Schoolzone blog: Key Stage Free

Key Stage Free


23 Nov 2015

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Has KS3 slipped through a space-time confundibulum into a crack between two parallel universes? Is it sitting on a desert island somewhere, lost and forgotten about by all but its closest friends and family? Has it been put away in the attic, where it sits quietly gathering dust? Etc.

By which hyperbole, we mean, does it really exist anymore?

In the olden days, when GCSEs were modular and students could enter as many times as they could fit into the course, it made sense to start GCSE in Y9 so that some modules could be taken then, and again in Y10 and again and again with the best result counting in the school performance tables. Not so now, Michael Gove having put a sudden end to this practice during his time at the DfE. So we might expect that schools would revert to the pre-modular era, two year GCSEs.

But no, we see that many schools - in some subjects more than others - are retaining the Y9 start to GCSEs, and some even starting GCSEs in Y7. Why, if there's no repeat entry benefit? Four main reasons are:

The new GCSEs are bigger and harder, so, if we give the students (and teachers) longer, they'll have more time to prepare. The downside being that students also have longer to remember what they've learned.

School accountability is based on KS4 performance, so why worry about KS3? Especially as the new P8 measure requires maximum progress through to the end of KS4 - so why worry about KS3 when it's not examined?*

KS3 content, though revised recently, still lacks any real clout, when held up against the new GCSEs - so why bother with it, really?

Assessment without levels encourages some schools to adopt new (versions of) GCSE grades throughout KS3 and 4. So, if you're using the grades, why not just teach the GCSE content throughout, too?

These are all things that teachers have said to us over the past 18 months - not exactly in those words, but it's the gist.

However, the DfE does not like this ghost of a KS3 approach, because it thins the quality of learning. KS3 is where children often develop a love of a subject and the skills they need later on. In my science department, just before the first NC came along, we had a scheme called Warwick Process Science (don't bother to Google it) which largely ignored content, but was superb at engaging children, through experiments. Then, we weren't too worried about learning facts in Y7 or 8, because all essential science was contained in GCSE.

But the current side-stepping of KS3 doesn't seem to be motivated by a desire to use these formative years to get kids interested in our subject, but to make sure schools do well in performance tables.

Ofsted had quite a bit to say about KS3, back in September, but I'm not sure they were saying quite the right things, or at least not the same things as I'm saying here. For example the report talked about "slow progress made in English and mathematics and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils", which I'm not arguing against, but it seems that in some ways, it's schools attempts to overcome such (possible) criticisms that cause the problems.

The risk of ignoring KS3 is that that we have a generation of children who are mechanistic in their studies, who learn in order to be tested, for whom study is a means to an end and who pass through education without any personal, academic benefits other than the qualifications to go on to the next stage.

Anyway, sorry that this is a bit of a rant, and it's a personal view, rather than our usual round up of research findings (though it's based on that, too), but if you have some good examples of KS3 in your own school, please share them with our other readers.


* Spoiler alert - rumours of a return to KS3 SATs are circulating see last week's post



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