The curriculum is the heart of every school: it tells parents, students and staff what we want for our students. Key stage 3 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. Ofsted's intentions to heighten its focus on the curriculum could be a catalyst for 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’s how a school ensures that its vision, mission and values are realised.
Senior leaders now find themselves, more than ever, under huge external pressure when making decisions about the KS3 curriculum. They need to satisfy Ofsted, deliver the EBacc in KS4, and there’s always the temptation to start preparing for the more demanding GCSE exams earlier.
If our KS3 curriculum planning starts with the broader aims of the school rather than succumbing to external pressures, it would have 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.
Key questions about curriculum
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 developing knowledge? Or is it a mix of both? Is there a focus on mastery?
- How much time will be dedicated to the core subjects versus providing sufficient time for practical and expressive subjects?
- Is the KS3 curriculum broad and balanced, allowing for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development?
- 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 extracurricular 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 per cent of learners will take the EBacc?
- If so, how will you also balance this against the needs of students of all abilities and backgrounds?
It’s not up to any school leader to tell another what they should include in their curriculum. After all, one size does not fit all. But if we start with main principles, goals and outcomes of what we want our students to achieve, then we can make the KS3 curriculum a golden opportunity for our learners, rather than lost years.
Stuart McLaughlin is the principal of Bower Park Academy in Essex