Supporting English-related teaching and learning at all levels

Comments on the 2018 Reading Paper – Sarah O’Boyle

Sarah O’Boyle is a Primary Headteacher in Sandwell and English specialist. In this blog post she shares her initial thoughts on the 2018 KS2 reading paper.

There was a consensus sigh of relief across the Y6 team in my school when we opened the KS2 Reading Paper for 2018.  A sigh of relief, I hear you ask?  In comparison to the 2016 and 2017 papers, the paper seemed to be far more inclusive and less focused, dare I say it, on middle class children.  I’m not saying the paper was easy, and it was still demanding; however, the texts chosen were far more appropriate and accessible for our children in Smethwick (a deprived area in Sandwell, in the West Midlands).  The non-fiction element of the paper was far more child-friendly and more appropriate to their reading experience, rather than ‘Swimming the English Channel’ from 2017.  Some of our children weren’t even aware that swimming the English Channel was a ‘thing’.  Don’t get me wrong, our children were able to access the paper and were very successful but it was the lack of relevance to their life experiences.  Reading opens our hearts and minds to different people and experiences, but it is also about having a variety of life experiences which helps children to make sense of themselves and the world they live in.

Of course the non-fiction element was highly focused on testing the children’s skill of retrieval and in this section with 56% of marks awarded to this domain, thus allowing for marks to be obtained here by the less able Y6 reader.  This domain is where the majority of our children scored their marks in the 2017 paper, and not surprisingly, one of our weaker areas (but not the weakest) was inference.  Inference, again, formed 44% of the marks of the 2018 paper as it did in 2017.  Interestingly, it was only 36% of the 2016 reading paper, the reading test that many Y6 teachers agree was the most challenging.  However, as the start of my blog alludes to, it’s not so much which reading domain the questions were focused on that our pupils struggled with, but the stimulus for reading – the texts themselves.  Without hesitation, for me, the 2016 reading paper should not be associated with the phrase, ‘reading stimulus’ as the texts were far from stimulating, most particularly, ‘The Way of the Dodo.’

It is hoped that future KS2 reading papers will emulate the 2018 version so that it appears that the children across England who are being tested are taken into consideration.   Furthermore, with a  greater focus on reading for pleasure in schools that the DfE is now advocating, and many schools, were promoting well before it became part of the Ofsted framework, it is further hoped that the people who write the test papers will focus on this so the test will truly reflect the skills of our children as readers.