Something about year 6?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week, SATs week, reflecting on what I’ve learned so far from teaching in year 6. I tweeted @DeputyMitchell saying as much during a conversation about SATs procedures and moderation:

My first year in 6, learning so much about the different things schools can be subject to this year!

He tweeted back agreeing that it was learning curve and pointed me in the direction of a blog post he wrote, partially about year 6, after attending a course on assertive mentoring this time last year. In the post, David explains how Peter Boddy, who was running the course, spoke about ‘typical’ patterns of uneven progress in KS2 in reading, writing and maths:

Year 3 – 1 point progress (0.5 sub level)
Year 4 – 2 points progress (1 sub level)
Year 5 – 3 points progress (1.5 sub level)
Year 6 – 6 points progress( 3 sub levels)

Peter Boddy questioned why this was typically the case, why a Year 6 teacher can do this and asked whether it was because the Year 6 teacher knew how much hinged on the results. Coincidentally, I had left a comment on this very post a year ago myself:

I have to say, that I don’t know if this is the picture in my school*, but I’m not sure what to think of it. I can see how being in year 6 can be a stressful place to be and if I were to be moved into year 6 in September, I think I would feel a different kind of pressure that I haven’t experienced in year 4. However, I would argue I’m constantly reflecting on the impact of the strategies I use and in pupil progress meetings we look at progress data, analyse it, discuss what we’re doing that’s working and what we need to do next. My results are scrutinised, but arguably not by as many different groups as KS2 SATs results are. Still, I’m really very proud of the progress made by my class this year so far.

My worry is that this is sounding like an argument for more testing and league tables…?

*And I still don’t. This post works on the assumption that Peter Boddy’s picture of uneven progress throughout KS2 is a typical picture in schools across the UK. It won’t be true of all schools.

So, a year on, after teaching in year 6 myself, I admitted to David that I do feel I now have a clearer picture of assessment and I’ve felt on many occasions that I have learned so much this year. Of course, I think teachers are continually learning, but after spending two years in Year 4, I have to say that Year 6 is… different. Does it sound dramatic to say that I think it has changed me as a teacher? I don’t know, but I would suggest it has. For example, if I were to move to Year 3 now after being in Year 6, I think I would be a different teacher than if I had moved there straight from Year 4. This all leads me back to the original questions though: is there something different about Year 6 that results in children typically making the most progress this year? And if so, what is it?

My experience

  • Levelling: I have levelled work more frequently, particularly in writing. (Perhaps this is partly down to the change in the writing SATs, which means that now it is done by teacher assessment of a child’s work throughout the year and not just what they produce in their SATs writing test). In fact, I broadly level every piece of writing that’s done as well as mark it and give feedback as I normally would. As a result, I have never had such a clear, up-to-date picture of where all my class are at any one time, as I have had this year.
  • Targets: possibly as a result of levelling work more frequently, I feel much clearer myself about what constitutes a level 4 or a level 5. Again, especially in writing. Consequently, I can recognise what a child needs to do to move on when I level a piece of work. Of course, I gave children targets to move them on prior to being in year 6, but if I compared them, I would imagine that my targets are more specific now. Plus, targets are updated more often.
  • Intervention: more specific targets leads to more specific intervention. Not only that, but the intervention set up this year has been reviewed and adapted frequently because I am levelling and targetting more often.

So ultimately there has been no magic formula. Instead it has mainly come down to changes in assessment. I think I assess frequently and accurately and use this specifically. The point is though, I really try to do something with what I’ve found out that gives children the opportunity to move on, whether it be a word bank or setting up a dedicated level 6 maths blog or an intervention group. I am in no way suggesting that teachers who aren’t or haven’t taught in Year 6 don’t do any of the above. You can see from my comment on David’s post that I was ‘constantly reflecting on the impact of strategies’ I used in Year 4, but with hindsight I have been more creative and consistent with my intervention strategies. In fact, consistency has been key this year. Again, I can, and do, only speak from my own experience.

Some people might suggest teachers teach more ‘intensely’ in Year 6, but I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘intensely’. Yes, I certainly assess more rigorously, but has my class timetable been full of reading, writing and maths? I would honestly say no. Every science lesson is still hands on with focussed recording, we still have cross-curricular topics with children creating their own Pop Art, turning our classroom into a Scandinvian country for the day and building shelters on Disaster Zone Day to name but a few of our projects. Year 6 doesn’t just have to be about writing and maths, but when it is time for those, the targets are clear.

