Five ways to end the KS2-KS3 literacy arguments

One literacy lead suggests how we can reconcile the differences in approach of KS2 and KS3 literacy

Fiona Ritson

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Why is it that literacy causes so many issues between key stage 2 and key stage 3 teachers?

I’ve heard, or should I say read, it all: KS2 just play, KS3 repeat Year 5 work, and so on. Those are the polite versions.

Inevitably, there are differences in objective between the two key stages.

Teachers in KS2 approach literacy with a focus on the rules and purpose of SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar), as this is needed to get students to pass the Sats.

I’ve read many articles and blogs where primary heads and teachers admit spending large parts of Year 6 (including Easter holiday sessions) preparing students for Sats. It may not be what we would like for our children, but it is what is required: primaries are judged on these results; forget the previous five years of hard work.

Lack of creativity

Yet the time spent on ensuring students pass Sats takes away from the practise and creativity in lessons that students actually need and enjoy.

Teachers in KS3 want that practice and creativity. KS3 teachers want students to be able to read, write and speak accurately, coherently and independently with little re-drafting: to use the literacy skills taught at KS2 fluently to grasp difficult concepts (primary teachers want this too, but are constrained by the Sats).

While most students rise to the new expectations enjoying the opportunities presented, for others the demands can essentially become a barrier to learning.

Developing independent learners

What happens to those who do struggle? Well, they simply fall further behind and literacy is forgotten.  For these students, finished work can lack capitals, coherent sentence structure and not a single comma or full stop in sight. And that’s just the writing; reading 19th-century texts for a student who loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid becomes a battle that impacts on other areas, such as confidence and speaking/listening.

Thus the blame game starts – failures attributed to each other, accusations flying in both directions. And it is the children who suffer.

However, with closer working relationships between KS2 and KS3, students can develop into independent learners and become accomplished in managing their own work and learning. Students could begin KS3 with a clearer understanding of expectations and practical use for fronted adverbials, rather than just being able to pick one out on a multiple-choice paper. Schools need to work together to embed literacy as language for learning and raising literacy standards for all.

Here are five successful initiatives we run to help build those literacy links:

  1. Summer school
    Year 6 students joining us in September participate in a week of cross curricular activities ending with a rewards trip.
  2. Mentoring
    We teach Year 10 and Year 11 leaderships skills for a term. Leaders are selected to run a festival at a local primary school. 
  3.  Teach them Latin
    A group of Year 6 students come once a month, spending an hour with each department centred on Latin and the classics aimed at stretching and challenging.  
  4. Provide resources
    Supply a workbook (with answers) of short literacy exercises to complete over the summer holiday to support students.
  5. Provide a transitional scheme of work (SOW)
    Finally, a colleague’s school provide a transition SOW for primaries to teach once Sats are finished. The SOW lasts for the final three weeks of year 6 and continues into the first few weeks of year 7. The secondary supplies the SOW, novels, resources and booklets for all writing.

Fiona Ritson is a literacy co-ordinator for a secondary school in Norfolk. She tweets @FKRitson

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