In England, the English government decide what children should be achieving at certain stages of their education and then all children are assessed at the end of each key stage to see if they are meeting the national standards.

The key stages

There are 4 key stages:

  • Key Stage 1 – primary school, years 1 – 3 
  • Key Stage 2 – primary school, years 4 – 6 ( formally assessed by SATS)
  • Key Stage 3 – secondary school. years 7 – 9 
  • Key Stage 4 – secondary school, years 10 – 11 ( formally assessed by GCSE’s)

The targets for each key stage are set by the the Department for Education who regularly monitor these targets. According to the Department for Education website, two of their priorities is to: 

“Level up education standards so that children and young people in every part of the country are prepared with the knowledge, skills, and qualifications they need.”

“Support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people through high-quality local services so that no one is left behind (cross-cutting outcome).” (1) 

National standards 

The targets for each key stage is broken down into targets for each year group. One of the targets for a child in year 1 is to know all of the phonic sounds and be able to use the sounds to read bigger words. One of the targets for a Year 2 child is to be able to count in multiples of 2,3 and 5 (2). A child in year 9 is expected to learn the structure of the human skeleton (3). As long as they can achieve the targets by the end of the key stage, they are meeting expectations. 

But what happens if a child isn’t meeting expectations? 


Interventions happen when a child is deemed to not be meeting their targets. So, small groups or 1:1 interventions are set up to help children meet the national standards. Interventions can happen during the school day or after school and can vary from between 20 minutes to 90 minutes.

Who decides what students need help?

It’s primarily up to teaching staff to identify if additional support is required. Parents however can also raise concerns with the school for the staff to investigate further.  

Every school also has a special education needs and disabilities co-ordinator (SENDCO). The SENDCO will be a qualified teacher. The role of the SENDCO is to support the staff, children and parents. This may mean supporting a parent through getting their child assessed for autism or dyslexia. It could also be providing teaching staff with training and resources to enable to better support a child with a specific need in the classroom.  

For the children who have been formally assessed as needing additional support, they will get the help and resources to be able to meet the government set targets via an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.  

What about the children who have not been identified or assessed?  

Children can be very good at masking problems. Picture this: Jerome is sitting in a biology class and he has been asked by his teacher Mr Thompson to annotate a diagram of a heart. This is Jerome’s worst nightmare as he struggles with spelling but he tries his best to complete the task. His words however are mostly illegible. So, Mr Thomspon asks Jerome to redo the task and make his handwriting easier to read.

Jerome feels embarrassed. Will this feeling of embarrassment lead him to admitting that he has trouble with spelling? Or will he be rude to Mr Thompson due to feeling embarrassed? If Jerome can admit that he is struggling, Mr Thompson can get him some help. If Jerome however decides to be rude, his behaviour may be described as disruptive. If his behaviour continues to be disruptive during writing tasks, he could eventually get excluded from school as disruptive behaviour is the most common reason for all types of exclusions.

Budget cuts

School spending per pupil in England dropped by almost 10% between 2009–10 and 2019–20 (4). So with cuts in the education budget, disruptive behaviour being on the rise, teachers working longer hours and spending just as much time on marking, planning and admin as they do on teaching, it’s not really surprising that some problems get missed. Especially when a child covers up the problem with disruptive behaviour. 

It is easy to see disruptive behaviour as defiance or even rudeness, but there is always a reason for behaviour. We therefore need to look beyond the behaviour to find out what the behaviour could be trying to tell us.  

Our training programme can help staff identify why students may be behaving in a disruptive manner. We can also reduce disruptive behaviour by working with young people via our Switch Ambassador Programme.


1) The Department For Education

2) Primary Curriculum

3) Secondary Curriculum

4) Institute for Fiscal Studies