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Leading curriculum change at KS3 in English

Posted By Tracy Goodyear, 17 October 2019

Ahead of her workshop on this topic, NACE Associate and Head of English Tracy Goodyear shares three key considerations when planning a challenging KS3 English curriculum.

After getting the ‘new’ GCSEs firmly under our belts, schools and departments across the country are now being given the space to carefully consider the quality of the diet that all students receive in their secondary years.

For any department, reviewing the curriculum is an ongoing process. There’s no quick win or easy fix: it takes vision, clarity of thought and careful consideration – all whilst trying to navigate an educational, social and political landscape that is constantly shifting.

There’s an imperative to provide students with a curriculum that is enlightening, challenging and enriching. As emphasised in the current Ofsted education inspection framework, the curriculum should be ambitious and appropriate for all students. It’s vital that complex concepts or ideas are not ignored or brushed over, and that the expectation for success and high achievement is clear. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.

Here are some key considerations, which we’ll explore in more detail during November’s workshop.

1. Start with the end in mind

When planning a new/revised curriculum, it’s imperative to consider what the end ‘product’ is likely to look like. In other words, ask yourselves: “At the end of Year 9, if we had given the students what they really need in our subject, what sort of behaviours, skills and attributes would our students display? How will we know we have been successful?”

This goes much further than hitting target grades; we have to think beyond that. As Christine Counsell has written, “If the curriculum itself is the progression model, then the numbers change their meaning.”

During a department meeting a couple of years ago, we brainstormed some ideas about our ‘finished article’ and came up with the following statements. These are core departmental values that drive our curriculum design and delivery.

As a result of learning in our department, students will:

  • Be creative, articulate, imaginative learners, who are confident and secure in their opinions and thoughts;
  • Be adaptable and flexible communicators in spoken and written word;
  • Be unafraid to challenge complex ideas and material.

Our students will develop these dispositions and habits:

  • Having a critical eye, so that they do not blindly accept things;
  • They will openly welcome feedback, criticism and differing views and interpretations and not feel threatened by these;
  • They will be skilled in planning, showing evidence of deep thinking;
  • They will take risks, knowing that the learning they will experience is more valuable than the fear of failure;
  • They will actively listen to and reason with the ideas and expertise of others;
  • They will construct meaningful arguments, supporting their ideas with confidence and conviction.

They will experience learning activities that:

  • Have pace, choice and challenge;
  • Provide a healthy combination of independent and collaborative work;
  • Give them ample opportunity to speak in front of others;
  • Give them the time and space to write independently;
  • Offer the choice and autonomy to self-select activities that best challenge their thinking and ability;
  • Are well-planned by the teacher/ department, where activities have clear direction and purpose;
  • Enable them to build a sophisticated vocabulary, consistently;
  • Are academically rigorous and personally challenging.

2. Why this? Why now?

Once you have firm statements in place and a clear vision, you can start to consider the content and the validity of current content being delivered.

There are a whole host of questions to consider. Here are just a few:

  • Is it important to you that students know the origins of stories/ origins of language?
  • Is it important that students understand how or why contextual factors may influence our reception of a text?
  • Is it important that they understand the five act structure of a Shakespeare play?
  • Is it important that they are able to speak knowledgeably in a debate or a group discussion?
  • Is it important to you that they can write with originality and flair?

Sitting as a team and deciding the answers to these sorts of questions is hugely valuable. It encourages teachers to share their particular passions and interests and leads to purposeful discussion about your curriculum offer. It’s important that you consider your own school’s context too – what is important here? What is it vital that we equip our students with? Vocabulary instruction? Cultural capital?

3. Timing is everything!

When planning a challenging curriculum, there is a temptation to hurtle through centuries of literature at a pace; the temptation to move on and cover as much content as possible seems attractive when teaching able young people. However, any successful curriculum needs to build in purposeful time to reflect – to recognise how concepts fit together as part of a much wider picture. All students require time to reflect on feedback (and time to act on it!), time for repetition, recall and a deeper investigation into a topic or idea.

Time is crucial in the breaking down of complex tasks, too. The EEF’s recent report Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools stresses the importance of modelling and scaffolding at all levels and dedicating curriculum time to this. Breaking tasks down (rather than simplifying them!) helps students to navigate their way through challenging tasks more effectively.

Consider the various demands on a student’s working memory when asked to write. How can teachers intervene to break down some of these processes to ensure working memories are not overwhelmed? How can we ensure that our curriculum plan incorporates the time and space to enable us to do this?

It’s not just the timing of what is being taught that’s key. Timely reflection for you and your team is also crucial. Wherever possible, make reviewing aspects of your curriculum part of your weekly/ fortnightly meetings. Speak about how students are progressing, where misunderstandings have arisen, how a scheme or unit of work needs to be adapted to suit the changing needs of the students. If all curriculum review does not take place while it’s still fresh, many of those smaller, nuanced observations about learning could be lost.

Enjoy the challenge!

Recommended reading:

  • Turner, S. (2016), Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design, Bloomsbury
  • Myatt, M. (2018), The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence, John Catt

Ready to review your KS3 curriculum?

Join Tracy Goodyear’s workshop on 28 November: Leading curriculum change for more able learners in KS3 English

Tags:  curriculum  English  KS3  language  literacy  literature  progression 

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