worked in a school with high EAL and low socio-economic background, we offered IT support workshops for these families so they could complete the form in school – this was the first year all 120 Year 6 pupils had an admission form submitted.
With parents knowing what to expect thanks to your support, by the time it comes to the first parents’ evening, you will be able to provide specific quantitative data from the mock SATs. By the second parents’ evening, a trend will be evident and so this can be very useful in either reassuring the parent that the support in school and at home is working, or conversely, that more support in school and at home is needed.
In addition to this, if possible, invite parents to workshops for subject-specific support so they can support their child using the same methods and approaches as taught in school.
If you are offering a residential trip, be prepared to factor the planning of this in at the start of the year. Letters should ideally have gone out to the Year 5s in July so parents can begin to save. You will then usually need to plan in a time to explain the residential trip well in advance so they can have any questions answered. From here, you ideally need to get all risk assessments, staffing and itineraries completed as soon as possible as it only gets busier towards the end of Spring.
The SATs are only for GPS, Reading and Maths. There are 2 x GPS (Grammar & Punctuation paper and a spelling paper); 1 x reading paper; and 3 x maths papers (Arithmetic Paper 1, Reasoning Paper 2 and Reasoning Paper3). I have found it helpful to do a mock paper each half term as it allows the children to become more familiar with the process, thus being more confident on the day, but also the papers act as a diagnostic measure to inform us of the areas that they need more support with as well as ‘test technique’: knowing how to manage their time, what to do if they are stuck, and offer familiarity to those pupils who have access to additional arrangements. Currently available to download are 2016 Sample, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 SATs papers. My recommendation would be to schedule a year’s sets of papers to each half term of Autumn 1 & 2 and Spring 1 & 2. I feel this is a good balance to be informative whilst not being overkill. It also means you have leftover questions from the remaining papers that you can use in your planning. There are some suggestions for scheduling them in a particular order as some years were seen to be more difficult than others but that is entirely up to you. Be mindful though, to print, bind/ staple and provide answer booklets for each subject for all pupils is big task so I’d suggest sharing this load with your colleagues at least a week before they’re needed.
To help create a buzz for these papers, we were able to offer the children morning activities and breakfast for each week of mock papers in Spring 1 and 2. The children absolutely loved it! They arrived at 8am and took part in 30 minutes of fun and games with the teachers and their friends. This was great to get all pupils in on time as well as waking the children up and reenergising them for the day. This was then followed by a nutritional breakfast of both hot and cold food. This is something we will continue again and may even offer it in Autumn term too.
Writing – moderation
How you teach writing will be dependent on your school. For my school, we follow a 3-week writing unit. This allows us to build more than sufficient evidence whilst ensuring we have a clear map of all the different genres and purposes of writing. The local authorities are required to moderate a sample of 25% of their schools, which works out that most schools will be externally moderated every 3 – 4 years, so it is worth getting to grips with what is expected and ensure you have a robust overview that ensures your pupils have the opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. If you are selected for external moderation, you are usually notified by the end of May (just before half term) with a morning or afternoon date agreed for the first 3-weeks of June. We were moderated last year (2021/2022) and had all of our judgements agreed with high complements to the standard and range of work. You will need to be familiar with the Teaching Assessment Framework for KS2 (TAF) and refer to this constantly to ensure your pupils have evidence of this. It is important that you schedule moderation windows throughout the year, at least once a half-term. This should involve internal moderation with colleagues and your assessment lead, and inter-school moderations within Trusts and local authorities to ensure your validity of judgements are accurate whilst also offering useful next steps to bring back into the classroom. Being a Local Authority moderator myself for KS1 and KS2, it is extremely useful to have someone familiar with the process so do get in contact with the Local Authority to either become a moderator yourself or to work with someone who is.
Your school may use their own wording when tracking data e.g. On Track; however, the official terminology that is reported to the DfE at the end of the year is whether the child is working pre-key stage (PKS), working towards the expected standard (WTS), working at the expected standard (EXS) or working above the expected standard (GDS).
Raw score refers to the amount of marks the children got correct out of the total possible amount e.g. they managed 25 correct out of 50 in the reading paper. However, without getting too complicated in how it is calculated, the DfE along with the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) convert these raw scores to scaled scores (a score that can be used to compare one test to another taking into consideration the difficulty of the test).
A scaled score of 100 means they have passed the expected standard; a score of 110 means they are working above the expected standard. If you look at the 2022 KS2 scaled score conversion table, you can see that to pass the reading paper, pupils needed to score a minimum of 29 out of 50, yet in 2017 pupils needed 26 out of 50. Note – there is no specific mention that 110 is Greater Depth Standard (GDS); however, most schools tend to treat it as such. These scores are only for the SATs papers; for writing (annually) and science (bi-annually), this is teacher judgement only and so you will need to submit the appropriate code for each pupil via the Primary Assessment Gateway (your Headteacher will have access to this).
