With excellent arithmetic skills driven by daily arithmetic practice in Key Stage 2 your Year 6 WILL reach expected standard in KS2 SATs. Here are our insights into why arithmetic matters plus tips on how your class can practise their arithmetic skills daily to achieve success in SATs – not just in the arithmetic paper but for the reasoning papers too! 

When faced with the seemingly endless list of content and objectives to cover in Key Stage 2 we have to get the basics right, and build from there. In other words – we have to work on pupils’  arithmetic skills at KS2 before we can even start to develop fluency, reasoning and problem solving.

Arithmetic Skills Are At The Core Of Maths Teaching

While your immediate goal may be your pupils achieving ARE in their KS2 Arithmetic Paper, in fact Arithmetic is at the core of almost every single Maths teaching area and essential to their KS2 Reasoning Paper too!

Fluency in numbers is an essential first stage in developing conceptual understanding in maths.

If you’re already persuaded about the importance of daily arithmetic practice and are just looking for a free resource to help you do it, download the first 12 weeks of  Fluent in Five for years 3, 4, 5, 6  – daily arithmetic questions that you can use at the beginning of a lesson to help create numerical fluency at primary.

If you want all 36 weeks of Fluent in Five for Key Stage 2 plus our newest resource Fluent in Five for Key Stage 1, sign up here to find out about subscribing to our premium content.

Below we explore 8 reasons why it is important to focus on teaching excellent KS2 arithmetic skills through daily arithmetic practice, and how to get it ‘right’.

1. Arithmetic Skills Are Essential Building Blocks For Maths

Think of an area of Maths. Chances are, you’ll need good arithmetic skills to succeed in that area.

Fractions, percentages, ratio, measures, and statistics. These are all areas where the vast majority of questions require pupils to be fluent in arithmetic to successfully answer.

All of these topics are covered in our Fluent in Five resource, and we recommend using it at the beginning of a maths lesson to help get pupils in the right mindset to develop their skills.

2. Arithmetic Is A Key Basic Skill for Adults and children

Arithmetic skills are used by adults and children alike throughout their daily lives. Have a think about what you have done so far today: it’s almost certain that you will have used some form of mental arithmetic.

• Did you work out how much longer you’ve got until you need to get out the house this morning?

• Maybe you looked at your speedometer to work out how much to reduce or increase your speed by?

• Or you might have worked out how many children were absent from your class this morning.

If you’ve done any of these things, you have used arithmetic. We constantly rely on these skills in daily life, without even realising it, and this is why it’s so important to build those skills early on.

Try these free downloadable arithmetic questions to build number fluency and confidence in 5 minutes a day

Daily Practice (Arithmetic) free

Fluent in Five Arithmetic Pack: Years 3 to 6 [Weeks 1 to 12]

Use on a whiteboard or print out our SATs style questions, complete with progression document & optional scaffolding helps pupils choose mental or written method

3. Developing Conceptual Understanding Of Arithmetic Saves Time On Calculations

Developing a conceptual understanding of arithmetic is hugely important. After all, for pupils to confidently carry out calculations, they need to understand why calculations work, not just the steps to a successful answer.

This is why rote learning of times tables etc. is often actively discouraged, as it encourages the view that Maths is a set of facts and processes, rather than an interconnected subject that is full of flexibility.

When pupils have a conceptual understanding of their arithmetic skills, they are more likely to be able to carry out questions mentally, saving all important time.

Free resources like our Fluent in Five weekly packs can be used to help pupils make quick decisions about when to use the mental method and save time in exam situations.

4. Fluency In Arithmetic Helps Pupils To Flexibly Approach Maths Problems

When pupils are fluent in arithmetic, they begin to understand the flexibility needed to succeed in Maths, and the different ways that a Maths problem can be approached.

For example, if you ask pupils to double 36 in their heads, and then explain to their partner how they did it, you’ll witness many different approaches.

Some may double 30, double 6 and add the results. Others might double 40 and take away 8. Some might even double 35 and add 2.

Of course, there is no ‘best’ way in Maths. Yet, understanding the ways that Maths is connected and having true fluency in arithmetic helps children to understand and approach almost any problem.


How Third Space Learning Maths Interventions Support Pupils in Arithmetic

Often schools choose to use our 1-to-1 maths interventions for pupils who’ve struggled to secure basic concepts in maths so have gaps from much earlier in their education. By working with them in a focused personalised lesson tutors can target a pupil’s individual gaps so they develop the grounding needed to tackle the kinds of questions they’ll need to answer on the KS2 SATs papers. It’s no surprise that some of our most popular lessons for every age group from Year 2  to Year 6 cover place value and the four operations. That said, every lesson starts with an arithmetic warm up and only when these concepts are secure do the tutors move on to the more challenging reasoning and problem solving activities.

