What do we do with a problem called Year 9? – A focus on the role of Key Stage 3

OFSTED and curriculum breadth and balance in Key Stage 3 that includes Year 9.

OFSTED see Key Stage 3 as a vital and stand-alone stage that should allow pupils access to a wide and varied curriculum that deepens their knowledge and sharpens their skills so that they are fully prepared for the rigour of GCSE.  The message is clear GCSEs are designed as two-year programmes of study and Key Stage 3 should not be truncated without very good reason.

Amanda Spielman in her recent speech to the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership was unequivocal in her condemnation of what she sees as poor practice, she said,

Particular poor practice includes,

“the widespread shortening of key stage 3 to 2 years, when this means that many pupils lose a whole year of study of the humanities, of languages and of the arts.”

She goes on to clarify her point by saying,

“I cannot reiterate it enough: exam performance and league tables should be a reflection of what children have learned. Tests exist in service of the curriculum. Curriculum should be designed to give children the best pathway to the future, not to make the school look good.”

So, the questions are,

  • how should Key Stage 3 be planned in order that pupils build on prior learning, access learning in a variety of subjects and become unconsciously competent in their use of the skills they need for future learning, life and work?
  • how can the Key Stage 3 curriculum embrace some of the content of GCSE subjects so that pupils have a foundation that they can take with them into Key Stage 4 and beyond and that motivates them to want to continue to learn?

OFSTED’s message, clearly articulated by Amanda Spielman in several of her recent speeches and publications is that they are not telling schools how to plan their curriculum of the size of their key stages they are saying that there must be good reasons for the decisions made that can be justified in the interest of the pupil and not just in terms of achieving better Progress 8 scores that reflect how successful the school is in relation to other schools across the country.

The conclusion one can draw is that year 9 does need to be planned as part of Key Stage 3. If this is done well pupils will build on their prior learning from Key Stage 2 in year 7 and 8, have access to a wide curriculum offer and develop the knowledge and skills that will be a springboard for high achievement at Key Stage 4 and beyond.

Year 9 could be seen as a bridging year, the transition year from Key Stage 3 to 4.  A year when pupils begin to develop an understanding of how their learning will be assessed at GCSE and what skills they need to develop in order to achieve their full potential.  It could also be the year when there are planned cross curricular themes that are linked to GCSE content but allow pupils to develop skills in enquiry, creativity, problem solving and analysis as well as debating, presentation and report writing.

This approach could tick all the boxes; GCSE content is seen as difficult to cover in the time so a carefully crafted year 9 scheme of work could take some of the strain.  OFSTED want to see year 9 as part of Key Stage 3 and not an extension of GCSE study. This approach allows pupils to access GCSE themes but learn about them in a different way and develop a range of cross curricular skills that will stand them in good stead across all of their GCSEs both core and options.

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How Important is Key Stage 3 in Your School?

We explore how to plan an effective Key Stage 3 curriculum offer that is rich in knowledge, builds the vital skills pupils need for Key Stage 4 and beyond and ensures that some of the content within GCSE subjects has been taught and absorbed by the end of Key Stage 3 ensure a positive springboard for future study.