You need a good data tracker to help your analyse trends and identify your next steps to meet your targets. Although we use a data system, I have created a bespoke tracking sheet that calculates percentages and tracks the children’s progress throughout the whole year which has been extremely valuable and insightful. It was also so helpful understanding the official SATs data quickly – after 10 minutes of inputting it in, we had all the percentages for each subject and combined!). If this sounds like something that would be useful to you and your school, then feel free to read more about it and download it here: ‘Year 6 data tracker‘. But whatever tracking system you use, you need it to track each pupil closely at regular intervals as this will greatly inform your groupings (along with your teacher judgement) and any additional interventions/ booster groups you decide to implement later down the line.
Once this is all in place, you will need to know the pupils’ KS1 results for each subject and the cohort’s combined percentage (did they get expected or above in all 3 subjects: maths, reading AND writing?) as this informs you of your progress targets. This is used to inform your school’s targets as they look to improve year-on-year. Many schools utilise the Fischer Family Trust (FFT) website to inform them of their cohort’s targets based on their KS1 data too. From this, you will need to make your predictions of who you suspect will achieve Expected and Greater-Depth and can then monitor throughout the year.
Extended learning opportunities – home learning, interventions and booster groups
Home learning can be a really good way to offer additional practice for pupils whilst also empowering their parents and carers to feel more involved with supporting their child. I have found companies like CGP (who offer activity books) alongside online platforms (like SATs companion) have been really useful for home learning. Online platforms allow the teachers to set homework and track their progress which is great to accompany the efforts in school whilst also offering pupils the comfort in seeing their progress throughout the year. I would certainly recommend looking into offering something for home learning.
Pre- and post-interventions are part of practice and so should very much be part of your teaching and learning culture, for example, during early morning work; however, despite the demands of Year 6, it is imperative that a broad and balanced curriculum is still maintained. Do your very best not to take them out of other subjects, especially the ones they enjoy, as they need a break and we don’t want them resenting coming to school. SATs are important, but pupils’ wellbeing is always first and foremost!
Booster groups can certainly generate debate amongst professionals, but ultimately, if you are supported and happy to offer them, and pupils have the choice to attend, I can’t see any problem with it. The Year 6s love coming to them as they feel like it’s somewhat a taste of secondary school working with different teachers. We allow pupils to bring snacks too to create a positive atmosphere for the sessions. These often start towards the end of Autumn 2 as before- & after-school clubs and continue right up to SATs in May. Most pupils who attended felt a lot more prepared and confident when they took their official SATs.
Preparing for SATs week
SATs are usually in May and last for one week (although there is a two week window for timetable variations). Last year (2021/2022), GPS x 2 was on Monday; Reading on Tuesday; Maths 1 and 2 on Wednesday; and Maths 3 on Thursday. But, for all of this to run smoothly, you must be familiar with what is expected of schools. Below is a list of the essential documentation you will need to know to ensure your school meet the correct deadlines and adhere to the expectations:
- 2022 Key Stage 2 test administration guidance
- 2022 Key Stage 2 Access Arrangements Guidance
- 2022 Key Stage 2 Assessment and reporting arrangements
- Notes for GPS guidance
- How to keep test materials secure
- Ensuring test scripts can be marked on screen
- 2019 KS2 attendance register and test script dispatch instructions
- KS1/2 : investigating allegations of maladministration
- Special consideration
- Teaching Assessment Framework for KS2 (TAF)
- 2021 Pre-Key Stage 2 guidance – pupils working at Key Stage 1 level.
- Engagement model – pupils working below the level of the national curriculum and not engaging in subject specific study.
The DfE outline the provisions allowed for certain pupils to ensure their specific learning need(s) does not inhibit them in demonstrating their knowledge. Using 2022 Key Stage 2 Access Arrangements Guidance will help you know what arrangements certain pupils are entitled to; your mock practices will allow your pupils and staff, time to become familiar with them.
In terms of administrating the papers, use 2022 Key Stage 2 test administration guidance to ensure the mock SATs papers are carried out as expected for the real thing – this helps to reduce anxiety as pupils become familiar with the process. It is also a great opportunity for adults to know what they can and cannot do in different situations e.g. what happens if a fire alarm goes off.
Throughout the year, there are deadlines for when information needs to be submitted, e.g. the attendance register for your pupils; applying for certain access arrangements etc. So refer to 2022 Key Stage 2 Assessment and reporting arrangements in conjunction with the other documents.
