KS3: The Wasted Years? – Victoria Littler

A summary of the findings of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector regarding the breadth and challenge offered by the current KS3 curriculum.

Access the full article here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/459830/Key_Stage_3_the_wasted_years.pdf

In the annual Report (published September 2015) it was found that Primary Schools had continued to improve while the performance of Secondary Institutions faltered: the gains made in Primary School, the report concludes, are not being embedded and developed at KS3.

The document takes into account the findings from:

* Over 2000 Inspections carried out between September 2013 and March 2015

* 100 interviews with senior leaders

* 10, 942 questionnaire responses from pupils in Years 7 to 9

While cause and effect cannot, with complete certainty, be ascertained, key findings of the Report determined that, in the majority of participant schools who failed to demonstrate adequate progress at KS3:

* Senior leaders did not prioritise the staffing of KS3, staffing KS4 and KS5 before this. As a result, classes were often split between two teachers or taught by non-specialist staff. 85% of leaders interviewed prioritised the staffing of Key Stages 4 and 5 before Key Stage 3.

* Some leaders were not using the PP funding to effectively close the gaps quickly in KS3, focusing resources on KS4 pupils instead. Indeed, when interviewed, senior leaders acknowledged that those working below target in Years 10 and 11 had been a higher priority than pupils in the lower years. Moreover, in just under half the schools in the sample of monitoring Inspections, it was found that no additional provision was in place for disadvantaged pupils in KS3.

* The way that assessment data is monitored and tracked in KS3 is not as developed or robust as other Key Stages. Many Secondary Schools believed KS2 results to be unreliable; however, baseline assessments conducted in Year 7 were not being used effectively to track pupil progress.

* Secondary Schools do not work effectively enough with Primary Schools, simply accepting repetition of skills as inevitable. The focus is on pastoral elements of transition only.

* Homework is not consistently providing opportunities for pupils to consolidate or extend their learning: one fifth of senior leaders acknowledged that this was an area of improvement in their schools.

* Careers education is not good enough in KS3, particularly in Years 7 and 8; most of the 60 schools visited as part of the ‘Going in the Right Direction?’ initiative were identified as not making good-quality careers advice a priority for their pupils.

* While developing literacy was often a high priority in schools, the same level of priority was not evident for numeracy; one in five senior leaders said that the development of numeracy skills was much weaker than the development of literacy skills.

OFSTED advised that Secondary school leaders should:

* Make KS3 a higher priority in all aspects of school planning, assessing, monitoring and evaluation.

* Ensure that the transition from KS2 to KS3 focuses as much on pupils’ academic needs as it does their pastoral needs by creating better cross-phase partnerships with Primary Schools to make sure that KS3 teachers build on pupils’ prior knowledge, learning and skills.

* Focus on the needs of disadvantaged pupils in KS3, including the most able, to close the achievement gap as quickly as possible.

* Guarantee that pupils have access to timely and accurate careers advice and guidance from Year 8 onwards.

* Have literacy and numeracy strategies that ensure that pupils build on their prior attainment in Key Stage 2 in these crucial areas.

Practical examples of school interventions can be found on pages 14-15, 16, 17-18, 22, 24 and 26-27 of the Report.