The new Ofsted framework in draft form is a thing of beauty indeed. I’m a vocal champion of the 3 year KS3 and dislike systems and resources that serve only to ‘teach to the test’. So, I welcome the guiding statements that ask departments to cast a very critical eye over their KS3 and ensure it is fit for purpose.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking (on more than one occasion) that life would be easier if we bought one in – a shiny, complete, resourced, robust ‘thing’ that would tick every box and allow us to get back to the job. The temptation can be overwhelming at times, even when costs are prohibitive and nagging doubts persist – would our Y7 really benefit from doing this? These daydreams of a better life the department and students are not yet living somehow misses the point. I want that for everyone (not least for myself as a HoD, who bears the weight of all this) but I want to set the parameters for our cohort. I, maybe mistakenly, believe this is part of Ofsted’s ethos – one size does not fit all, and an off-the-peg curriculum may not have your learners in mind. A well-researched, reflective, resourced curriculum that meets the needs of a specific cohort should be an option for every school. But schools must consider how time, money and staffing will support this. Otherwise, we are right back where we started – weak KS3 schemes that plug holes and fill needs that learners do not have.
I began the rewrite of KS3 in 2016, after becoming HoD. The process I went through is written about in more detail here. Essentially, it involved trawling twitter, blogs and schools websites for curriculum maps. Once I had collected the ones I could see value in – cultural capital, depth etc., I presented them to the department and collectively we built what we wanted to teach in the sequence that seemed most logical. It was largely chronological. The main concession being Y7 term 2, ACC because….it was Christmas (although at the time it was like a fingernail squeezing into my palm, I’ve since learned you don’t have to win every battle).
So, this was our first new KS3:
It did many of the things I wanted it to do but it became clear it prioritised texts over threshold concepts and knowledge. In other words, students would leave KS3 knowing a great deal about some challenging and culturally important texts (what happened, how language was used, what effects etc.) but wouldn’t necessarily know what literary concepts underpin them, connect them and why this mattered in the grand scheme of things.
So, the curriculum map underwent changes, but the implementation of this is still a work in progress. Now, I’ve tried to think about progression more carefully. Reading has to dominate Y7. Then, armed with an ability read critically and connect some of the grand ideas learned in Y7, the focus can shift more to writing: students need to develop fluency in understanding before fluent writing can follow. This then is the new model:
The differences are quite subtle but absolutely critical, in my opinion. There is still a huge amount of work to be done. But, I honestly think we’re building something for the long term – a genuinely principled curriculum design. There needs to be fluidity – some texts should be able to drop in and drop out; English literature is a living, breathing entity after all. There always could be more – more diversity, more women, more modern, more classical and this should be reviewed regularly. Non-fiction voices, unseen poetry choices, World book day promotions, competition prompts – there are many ways to ensure your range of voices is balanced. The taught curriculum is only one part of it.
Finally, what follows is my thinking out loud when it comes to the new Ofsted Framework. I hope no-one reads this as ‘doing it for Ofsted‘ – it is purely my own way of systematically looking at things. Besides, I applaud the framework for including many things that we now accept to be of real value. As I said, we have a long way to go yet. Hours of work are needed to pull together the bits in red (if anyone wants to give time and resources – I’ll happily take it!), but we are looking at it head-on, which is always half the battle.
I hope this is helpful in your own curriculum planning and thought processes.