Moving on
After being in Year 6, I think I now have the invaluable knowledge of the bigger picture about where children ‘should’ be by the time they leave primary school. This is something I can take with me to any year group. The differences in how I assess would also be something I would take with me if I were to teach in another year group. Maybe I will have higher expectations now too? I’ve now seen children make three sub levels progress in a year so I know it’s possible? Although I can’t be sure of that until that time comes.

Evening it out
So why does it take being in Year 6 to realise these changes in many cases, if the ‘typical’ uneven progress across KS2 Peter Boddy shared is true? Perhaps it’s partly down to pupils being more aware of their progress and spurred on by the imminence of secondary school? Undoubtedly the KS2 results being used so publicly to create league tables must play its part. It is hard to compltely ignore that fact and perhaps gives teachers the impetus to assess more closely throughout the year and, importantly, act on it quickly. So if that is the case, how can ‘typical’ Year 6 progress be mirrored in other year groups? Publicise all the results from every year group like the year 6 ones are? Possibly not. Give all teachers the chance to teach in Year 6 and then take what they’ve learned to other year groups? Possibly.

What do you think? Have you taught in Year 6? Did it somehow change you or give you a perspective that you didn’t get in other year groups? How? Are any of my experiences similar to yours? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

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25 comments

  • Rob , (redgierob)

    Claire I think that is spot on.

    Y6 teachers assess more regularly and they have to do something about it. They have to make sure the children are going to get to level 4. The buck stops with them!
    They need to move the pupils on no matter how much time needs to be put into that.

    I am of the opinion that this level of teacher assessment and intervention needs to be carried on throughout KS2.

  • Wow, Claire, what a thoughtful blog.. Just doing my 9,307th year 6 class (note to self, check that is accurate) and I have had very similar feelings as you describe. I think the issue you have made clear for me is simply that Year 6 is so much about progress. In fact, solely so. This requires the teacher to compress and distill the process of teaching and intervention. There is an extenuating circumstance in SATs, but also in transition and also in the way that pupils now have so much learning experience. Perhaps teaching Year 6 is the espresso to other years’ latte?

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Stephen. Do you think other year groups are typically not so much about progress then? If so, why? Playing a bit of devil’s advocate here!

  • Great post Claire. I haven’t much to add as I’m just starting to teach year 6 as a PGCE student, which I think is a very different experience from the one you describe (certainly as they are all ‘post-SATs’). Perhaps the key to your experience has been that focus on the end point? Perhaps it is so strongly fixed in your mind, that it impacts on everything you do? If that is the case, then perhaps every teacher needs ambitious target setting and a stint year 6? I know I will value my time with the year 6 children this term, I think they will show me what I’m aiming for and put my teaching into context.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for your comment, Jo. I think you’ve hit on a valid point. Being Year 6, the final year, has perhaps given me more of an overall context. If you’re suggesting all teachers need to spend a stint in Year 6, perhaps that goes for Reception too? That way we would have the full context: where they start from and where they need to get to?

      • would definitely agree with spending time in reception too – been a valuable part of my experience as a student, perhaps something I will forget too quickly over time? We ask children to partner up through the school and read to each other, perhaps it is time to partner teachers up across key stages? Maybe people already do this, not something I’ve seen yet, but Im sure it will be out there somewhere.

        • We did this a while ago – I partnered up with a KS1 teacher in our feeder school and went in to spend the morning with her and her class, then she came and spent the afternoon with us a week later, and we talked about what we’d learnt. It was very useful, even just as a one off.

        • Claire Lotriet

          This has happened at my school before. 🙂

        • My experience as a Y1 teacher and time in Reception really helped me on final placement in Y3 as I understood where the children’s learning came from. We must, as teachers, not put ourselves in, “I’m a UKS2 teacher/KS1 teacher.” boxes so that we can develop as professionals. I feel that some teachers forget that despite the placements/training/experience that they have, that we are all qualified to teach every year group.

