#TLT15 KS3 Curriculum: Searching for Constants in times of Change

I was very lucky to be asked to deliver a short workshop at this event last Saturday. If you’re interesting in seeing some of the other workshops or ideas, do check out the webpage here and make sure you follow @MissJLud and @davidfawcett27 on Twitter.

Here’s a rundown of my workshop, where we explored ideas around KS3 curriculum planning, schemes of work, and assessment.


The most important elements of teaching English, I believe, don’t change a great deal over time. They certainly haven’t changed a great deal since I began teaching in 2011. Yet, I don’t believe I’ve always taught a KS3 curriculum which focusses enough on these elements. At the start of my workshop I asked whether as subject specialists, the KS3 curriculums we delivered in our schools focussed on the most important elements of our subjects. Sometimes, we may be guilty making decisions or less important principles, like these:

  • Designing the curriculum based on perceptions of our students’ interests
  • Designing the curriculum based on what we believe will be entertaining and fun (particularly for boys)
  • Designing the curriculum based GCSE style activities, without any challenging content

My argument is that all of these considerations are changeable, fragile and very prone to error. Focussing what we teach at KS3 on the core, constant and most important areas of our own subject specialisms, is much more reliable.

We also discussed the recent Ofsted Report: KS3 The Wasted Years? Some of the main findings were:

  • Academic needs not are met (or prioritised)
  • Lessons offer low levels of challenge
  • KS3 is not a focus for senior leaders (last to be timetabled)
  • There are split classes and teaching by non-specialists
  • For pupil premium students, the ‘gap’ is  not closing

Although several of these issues are whole school problems, I think the KS3 curriculum has a lot to answer for. If other teachers, like I have done in the past, are choosing lessons on the perceived interests of their students, it’s no wonder that levels of challenge are too low. If we are focussing on superficial GCSE style activities without challening content, how on earth can we expect to meet the Academic needs of our students. Again, I believe that embracing our subject specialisms is much more likely to meet a child’s Academic needs than our (probably wrong) judgements about what our students will enjoy.

If you’d like to see the KS3 English curriculum at my school, it’s discussed here.

Schemes of Work:

I’d like to start this section of the workshop with what I call ‘Exhibit A’ 

(I hold in my hand a word document, 13 pages, stapled together in the top right hand corner)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a scheme of work that I wrote at the end of my NQT year.

Exhibit A is interesting, I think, as an example of the amount of time and energy teachers spend creating resources which have very little impact on student achievement. My scheme of work, weighing in at an impressive 7022 words, included the following:

  • Lesson by Lesson objectives
  • Ideas for activities in every lesson
  • Ideas for supporting SEN students and other student groups for every lesson
  • Driving questions for every lesson.
  • Differentiated lesson objectives based on APP skills at level 4-6 for every lesson
  • Ideas about developing students social, cultural and spiritual wellbeing.

Exhibit A is a powerful piece of evidence for asking teachers to focus on the constant, most important areas of their subject areas. It was constructed on temporary fads like differentiated objectives. It focussed on activities rather than enduring subject knowledge. It included elements like SMSC and 3 tiered APP objectives, mostly to demonstrate to senior leaders that this was actually happening in English lessons. It was ignored by experienced colleagues and it was too long and cumbersome to share with parents. It was too prescriptive to be followed. There must be a better way.

My tentative principles for designing a scheme of work, which are definitely open to debate are here:

Schemes of work should…

  1. Set out what students should know by the end
  2. Give ideas for a weekly progression
  3. Clearly signal what assessed pieces of work.
  4. Be clear enough to share with parents
  5. Help students in their learning and revision

To begin this process in my department, we have used ‘knowledge organisers’ to help us specify the core knowledge students should learn during a scheme of work. Do read Joe Kirby’s post on knowledge organisers here and check out the crowd sourced resources from James Theobald here.

To build our schemes of work, we begin with a knowledge organiser and then describe a possible, though not prescriptive, progression route through the content. We also specify exactly how students will be assessed during the scheme of work. When complete, a scheme of work may be just two powerpoint slides long, like the ‘Greek Myths’ scheme of work here:

Unlike Exhibit A, this scheme of work is not subject to changing fads and fashions. Instead, It focusses on exactly what students will learn. The knowledge organiser is easy to share with parents and students, useful for revision and will not need major regular ‘revamping’ every year unlike other schemes of work.

Slide two provides suggestions for progression throughout the scheme, and is supported by a huge amount of resources on the shared drive at school and a culture within the department of shared planning and sharing resources. Unlike exhibit A, it doesn’t map out every minute of a lesson. Teachers are trusted how to deliver this content, and exploring the best ways to do this is a focus of department CPD.


In my experience, assessment at KS3 typically follows this sort of structure:

Students study a topic for a term, normally 6-7 weeks. After 5-6 weeks, they stop learning, and plan for an assessment. Then they do the assessment. The assessment is high stakes and contributes to a progress report. Because of the high stakes, teachers are incentivised to stop delivering the curriculum in order to plan and guide students through the assessment. After all, it might not just be high stakes for the students. Also, this assessment can be incredibly narrow – perhaps assessing students on the understanding of only one scene in a Shakespeare play, even though students have been studying the whole play for several weeks.

Assessments delivered in this fashion may artificially increase a students performance, but are unlikely to provide a meaningful measure of their actual learning. There may also be very little follow up to such an assessment Students may receive a level ,but perhaps won’t experience any different teaching as a result, or have the chance to engage meaningfully with their feedback. And they always happen at the end of term, pressuring teachers to mark box-loads of assessments during their hard-earned holidays.

I don’t know whether we’ve got our assessment system right yet, but we are starting to address these issues. Our assessment system, though still a work in progress, follows these broad principles:

  • Assessments are lower stakes, but more frequent, covering wider aspects of the curriculum.
  • Assessments are woven into the KS3 plan and are not ‘tagged on’ at the end of topics.
  • They are staggered, with no excessive half-term assessment marking.
  • Assessments Inform teaching, with opportunities to reteach common errors, address gaps and opportunities for redrafting.
  • Similar style assessments are interleaved through KS3 – with students having lesson time to revisit and reflect on previous, similar work.
  • Content knowledge is assessed through regular quizzing and revision weeks before end of year exams.

And this was where the workshop ended. I hope that despite speaking from a position of very little experience, some of the ideas were useful to those in attendance.

If I’ve missed anything, or you have any comments, do let me know.

Thanks for Reading.

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