Find out more about how our 1-to-1 maths interventions achieve double expected progress.


5. The KS2 Arithmetic Paper Is Highly Weighted In KS2 SATs

In Key Stage 2 SATs, the Arithmetic Paper accounts for 36% of a child’s overall KS2 Maths SATs raw score. That’s 40 out of 110 marks!

In 2018, only 55.4% (61 out of 110 marks) was required to meet the expected standard and gain a scaled score of 100.

When schools analyse their SATs result breakdown (see this great free SATS 2018 resource for help with this), they often find that children that score well in the Arithmetic Paper are more likely to score well and in their Reasoning Papers. Therefore, they achieve expected standard.

6. Fluent Arithmetic Skills Are Also Needed To Succeed In The KS2 Reasoning Papers

There are also a high proportion of arithmetic focused marks in the KS2 Reasoning Papers.

A large number of questions in SATs papers assess reasoning through arithmetic focused content objectives, and this doesn’t count questions which primarily cover another area (e.g. percentages, measures, number properties) but contain an arithmetic element.

To practice using arithmetic skills in a SATs situation, download these 6 Free SATs Papers (2 Arithmetic Tests and 4 Reasoning Tests for Year 6).

7. Pupils Need To Correctly Identify And Apply Written/Mental Strategies For The KS2 Arithmetic Paper

With the paper designed to include squared working areas after each question, pupils often take up time time carrying out mental questions using a written method. As such, they’re not able to complete the full paper – when they might be fully capable of answering the final questions!

Clearly, having a level of fluency in arithmetic that allows pupils to identify (and correctly apply) written/mental arithmetic methods is key to fully accessing KS2 Arithmetic Paper 1.

Use our in-depth Fluent in Five daily arithmetic practice packs to help your pupils develop the fluency and speed required to complete the full arithmetic paper (and identify between written and mental methods).

8. Maths Arithmetic Skills Need Regular Practice To Maintain True Fluency

This isn’t a “why” arithmetic is important, so much as how to best to teach it.

Pupils need to be using their arithmetic skills each and every day in order for them to maintain the confidence and fluency needed to successfully tackle their exams.

How to improve Arithmetic Skills At Key Stage 2 – Year 6 and earlier

Alongside the Fluent in 5 Arithmetic pack, there are a number of simple things you can do to in your classroom to help your pupils improve their skills. They are:

1. Ensure pupils’ grasp of the core mathematical concepts is solid

Without truly understanding the reasoning behind some of the most basic concepts in maths, pupils will likely struggle to truly improve and eventually develop complex arithmetic skills. Use concrete resources and manipulatives where necessary.

2. The use of correct maths terminology in the classroom is vital

There are a lot of complicated and similar sounding words in the world of maths, and it is important that pupils do not have the chance to get jumbled as it could eventually lead to a wrong answer.

John Dabell has broken down just why maths terminology is so important in KS1 and KS2, and how to teach pupils the vocabulary they will need in our blog. It is a very interesting read and shows how easy it is to bring “false friends” into the classroom, so read it now and let us know what you think.

If you are looking for a maths resource that will help promote the correct vocabulary in the classroom, take a look at our Ultimate Maths Vocabulary List.

3. Use a variety of maths teaching techniques to help develop arithmetic skills

Change it up in the classroom if you are looking to cement this knowledge in your pupils!

Use a range of online and offline maths teaching strategies to teach arithmetic skills and you will be able to reach every pupil in your class. Some might need a bar model to embed understanding, some will need more scaffolding, but there’s always a way in. And when the penny drops, their scores will go up!

If you have an example of a lesson or technique that you have found to be extremely useful when teaching arithmetic, let us know via Twitter and we will share it.

4. Include arithmetic practice in everyday situations to improve skills

Learning maths in the classroom is all well and good, but it will have much more relevance to your pupils if they are able to apply it to an everyday situation.

This will ensure pupils are not scared of maths out in the real world, from working out how much money they have in their savings account through to how many chocolate bars they can get with their pocket money! Why not make this the focus for your maths clubs next year?

5. Avoid maths tricks 

We all know some ‘clever’ maths tricks that can provide a quick fix for some arithmetic questions but be careful how you use them.

Generally we advise our own tutors and teachers to avoid these maths tricks as they don’t help to build understanding and in some cases can just embed misconceptions.

Looking for more ways to prepare your Year 6 for SATs this year? Book  Read our blog: How to Ace Year 6 SATs Revision Maths KS2

Or for more intensive booster support, book a demo of our Year 6 intervention programme

David Leighton , Content Team , Third Space Learning

A former secondary teacher, David keeps a weather eye on the educational horizon. He's responsible for making sure our blog posts and Maths resources reach teachers far & wide.