  • Taught yr 6 in a small village school for 7 years. Have had a gutful of people saying that children don’t test well in lower years and then am expected to perform wonders. Have also developed levelling powers-can look at a piece and know what it is- give instant and relevant feedback. Just jaded at moment….will be fine post half term. No one in school wants year 6!

    I do love my job, honest. It can be a bit draining though.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Why do you think that no one in your school wants Year 6? What’s so different about it?

  • When I see that this pattern of achievement is so common, it really makes me think that there is something wrong with our expectations of children – why are they expected to progress in such a regular, linear way? Is it possible that their age has a lot to do with it? The older children are, the more able they are to take targets on board, take more responsibility for their learning, and actually understand what you are teaching them and what it is that they have to do to improve. They are also more likely to want to do that and to maybe have aspirations and ambitions that make them want to work harder and achieve more. I find that my Year 5s (and Year 4s towards the end of the year) show a much higher awareness of their levels and wish to achieve more compared to when I taught Year 3 – to whom life really was a lot more low stakes and they didn’t totally get the relationship between the effort they put in and the results they achieved.
    Just some thoughts on why it might be the children themselves that make the difference rather than what the teachers are doing.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for your comment, Nikki. I think you raise a really interesting point. I wondered in my post myself if it isn’t at least partly due to the development of the children themselves and their increased awareness about their own progress as they get older. That sounds like it makes sense to me. Your own experiences certainly back this up too. I wonder if there are any studies or data on this.

      Your point about non-linear progress has also got me thinking. Is even progress across KS2 actually realistic? Should we expect children to progress in this way or is accelerated progress as they get older the real truth, regardless of the teaching style?

      • I’d say the teaching style is still important – for consistent progress to take place I think there does need to be regular, rigorous assessment that leads to personalised targets and children need to be given help and tailored interventions such as guided writing to help them meet their targets. However, I think that in most schools where this is taking place, it is happening across the whole school as part of their policy rather than just in year 6, yet there is stilll this discrepancy in the rate of progress. I would also really like to see some data or research done on this!
        *ponders research project*
        This certainly is a thorny issue, not least when the spectre of Performance Related Pay raises its head…….

        • Claire Lotriet

          Nikki, this research project needs to done! Go to it. 🙂

          Do you know what, I hadn’t even thought about adding performance related pay into the mix, but if your suggestions are true, then that does potentially make a thorny issue indeed!

  • Great Post! I’ve had different yeargroups [Y3-Y5] and also Y6 for a year. It does help you to be more clear in your assessment and know what you mean by levelling every piece of writing. I still feel in the ‘mode’ of levelling every piece of writing. Targets are also constantly getting updated – as and when needed. I’ve been told a few times ‘spot on’ with my assessment/levelling – even with last year’s Y5’s who had been assessed by their Y6 Teacher at the start of Y6. Teachers in Y5 have an important role to play to ensure Teachers in Y6 can focus on the necessary progress children need to make.

    • Claire Lotriet

      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that lots of those who have been/are in Year 6 feel that it has helped them in terms of accuracy when levelling. I guess that might be a case of practice making perfect? If it has to be done more in Year 6, then that might be a natural result?

      I couldn’t agree more about teachers in Year 5 playing an important role. I think teachers in all years play a vital role. Looking at this ‘typical’ uneven pattern of progress stresses that even more, I would suggest?

      • I agree all Teachers have to play a role – are playing a natural role of course – but in Y5 even more, as the last year before the ‘final step’, with the last ‘tricky bits’ – before Y6.

  • Julie Stanton

    In my personal experience, I have not typically found this uneven spread of progress in the two schools I’ve worked in. Of course, some children have made exceptional progress in year 6 (one year a child made 6 sub levels progress in maths) but I have also seen examples of exceptional progress in other year groups.

    I think the fact is, that children’s progress is not linear, and factors such as teaching style, interventions, targets, assessment style, and simply whether the child likes their teacher can have an affect on progress in any one year.

    Having spent four years teaching in year 6, I am looking forward to a possible change of year group next year. Then perhaps I’ll have more to say about the pace of work in other year groups. However, my class did tell me last week that they think I’ve taught them more this year that they’ve learnt in any other year group – but perhaps that’s simply because I’ve felt I’ve have to ‘cram it all in’ before the SATs!

