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New primary school tests will help eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy

Sample questions for the tests taken by 7-year-olds and 11-year-olds show the higher standards expected for reading, writing and arithmetic. 

New tougher primary school tests in maths and English will further the government’s objective of ensuring nobody leaves school without being able to read or write and with a solid grounding in maths, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said yesterday.

Sample questions for the tests taken by 7-year-olds and 11-year-olds - in maths, reading, and grammar, punctuation and spelling - reveal the higher standards expected of children in the 3Rs.

The new tests will come in from 2016, reflecting the greater demands of the rigorous new curriculum, which will be taught from this September. All topics in the curriculum - including the most complex - will be tested in these new assessments, whereas at the moment 11-year-old pupils are only fully stretched if they are also entered for the separate level 6 tests. The complicated system of levels is being scrapped, with pupils given a ‘a scaled score’ which shows how they compare to the expected standard for their year.

Achievement at primary is vital for future success. Some 83% of pupils who reach the expected standard in both English and maths at age 11 went on to achieve at least 5 A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths in 2013.

A CBI survey this month of 291 companies, employing nearly 1.5 million people, found 85% of businesses wanted more focus on literacy and numeracy at primary school. More than a third of firms (38%) said they were concerned about school leavers’ basic numeracy, while more than half of employers (54%) were concerned about literacy levels of their staff.

In addition studies have shown that children who do well in maths aged 10 go on to earn £2,100 a year more in their 30s than others who are just average in the subject.

The government is determined that no child leaves primary school unable to read, write or without a secure grounding in maths. This will provide a solid foundation for secondary school so they can master the skills needed for the workplace or further education.

In addition to rigorous, more demanding curriculums and tests, the government is also establishing a national network of 32 maths hubs which will seek to match the standards achieved in high-performing east asian countries, and be open to other schools to learn from. Hubs will implement the Asian-style mastery approach to maths which has seen children in these jurisdictions often around 2 years ahead of English children by age 15.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said:

We know that for children to get on in life, a solid grounding in maths and English at primary is vital.

This means learning times tables up to 12x12 and being able to carry out long multiplication and division without the aid of a calculator. It also means proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.

There is no reason why our children cannot match the best performers around the world in these vital subjects.

As part of the tougher new tests, pupils will have to achieve a higher ‘pass mark’ in all 3 assessments. To further raise standards the government has introduced a new accountability system for primary schools which will be more ambitious - more rigorous tests and a higher pass mark.

11-year-old test topics

The topics children will be assessed on at age 11 through the new tests include:


  • adding and subtracting fractions with different denominations and mixed numbers
  • calculating the area of a parallelogram and a triangle, and the volume of a cuboid
  • using their knowledge of the order of operations to carry out calculations involving the four operations (division, multiplication, subtraction and addition)

Tests under the current curriculum do not ask as much of pupils. For instance, they only have to know their 10x10 times tables and they only need to know how to calculate the area of squares and rectangles.

A new separate written arithmetic paper has been introduced to key stage 2 tests to ensure pupils are fluent in the discipline.

The government is also banning the use of calculators in tests for 11-year-olds from this year for the first time.

Also marks will only be given to pupils who get the wrong answer if they show their working has been done in efficient methods, including long and short division and multiplication instead of so-called ‘chunking’ or ‘grid methods’. Pupils who get the right answer will still get full marks, whatever method they have used.


  • identifying and commenting on writers’ use of words, phrases and language features including figurative language
  • distinguishing the difference between a fact and an opinion
  • giving the meaning of words in context

Grammar, punctuation and spelling

  • assessing the use of verbs in the perfect form to mark relationships of time, ie, use of ‘have’ and ‘had’
  • recognising adverbials and how to use a fronted adverbial, ie, use of the word ‘before’ in sentences
  • assessing the use of subordination and how to introduce a subordinate clause

A new test examining grammar, punctuation and spelling was introduced in May 2013. The tests from 2016, under the new curriculum, will build on this.

The full list of key stage 1 and 2 test sample questions is available online: ‘National curriculum assessments: 2016 sample materials

Notes to editors

  1. The Department for Education has also published sample questions for tests sat by 11-year-olds in science. Tests in science are only taken by a sample of pupils: ‘National curriculum assessments: 2016 sample materials
  2. Scaled scores are the new way in which test outcomes will be reported. A scaled score of 100 will represent the expected standard on the test, with scores above 100 indicating higher attainment. More details about scaled scores will be provided to schools in summer 2015.
  3. Previous tests sat by 11-year-olds are available: ‘National curriculum assessments: past papers
  4. The study referred to in the press notice is the ‘Reading and maths skills at age 10 and earnings in later life: a brief analysis using the British Cohort Study


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