The SATs papers are usually delivered towards the end of April. You must have a lockable cupboard where the papers can be kept to ensure there is no maladministration. The Local Authority do carry out random spot checks of schools to ensure the integrity of the papers are not compromised so be sure to be extra diligent and document any interactions with the papers e.g. receiving the delivery, checking them every so often etc. Only certain members of staff should know and have access to this. Refer to the documentation above and How to keep test materials secure to know how to do this. I recommend printing off a sign in and out sheet so that when the papers are checked periodically to ensure they have not be tampered with, you can record who has checked and when; be sure to have a witness with you every time.
For any pupils working at pre-key stage or anyone who your Headteacher feels should not be taking the SATs, you are unable to disapply them – this will need to be recorded on the Primary Assessment Gateway and parents must be informed. A pupil can take some of the subjects, for example, a pupil could take the Maths test but could be disapplied for the Reading paper; however, they cannot be disapplied from part of a subject. For example, they couldn’t just do the arithmetic paper and then not do the Reasoning papers, they must complete all of the maths papers.
Prior to SATs week, you will also need to arrange the timetable for the week and the staff helping. As long as you complete the exams on the designated days, you should not need to apply for a timetable variation, but all of this is explained in 2022 Key Stage 2 test administration guidance. However, prior to the SATs, all staff involved must have received training in knowing how to administer the papers correctly. I have attached the slides that I have used in the past below – you are welcome to use and adapt for yourselves. Ensure you keep hold of the records that the staff involved have signed to confirm their training.
During the SATs week, it is recommended to invite governors and colleagues from other schools to quality assure the process and ensure all guidelines are followed.
Post SATs – Summer term
The relief of SATs is over but the pursuit for pupils to be masters of learning and obtain long-term memory continues. Of course, you may still be selected for external moderation so the evidence for writing must continue. If secondary schools haven’t already, they will be requesting transition information for all of your pupils, along with dates to visit the children in-person or on-zoom. Some schools use provide you with different transition documents so give yourself some time to familiarise yourself with what they need; work with your office team and Inclusion team to help as this can be quite a taxing job to do by yourself. If you’re worried about meeting their deadlines, speak with the secondary schools; they’re usually very flexible and understand how busy this time is for primary schools.
This is also the time where behaviour can bubble. It is very common for children to perceive SATs as the end point so be sure not to allow standards to slip. Use secondary schools as the next goal to ensure they are working hard for when they meet teachers on their transition days. Set challenges and competitions each week in the other subjects too to sustain their interest and compensate for the core subject focus earlier on in the year. You may also want to invite external agencies like the local police, community workers, mental health services and others, to remind pupils of what is available to them and what they should remember as they go on to be independent citizens of the community.
While you’re continuing with this, assuming you are working in Year 6 again next year, you will now want to be working closely with the Year 5 team to begin sorting groups and preparing data targets for the September start. It is important that you take the successes from this year and set them in stone but also reflect on how this year could have been better and be sure to set this plan up – you’ll thank yourself later. Alongside this comes the finalisation of leavers’ celebrations.
The residential you have been planning will not be too far away now and hopefully all that earlier preparation has helped. The children and parents also love being able to purchase hoodies and leavers’ books. I’d suggest ordering the hoodies as soon as possible so the children can enjoy wearing them to school in their final term (if permitted in your school). Leavers’ books are also a good way for all teachers to pre-write their messages with space at the end for signatures – this saves a lot of time in the last few days whilst also acting as a wonderful and smart souvenir the children can cherish. We also have a Year 6 production as well as an outdoor extravaganza day later on in Summer 2 (to give them all something else to work towards). This year, we also held a school prom for the Year 6s which they absolutely loved – they all dressed up smart, had lots of photos taken and got to dance their hearts out. By doing this on the last few days, you can reuse a lot of the decoration and balloons for your leavers’ assembly.
The leavers’ assembly was a great way to celebrate the children’s journey with their parents. In addition to the specific prestigious trophies (‘most inspiring’, ‘the reader’, ‘the dancer’ etc., voted for by both adults and children), each pupil received a commemorative gold medal with the school year and name engraved. We had heart-felt messages from the teachers and then finished with a song before heading out for our traditional end-of-school-countdown where the children got to throw their pre-made paper graduation hats in the air. It was a wonderful send off that we will certainly do again.
You’ve got this
Without a doubt, Year 6 is certainly challenging and the stakes are high. However, it is an excellent opportunity to really put your expertise to the test as I am sure you will discover areas of your teaching that you may not have realised you had. You will finish the year having a firm grasp of what the entire primary school journey is leading to which is extremely powerful for your career. But, to compensate some of the challenging days, the glorious opportunity to spend quality time with your pupils towards the end of the year ready for their big send off is truly remarkable; it is a feeling of satisfaction like no other. Embrace your year ahead – you’ve got this!