  • Great post, Claire. I have taught for eleven years now – across all ks2 and know that there are different challenges in every year group. Some of the hardest being that first term in year three. However, year six is a different beast to the others. Nobody wants it in most schools. Is this just the pressure if SATs? Behaviour, transition, imminent adolescence? A mixture?
    I do love six but am ready for a change now. Want to flex my abilities lower down again.
    Thanks for posting, good to see others thinking the same way.

  • I have taught in Y2,3,4 and 6 and I love Y6 because it is different. I did experience, especially in Y4, a time for more creativity projects and I do miss the time available to incorporate this into your usual timetable. However, Y6 children see that their learning and achievement matters because they are due to move to new pastures and want to make themselves proud by producing a high standard of work. Additionally, the teachers are very focussed with their teaching and have higher expectations of the work being produced each lesson.
    This year, end of year assessment is based on SATs results and teacher assessment. This means that children who are consistent or feel anxious because of SATs can have their levels backed up because of classwork and the children who struggle to give 100% all of time perform well for test conditions, where they appreciate that the work they produce will matter. Many children even profess to enjoying the SATs!
    Y6 offers children a kind of grand finale for their primary years and after SATs, even though the work does continue, there is certainly a feeling of appreciating the time left at their school.

  • Great post, feels like I’m reading about my own experiences!! I’m currently in my second year teaching y6 (third year teaching) and feel like I learned tonnes since joining year 6.

    I think what makes y6 so different is that it shows clearly (if not demands) where children should be at the end of KS2 and more often than not the buck lands with the y6 teacher. It enables you to see the ‘bigger picture’ and really fine tunes our assessment skills.

    Don’t get my wrong, I love my job and particularly love being in y6 but it can be quite draining

  • Hi,
    I have just come across your blog on the internet, whilst searching for inspiration for planning and ideas (and thank you, you have provided me with quite a few).

    Your post above is of great interest to me and mirrors the experiences of my own. I started teaching in year 3 and 4, but it wasn’t until my time in year 6 that some of the assessment procedures, which had become much more rigorous, really made sense, particularly in relation to the bigger ‘school’ picture. My three years experience in year 6 has helped me to recognise the importance of accurate data and judgments throughout the entire journey through school, but also established a confidence in the areas you mentioned: levelling, targets and interventions.

    I now have a greater knowledge of the expectations for children in year 6, and if I should return to a different class setting, I know that I will think differently about teaching practice and assessment based on that ultimate goal for each child as they leave primary school. If anything, it is the confidence it has provided me with in my own judgments. I have discussed this with my head at regular meetings, and I can’t help but wonder if all teachers within school should see and experience the expectations of the child at year 6. Similarly, I feel my practice would benefit greatly if I worked in the foundation stage and key stage one, to understand and appreciate where it is that a child ‘comes from’ at the beginning of their school journey.

    So, as skilled teachers, should we all be asked to work in these key areas of school in order to develop our knowledge, skills and practice?

    I wonder.

  • David Kempster

    Hi Claire
    Great post. I wish every teacher reflected on their practice like you do. It would improve education 10 fold.
    Anyway, your thoroughness of assessment in Year 6 is key to progress. Sharing this with the pupils ensures they know where they are and what they need to do to move on. When I was head of KS1 Back in the mid 90s I introduced a system of assessment using the NC levels and we did this in all classes at the beginning of each half term. We also did this together so we shared our knowledge and reached consensus about the levels of the children. This was time consuming but ultimately ensured we understood the children’s progression and could intervene if we saw a problem arise. It also meant we had a levelled record of progression throughout KS1. Unfortunately, the teachers in KS2 decided not to adopt the same system because they felt it took too much time!
    As you say in your piece, yours and the children’s understanding of what constituted a particular level or sub level increased so you you and they understood what needed to be achieved and this is how it should be done rather than the teacher just planning a session based around an objective.
    Perhaps sharing this with you KS2 team on a regular basis ( each half term) will get the other teachers focussing more sharply in this type of ongoing assessment?
    Of course, at the back of your mind is the end of Key Stage SATs but remember, they are not Yr 6 SATs but an assessment of the work they have done since they entered school (and before ) so getting everyone involved to share that responsibility is essential. You are not alone! 😉

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