How we ensure the KS3 English curriculum makes pupils KS4-ready

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: SSAT Lead Practitioner Accreditation 

Applying research evidence through co-planning gives teachers the best chance of delivering great lessons, writes Eliza O’Driscoll, Effective Teaching and Research Lead, Bay House School and Sixth Form

As curriculum and resourcing lead for the Bay House English department over the past two years, I have been tasked with updating our key stage 3 curriculum units to better prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE specification. Initially, in the 2016 summer term we got together as a department to discuss how our current curriculum provision was working. This resulted in our dropping units that we felt were no longer appropriate for our pupils’ needs and replacing them with material that better prepared them for the demands of the new GCSE specification.

In Summer 2017, I gathered feedback on how the new units of learning were working, and we used this information to adapt and modify the curriculum for the coming academic year.

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Reading key research about the topic. I came to the conclusion that the biggest knowledge gaps we needed to close lay in vocabulary and cultural capital, both of which are key to successful understanding of the new, more demanding GCSE texts.

In addition, building in strategies to enable pupils to securely embed knowledge in their long-term memories, reducing their cognitive load and allowing them to use their working memories for processing tasks rather than struggling with understanding and retrieval, were shown to be of critical importance.

38 tasks highlight key concepts

So I created ‘The Bay House Knowledge’, – a booklet that laid out all the key subject terminology and concepts that we wanted pupils to be secure in by the beginning of KS4. It included 38 tasks (one for each week of the school year) to help embed the learning in class or as homework. The booklet, initially rolled out to year 9, also functions as a reference resource for learning. The intention is to develop versions for year 7 and year 8 over the next two years.

The next stage was to organise an English department planning session that focused on trying to form a picture of what our ideal KS4-ready pupil would know and be able to do, then examining how to build this in to the KS3 curriculum. For this I used an excellent blog post from Rebecca Foster to provide a starting point for our thinking. Once everyone had read and discussed it, each group made notes on what they felt a KS4-ready pupil really looked like. I then typed these up into a document to provide guidance for updating the schemes of work.

We are fortunate at Bay House to have 20 hours a year of directed time allocated to subject-based co-planning, and I wanted to ensure that we used that to maximum effect. We are now working in pairs, each updating a scheme of learning using the guidelines that we came up with as a team to inform the planning. Below are the seven key principles we came up with.

We should be looking to build into each scheme of work

• scrutiny of each text for its literary and/or cultural value
• a minimum of 10 minutes silent writing in every lesson
• regular drilling on subject terminology alongside opportunities to apply it
• regular opportunities to memorise and retrieve key facts and quotations
• structured vocabulary instruction
• structured teaching of analytical language and sentence stems for writing
• opportunities to build and develop a line of argument.

Next steps

This is an ongoing process of review, reflection and adjustment. We will continue to use the subject co-planning time next year to improve our schemes of work and ensure that all teachers have access to a bank of high-quality resources, so they can focus on delivering great lessons rather than continually having to reinvent the wheel.

Subject co-planning gives teachers access to a bank of high-quality resources, so they can focus on delivering great lessons rather than continually having to reinvent the wheel

Eliza O’Driscoll is an SSAT Lead Practitioner. The SSAT LP programme provides a framework for classroom practitioners to embed research into practice and become leaders of learning in school. Find out more about getting involved.

Read on the SSAT blog: Integrated curriculum helps build a love of learning

 Eliza O’Driscoll, SSAT Lead Practitioner, Bay House School and Sixth Form

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