Sats: Why I run regular practice sessions

Some claim practising for Sats is wrong, but this teacher argues it is essential for wellbeing and attainment

Laurence Holmes

SATs What next?

Sats practice has a poor reputation, with people envisioning children in rows doing endlessly repetitive tasks. Some even claim we should pretend the Sats aren't happening at all, to protect the wellbeing of our pupils. 

As such, the huge benefits of practice can be downplayed, and teachers can avoid it.

In fact, Sats practice does not have to look how some claim, and actually, to develop a positive and successful approach to Sats, we need to invest in practice.

Quick read: How retrieval practice boosted my Sats results

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The work of professor Anders Ericsson, among others, has shown that deliberate practice – whereby a teacher will identify learning goals for a student, those will be worked on, and then new goals will be identified, and the cycle continues (Ericsson explains the process here) – can have a huge effect on performance.

Last summer, our Year 6s had already been practising for their Sats for many months, every day between 8.45am to 9.15am. But this was not children stuck in rows going through practice papers. It was more akin to the practice Ericsson describes.

Practice makes perfect

A good example is the Maths paper. I broke the arithmetic paper into a set of daily questions: small chunks of the bigger piece. Pupils received immediate feedback: I helicoptered and landed and addressed misconceptions. The children worked on the learning goals. And we found new areas to work on.

The visualiser was a key component in gathering immediate feedback. Using the KS2 test framework, I gave a small chunk of the arithmetic paper to the children.

Every day, we slowly addressed where misconceptions arose and the children got better and better at the various tests. We spaced the topics, ran quizzes, and built up to the SATS slowly.


Last year, our results were significantly above national average, 90 per cent of pupils achieving expected standard with an average scaled score of 107. The previous year was 68 per cent.

I believe we achieved this not just because the practice made sure the learning stuck, but also because the practice ensured our children were less anxious, more confident and less fearful of the testing process. This was normal for them.

So yes, practice can get a bad name, but it is not what you do, it is the way that you do it.

Practice in the manner described here is not some awful thing we should not be putting children through – it would in fact be awful if we pretended the SATs did not exist, never practiced them and dropped our pupils right into it when May arrived.

Laurence Holmes is a teacher at The Mill Primary Academy in West Sussex

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