Clearing Out The Cobwebs: Key Stage Three



Remembecobweb_curtain_by_artoffragility-d3brabpr the Wasted Years Report? Yep, that. Whilst the outcome seemed to point a finger in an accusatory manner, the findings themselves were explicit enough: Key Stage Three was getting a bit of a rough ride. In a middle-child syndrome fashion, Key Stage Two had clung onto SATs (you know, that test that matches up to a thematic Primary approach and assesses children in such an accurate and useful way that we can hardly compete at Secondary level- oh hang on, we did that SAT thing once….) and Key Stage Four have this fancy new linear approach that is just a real game changer. What about middling Three? Understaffed, over complicated, assessed with an assortment of pen colours and scaled numbers that it just sits awkwardly in the corner and wonders when someone will start paying it some attention.

New Key Stage Four specifications have bumped that job up the list; Key Stage Three fails to fit the easily-forgotten format that it once did, and indeed, we cannot afford to call the time wasted. Cue the removal of all previous formats-hurrah!- with the guidance of the DfE (lacking in hurrah) and our friendly neighbouring schools to figure out how this will look.

I’m getting to that. For those that don’t keep up with my highly publicised career journey, I moved schools in April to start a new position as Assistant Subject Leader, coordinating Key Stage Three. To give a little context, this is a school with (rightly so) huge expectations students that demonstrate a pro active and focused approach, no room for ‘dead time’ and a supportive parent body who are willing to embrace rigour whilst requesting for explicit outlines in return (I will blog after #TMBehaviour next week to explain the ethos in more detail- it has changed my mind dramatically with regards to resilience in so many ways). Key Stage Three has the opportunity for profound progress, providing new experiences and development within the subject and now with the removal of levels, what many may view as a well-needed holistic approach to learning. Having setting up the hastag #KS3LTP for schools to collaborate and share their approaches ( David Bunker’s blog also helped me tremendously there has been an influx of twittering about this. I’ll talk you through my plan and perhaps it will help you out with your own plan; I will explain my thought process along the way. If you would like to share schemes or discuss in more detail, please drop me a tweet. Here we are:

Create a five year plan- but not:

I’ve remapped the overview for KS3, matching each assessment opportunity to mirror a diluted version of the exams taken at KS4. They will match the format and thus ensures that KS3 will have completed EVERY exam that they will encounter at KS4 at least once by the end of Year 8. Year 7 takes an (almost, with the exception of jamming NF in there) chronological approach to literature, starting with a unit that examines etymology and Middle English; the exam will match Lang component One which is the exam paper that most fits the format of KS2 SATs paper; comprehension questions followed by an analytical interpretative and evaluative response. Writing is taught through reading; great writing will come from a mentor text approach, providing reading lists that accompany each unit but also providing private reading booklets where the students chooses their book of choice for that half term. In addition, the overview provides as many opportunities as possible for comparative work both within the same context and through perspectives; teaching staff will have the option to provide a comparative assessment as opposed to an analytical answer. The overarching aim here is to a) provide an experience for the students that makes criteria explicit and referenced regularly within teaching time, b) place an emphasis upon making time for reading and c) provide relevant challenge wherever we can for students. My final draft overview is in the dropbox link.

Removing levels but not standards:

Keeping to the five year plan, KS3 assessment will use bands. This removes a mark or grade, but still gives an indication as to where the piece of work succeeds or could be developed. As a school, we will use 1-9 to monitor attainment, but the initial thought is that reporting home will simply be, ‘working towards, working at expected standard, working above expected standard,’ demonstrating a finger in the wind that yep, you’re heading in the right direction. Keep it up. Yes yes, this does have a remaining twinge of levels but it prepares students for the terminology of KS4 and unpacks a subject that many students seem to struggle in deciphering the criteria for at times.

No Excuses, No Surprises!

This is my HOD’s motto and it seems apt here- in order for a reformat of our overview and teaching to KS4 terminology, we need to make certain approaches and strategies more explicit for students. Students often say that they struggle to revise for English; it lacks the linear and formulaic approach that sits comfortably with Maths or Science at times.  So to use explicit teaching of Assessment Objectives, familiarising students with what each stage of the criteria is asking of them and what that would look like on a practical level seems a logical step to help their understanding. As part of this process, I have created posters with stem questions to teach reading strategies and encouraging staff to use the visuals regularly with their groups when teaching reading skills. In addition, our department walls, marking feedback, and the discussions that we have with students will use the assessment objectives so that when we evaluate, we know that would enable us to demonstrate our understanding of AO1. Please don’t mistake this for assessment-led teaching; but without a Brownie Promise, how do you think they would remember to do their best? If we want to prepare students, unwrap, unravel and smooth out all that jargon speak from the word go.

Breathe and Stop

Another obstacle for both Key Stages seems to be the concept of long term gain; with the removal of controlled assessments at GCSE, there are no thermometers to colour in as we go, no checklists of ‘banked’ marks- how do we motivate over the long term? How do we create learning habits that are going to last over a sustained period of time? We create tools that not only look ahead but that will create the fulfilment of completion for students; a little while ago, I shared the Key Stage Three self audit for students- this has been amended to fit with our ‘towards, at expected, above’ approach. Accompanied with a long term tracker, students will be able to identify assessment objectives that they are most confident in demonstrating within their own work, but this can also help with intervention at an early point, using as a preventative measure rather than an after thought- imagine how powerful intervention could be in short, AO-driven sessions? (Jen Wilson is a good point of reference for further reading To enhance this experience, students will be presented with an English guidebook at the start of Year 7; this will contain an overview alongside assessment dates, recommended reading for each unit, an AO guide, support with developing skills and a range of resources and challenges for them should they wish. The booklet will act as a go-to for their first two years, creating a fun, imaginative way for them to prepare for the next topic, explore the subject in more detail or even provide creative methods for them to revise or consolidate a topic. This isn’t complete yet! Once it is, I will add to the folder.

My ultimate aim? To provide a comprehensive and varied (in both the academic and imaginative sense of the word) approach to Key Stage Three that ultimately prepares students for the next steps. Hope it is of some use to you.

KS3 stuff

Posters to solve problems