Schools are cramming their key stage 3 curriculum for some subjects into fewer than 40 hours, according to a leading academic.
Richard Harris, associate professor of education at the University of Reading, said that one school taught its entire KS3 history curriculum in the space of 38 hours.
“What sort of access to the curriculum are children having in that kind of environment?” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Dr Harris said, another school devoted 220 hours to the same history curriculum.
He added that, while in 2015 a quarter of schools were teaching the KS3 curriculum over two years, this year the proportion was almost 50 per cent.
“It’s really a five-year key stage 4, if we’re being honest about it," he said. "The rationale is: getting kids through quickly, getting them ready for GCSE.”
'More test preparation'
Dr Harris was addressing a seminar run by the Westminster Education Forum, examining priorities for KS3.
The seminar also heard from Matthew Purves, Ofsted deputy director of education inspection policy. Mr Purves talked about the fact that the inspectorate was noticing more and more schools condensing KS3 into two years – and beginning GCSE study in Year 9.
“There’s a general trend for people shortening key stage 3,” he said. “Why are schools making that decision? Have schools properly thought that through? Are they thinking whether shortening the Year 7 and 8 curriculum provides adequate preparation for key stage 4?
“The thing is that GCSEs are designed to have content covered in two years. It’s sometimes hard to see how taking longer than two years could expose pupils to more knowledge, and not more test preparation.”
'A better deal for learners'
Eric Halton, education manager for Hampshire county council, told the seminar that he had witnessed a similar trend. “Key stage 3 is designed to be three years,” he said. “If you do it in two years, students must be getting a thin, gruelly experience of it.”
He added that schools often appeared more anxious about closing gaps in achievement data than about ensuring that individual pupils were learning a subject properly.
“Every data gap is some things some students don’t know or can’t do, that others can,” he said. “If you want to close the data gap, teach those students to do those things that others can. Then the data gap will close.”
Mr Purves agreed. “We shouldn’t take it as read that a higher-attaining school necessarily means a better deal for learners,” he said.