This year’s key stage 2 SATs results prove the case that further investment will be needed if the government’s 90% target is to be met by 2030, it was said this week.

The 2022 results have been published this week and come after two years of Covid-19 during which time tests were postponed and pupils experienced significant disruption to their learning.

Primary school leaders warned this week that the SATs data must be handled with caution. As expected, outcomes are down when compared with 2019 – the last time tests were taken – although this trend has been bucked in the reading assessment, where results have improved.

Schools have been praised for their work in minimising the impact of Covid-19 and delivering the tests while also supporting pupils’ social and emotional recovery from the pandemic.

The results show that overall 59% of pupils met the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths, down from 65% in 2019 (in 2016, this figure stood at 53%).

In individual subjects, the results show:

  • 74% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, up from 73%.
  • 71% of pupils met the expected standard in maths, down from 79%.
  • 69% of pupils met the expected standard in writing, down from 78%.
  • 72% of pupils met the expected standard in grammar, punctuation and spelling, down from 78%.
  • 79% of pupils met the expected standard in science, down from 83%.

A statement from Robin Walker, schools minister, said: “While (the overall drop in attainment) is disappointing, it was expected due to the impact of the pandemic. The government recognises, and values, the work that teachers up and down the country are putting into education recovery, but also understands that there is more work to do.”

Mr Walker praised the “hard work and dedication” of teachers, parents, and pupils for the increase in reading attainment but said that attainment in maths and in writing was “disappointing, but not unexpected”.

Covid impact: The DfE's key stage 2 attainment report shows the key stage 2 SATs outcomes since 2016 (source: DfE, 2022)

The DfE will publish more statistical information on the key stage 2 results in September including breakdowns by region, local authority area and pupil characteristics such as disadvantage. Mr Walker added: “It is, of course, likely that some pupils, and some areas of the country, will have been impacted more than others due to the pandemic.

“The statistics published today underline the importance of our focus on recovery. Recovery funding is already making a difference, but we recognise that there is more still to do.”

Commenting this week, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it was to schools’ and teachers’ immense credit that reading outcomes had improved.

He said: “It is hardly surprising the percentage of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is lower than it was before the pandemic. It illustrates the very difficult circumstances affecting schools and pupils over the past two years, and it is to their immense credit that, within this overall statistic, reading attainment has actually increased despite the disruption of Covid.

“The fact that maths and writing are down is very likely to reflect the huge importance of direct classroom teaching in these subjects – which has, of course, been heavily disrupted.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that schools have been focused on both academic and social and emotional recovery and should be congratulated for their work these past two years.

He added: “We need to be very careful with the conclusions we draw from SATs data this year. The disruption caused by Covid impacted children in many different ways, with some families and school communities hit far harder than others.

“This means that attempts to compare SATs results between schools is a pointless endeavour. It is impossible to discern the extent to which differences in results are reflective of changes to the quality of education provided by the school or simply indicative of the degree of disruption experienced.”

The results also show, Mr Barton added, that the DfE will need to consider further investment in specialist support for some pupils if schools are to meet new 2030 for key stage 2 SATs

The recent education White Paper sets out a target for 90% of primary children to achieve the expected standard in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths by 2030.

He added: “These statistics also show how far we will need to go to achieve the government’s target of 90% of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. It is clear that this will require substantial investment in schools and the teaching workforce to enable them to deliver specialised support to the children who need extra help. However, the government’s plans contain no additional resources so it is hard to see how this can possibly be achieved.”

Elsewhere, Mr Walker reiterated the DfE’s pledge that it will not be publishing school level key stage 2 data this year in performance tables. It will, however, share school-level data in the autumn with schools, academy trusts and local authorities to “inform school improvement and support school leaders”. Mr Walker added: “We will ensure clear messages are placed alongside any data shared to advise caution in its interpretation.”