Working at greater depth: what it means for your child

Working at greater depth in primary school
How do schools extend children who've mastered the basic curriculum concepts? We take a look at what happens if they're 'working at greater depth'.

When the Department for Education (DfE) introduced the new National Curriculum for primary schools in 2014, it also announced a new grading system.

Under the previous system, children were expected to achieve specific National Curriculum levels by the end of each year group: level 2B at the end of Year 2, and level 4 by the end of Year 6. Those who were working above the expected standard for their age could be awarded a higher level: for example, the highest achievers in Year 6 could secure a level 6.

With the introduction of the new National Curriculum, levels became defunct. Children are now assessed against a set of objectives to see if they are:

  • Working towards end of year expectations: not yet reaching the standard expected for their school year
  • Working at end of year expectations: at the level expected for their year group
  • Working at greater depth: working more deeply within the expectations for their year. In KS2 maths and reading, this is referred to as ‘meeting the higher standard’.

What is ‘working at greater depth?’

Working at greater depth means a child has mastered the learning expected for their age and stage, and is therefore able to delve into it in more detail.

‘Children who consistently work at greater depth are confidently able to deal with increases in the complexity of how a subject is presented,’ explains Rachel Rayner, a teaching and learning adviser for primary mathematics at Herts for Learning: a collaboratively owned school company operating with a not-for-profit ethos, providing services, resources and products to help schools deliver a great education.

‘In the case of maths, for example, children who are working at greater depth are encouraged to reason more precisely, deal with more complex problems and presentation, suggest multiple strategies and approaches to solving calculations, and compare different approaches, taking efficiency into account.’

In English, working at greater depth might look like using different sentence types and lengths, being aware of how their audience affects their tone and style, or writing with a ‘reader’s eye’, re-reading and editing their own work to ensure it’s enjoyable to read.

Some of the characteristics of a child who’s working at greater depth include:

  • Working independently
  • Applying what they’ve learned in one area of a subject to other areas
  • Applying their knowledge consistently, confidently and fluently
  • Being able to explain what they have been doing to others, including teaching other children what they have learned.

What do children have to do to be working at greater depth?

Each year, the DfE publishes a Teacher Assessment Framework that sets out what children have to do to meet the expected standard for their Key Stage, and what they must demonstrate if they are working at greater depth.

Working at greater depth is NOT simply doing the same calculations with bigger numbers, or reading more challenging books.

At the end of KS1 (Year 2), pupils are assessed by their teachers.

In KS1 reading, children who are working at greater depth can:

  • In a book they are reading independently, make inferences on the basis of what is said and done.
  • Predict what might happen on the basis of what has been read so far.
  • Make links between the book they are reading and other books they have read.

In KS1 writing, children who are working at greater depth can:

  • Write effectively and coherently for different purposes, drawing on their reading to inform their vocabulary and grammar.
  • Make simple additions, revisions and corrections to their own writing.
  • Use the punctuation taught in KS1 mostly correctly.
  • Spell most common exception words.
  • Use suffixes mostly correctly in their writing (e.g. -ment, -ness, -ful, -less, -ly).
  • Join some letters in their handwriting.

In KS1 maths, Year 2 children who are working at greater depth can:

  • Read scales where not all numbers on the scale are given, and estimate points in between.
  • Recall and use multiplication and division facts for 2, 5 and 10 and make deductions outside known multiplication facts (e.g. 2x2 is the same as 1x4).
  • Use reasoning about numbers and relationships to solve more complex problems and explain their thinking (e.g. ‘Together, Jack and Sam have £14. Jack has £2 more than Sam. How much money does Sam have?’).
  • Solve unfamiliar word problems that involve more than one step (e.g. ‘Which has the most biscuits: 4 packets of biscuits with 5 in each packet, or 3 packets of biscuits with 10 in each packet?’).
  • Read the time on a clock to the nearest 5 minutes.
  • Describe similarities and differences of 2D and 3D shapes, using their properties (e.g. knowing that a cube and a cuboid have the same number of edges, faces and vertices, but different dimensions).

At the end of KS2 (Year 6), children are assessed by statutory tests, or SATs. ‘Children receive a scaled score where 100+ is judged as reaching the age-related standard, and 110+ is reaching the higher standard,’ Rachel explains.

‘Confusingly, there is no greater depth judgement for 11-year-olds; however, it’s likely that schools will still use the term in their own assessments.’

Is it the same as being gifted and talented, or working with the year above?

In a word, no! ‘The clue is in the term greater depth,’ Rachel says. ‘We encourage children to go deeper into the subject before accelerating higher.’

Children must demonstrate that they’ve thoroughly mastered an area of learning, rather than racing ahead to the curriculum for the following school year.

‘Maths, particularly, is a highly developmental subject where new learning depends on what has come before,’ Rachel explains.

‘There is a small minority of children who need to be working beyond the content for their year, and it’s appropriate that they move on to the new programme of study.

‘However, gaps caused by moving children on too quickly can cause big problems later; on many occasions, I’ve witnessed pupils being extended into new learning far too soon, before they have secured important building blocks.’

How do teachers accommodate children who are working at greater depth?

It’s natural for parents of children who are currently high-attaining to worry that their child’s needs will be overlooked, but teachers are adept at recognising which children need to be extended.

‘Teachers are amazing; they constantly assess how well children are working on the current learning,’ says Rachel.

‘Our maths advisers, for example, encourage teachers to “teach to the top” and have high expectations for all children.

‘Sometimes it’s more appropriate to have a lesson where some children are completing more complex tasks while others are practising to secure their learning, but often, teachers will present a concept to the whole class then drip in more complex ideas, questions and tasks as and when they see children being successful.

‘This allows teachers to support those children who are not yet secure in their learning while also providing tasks for those who are confident.’

KS1 maths: greater depth example

Year 2: calculating with one- and two-digit numbers

Rachel suggests this example of how teachers might promote deeper thinking in maths.

When you have completed the activity, review your strategy. Is there a better way to start?

KS2 maths: greater depth example

Year 5: Roman numerals

Which year do you think uses the most Roman numeral symbols:

a) In the last 1000 years (including this year)?
b) In the next 1000 years?

Can you explain why this is? Think strategically: why won’t you need to check every single year?

KS1 English: greater depth example

After reading and discussing Jack and the Beanstalk as a class, pupils are asked to use a story map to plan their own version of the tale and select one aspect to change in their re-telling.

A pupil working at greater depth:

  • Mirrors the main events of the original tale, apart from the aspect the pupil chose to change: the main character’s gender.
  • Is clear in the purpose of the narrative to engage the reader.
  • Introduces and maintains a brisk style of narration successfully throughout a detailed and extended piece.
  • Uses adverbials to open paragraphs, contributing to the overall organisation and coherence, e.g. ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘Early the next morning…’
  • Brings the piece to an abrupt conclusion that reflects a traditional tale.

You can see a fully annotated version of the child's work here, on pages 8-9.

KS2 English: greater depth example

A child who is already confident in answering the whole range of comprehension questions could be asked to produce a piece of creative writing based on the text they have read.

Can they rewrite it in a different genre, or write the next instalment of the story using what they’ve inferred and deduced from the text?

Working at greater depth: English and maths challenge packs

Whatever year group your child is in, our subscriber learning packs offer a selection of 'greater depth' activities for them to work through for English and maths.