Key Stage Three – The lost years or a golden opportunity?

The curriculum is the heart of the school; it tells parents, students and staff what we want for our students. It is very clear that Ofsted is placing greater emphasis on the curriculum, especially in KS3. KS3 has often been viewed as the lost years in a child’s education journey; a twilight zone that bridges their KS2 SATs and GCSE courses in KS4. To this end, Ofsted’s focus on the curriculum will be the catalyst for some schools to rethink and re-energise their KS3 offer.

In many respects, curriculum planning is one of the most important decisions for senior leaders. We all know that the curriculum is more than the subjects taught and how much time they are allocated. It is how a school ensures that its vision, mission and values are realised.

Senior leaders are under huge external pressure when making decisions about the KS3 curriculum in terms of trying to satisfy Ofsted, the pressures of delivering EBacc in KS4 and the temptation to start preparing for the more demanding GCSE exams too early.

If our KS3 curriculum planning starts with the broader aims of the school rather than succumbing to external pressures, then it has the potential to not only prepare students for the rigours of GCSE but to prepare them for life beyond school, to ensure they are good well-rounded citizens and to ultimately further the vision of the school whatever that may be.

There are a number of important questions that may help senior leaders when considering their KS3 curriculum:

  • Is your curriculum helping to realise your school’s vision, mission, values and other priorities?
  • Have you articulated the broader aims and outcomes that you want students to achieve through the KS3 curriculum?
  • Does your curriculum ensure continuity and challenge for the transition from KS2 into KS3?
  • Is the focus on developing skills or mastery or knowledge (or a mix of these)? Whichever it is, it is important that this is clear and articulated.
  • Is the KS3 curriculum broad and balanced allowing for SMSC education, physical development, personal development, cultural enrichment, development of employability skills etc.? To this end, how much time will be dedicated to the core subjects versus providing sufficient time for more practical, personal development and expressive subjects?
  • When planning the curriculum, do you take into account the extra-curricular opportunities and other enrichment activities as part of the offer?
  • Do you offer a two or three year KS3? Whichever it is, what is the justification?
  • Have you built in sufficient aspiration and academic rigour? Do you plan to meet the DFE’s expectation that 90% of learners will take the EBacc?If so, how will you balance this against the needs of students of all abilities and backgrounds?

Rather than telling people what they should include in their curriculum, the purpose of this blog has been to encourage leaders to reflect on some of the key questions that they should consider. After all, there is not a one size fits all model. If we start with main principles, goals and outcomes that we want our students to achieve then we can make the KS3 curriculum a golden opportunity for our learners, rather than the lost years!

Stuart McLaughlin is Principal of Bower Park Academy, part of the Empower Learning Academy Trust