KS3 goes fully functional

Starting this September, teachers will have to make "functional skills" part of the key stage 3 curriculum for English, maths and ICT.

There has been less publicity about the introduction of functional skills for this age group than for older pupils - perhaps because KS4 pupils will have to pass such tests to gain GCSEs at grade C or higher from 2010.

But the change will have a significant impact on KS3, as the programmes of study include separate sections on functional skills in all three subjects.

In English, for example, functional skills embrace the ability of pupils to make effective spoken contributions in groups, extract and interpret information in texts, and write clearly and coherently.

In maths, it covers representing or interpreting a problem mathematically, working logically towards a solution and communicating any findings effectively.

In ICT, it includes using computer systems, finding and selecting information, and developing, presenting and communicating information.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's curriculum website includes an example of how English functional skills could be developed through a series of lessons.

Year 9 pupils, it says, could research, work together, then write materials to offer advice for Year 6 pupils who are joining the school.

Jill Duffy, of secondary and vocational publishers Pearson, said teachers were interested in functional skills, since ensuring pupils passed the later KS4 tests would be vital to league table success.

"Already teachers are concerned about it," she said. "They want to know how our resources are going to cover it - even at KS3."

ICT teachers online at The TES staffroom have been discussing how to map new schemes of work against the functional skills requirements. Some believe this will prove a challenge. "I think every ICT teacher in the country is trying to make sense of this," one said.


Forward march of the history man

Bill Marriott, 50 (below), is deputy head of Wombwell High School in Barnsley. He leads - and teaches - a new key stage 3 curriculum. Although a history teacher, he has removed history from the Year 7 timetable

What is so different about how you now teach Year 7?

Separate subjects such as history and geography don't appear any more. Eight hours out of 25 each week are spent on an integrated curriculum, where pupils work on tasks or challenges that incorporate history, geography, PSHE, drama, citizenship, IT and a little English.

Isn't this just what the critics feared? You've axed key subjects

It has been a bit scary for some staff. I read the newspapers; I hear the arguments. The purists and the traditionalists will say what we're doing is wrong. But I would argue that while a lot of the work we've done is skills-based and cross-curricular, it is rooted in knowledge and content.

You've cut back English. Isn't that a brave move, with the current focus on literacy?

Yes, but we know as a school that we've got an issue with some aspects such as boys' literacy and extended writing. We reckon that if we've got one or two English specialists on the cross-curricular team, we're going to affect a greater number of pupils and impact on other teachers' practices.

That would seem counter-intuitive to traditionalists, given that you and the Government both want to improve literacy

One of the problems in education is that you get mixed messages from the Government. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority launched this curriculum review, and talked about the need to tear up the old curriculum. Then you get the Government breathing down your neck, saying you've got to focus on English and maths and get your results up. It seems farcical. So this isn't about responding to national initiatives; it's about looking at the needs of our learners.

That's all very well, but how will those learners do at GCSE?

We think the work we've done in Year 7 helps pupils understand themselves as learners, and what makes them effective. They'll have picked up skills and attitudes to learning that mean by the end of Year 9 they'll be flying. There are those who say this is a year of missed opportunity. But it isn't.

Did it help that you were a history teacher - that your subject was one of those affected?

It helped that the senior leadership team was fully behind this. We said this was something that we needed to make work, and we weren't going to be deflected from that. So people were prepared to give it a go.

Jonathan Milne

Photograph: Lorne Campbell.

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