Re-posted from http://www.staffrm.io/evenbetterif  June 2016

With update June 2017 at the end of the post:

My first and most urgent job taking over the department has been to reform our KS3. Having been without a HoD and KS3 lead, we had got by with a sticking plaster approach for KS3 for some time; re-hashing units cobbled together from a variety of years, taking the path of least resistance, enabling us to wrestle with KS4 and see the legacy spec out with a flourish.

In the great KS3 reform, I started with the end point – EoY9 as a line in the sand, but with eye firmly fixed on EoY11. I wrote a list of 15 skills we wanted students to be meeting by EoY9. They tie in with GCSE, but should run through any KS3 curriculum anyway.

These became our guiding outcomes to map KS3 onto. I firmly wanted KS3 to be dictated by this, not the texts or the tasks.

The next stage was creating a period of consultation with the whole department. I read the amazing @fod3‍ blog here which really helped clarify this stage. Everyone in the dept. received a pack which included extracts from the Ofsted report ‘KS3: The Wasted Years’, the 15 guiding outcomes and around 8 KS3 LTPs, wonderfully curated by @saysmiss‍  using #KS3LTP. We discussed the vision we had for KS3, which included depth over breadth, high level of challenge and access to the ‘best of what has been thought and said’. The 8 LTPs I chose all contained these elements to reinforce that message. Colleagues were sent off to look over the LTPs and highlight what they liked with these principles in mind. We met again and together rebuilt Y7, 8 & 9. Each year with an overarching theme and chronological texts (with some exceptions that I conceded). One colleague said how excited she was about teaching KS3 after this process.

The next stage involved meeting with the newly appointed KS3 lead and mapping the 15 outcomes across the years.

We decided on a progression of skills that included a heavy focus on response to text (developing opinions and independent response) and creative writing in Y7 and gradually introduces Structure, Comparison & Contrast and Evaluation, interweaving other skills throughout. With the skills mapped and end of unit assessment tasks clarified, we began building! I printed all resources we had and using term overview sheets, the collective experience in the team enabled us to consider pitfalls and successes.

Before setting pairs off to plan, I reiterated the vision for KS3, to keep planning focused, so that we didn’t drift again into lots of busy-time resources and activities.

We now have the basis of all units. There is still LOTS to do – firming up the schemes for a start. We then have our grammar for writing to map across years, essential vocabulary list for each term, cover booklets with 6 lessons per term, HW tasks, skills to map onto trackers, our additional reading lists to distribute… But, after just 3 weeks, what was a mountain, now feels doable.

June 2017:

Nearly one year on, and we have almost made it. Some SoW worked better than others, but this may be a case of adjusting challenge at key points.  In Y7, Beowulf was a big hit, as was Animal Farm and Julius Caesar. In Y8, our new, rigorous Love Poetry unit was successful, as was the Gothic, and I am hoping, the Writer as Camera unit (structure) for term 6. Y9 have got a head start on viewpoints & perspectives, as well as what characterises Robert Browning’s poetry and the Victorian era.

We have raised expectations. Students write often, in silence and are encouraged to reflect more on their work. We have slowed the pace and can work on three extracts over a 7 week term, digging much deeper into rich texts. We have raised the status of reading. We have generated ambitious and sophisticated vocabulary for every term in advance and use these as success criteria throughout.

But, like any journey, the landscape of KS3 will change as the GCSE seeds are sown, and will need refining for a few years to come. We are a little way off our destination yet. Our main 17-18 KS3 targets look like this:

  • Embed our grammar syllabus fully – very much confirmed after hearing @katie_s_ashford at researchEd Oxford. We need to set up our grammar homework, followed up with Grammar Gap lessons.
  • Embrace the 200 word challenge, brain child of @Xris32, and include a rotation of unseen poetry, unseen extracts, writing prompts and comprehension.
  • Use whole class feedback across the department.
  • Use the S&L opportunities we have in each year group and demand more of students, as well as providing routine opportunities for memorising poems and quotes.
  • Use learning questions as the driver for lessons to keep the focus and intention sharp.
  • Build evaluative questions into our SOW as part of our challenge syllabus, paving the way for KS4 but also ensuring our most able students are not simply doing extra, but learning to scratch under the surface.
  • Test reading every year, to make sure no-one feels they are falling under the radar, falling behind or failing and work closely with our inclusion department to support them.


Hopefully, next year, we will really start to see the impact of everything we have set in motion.

Coming Clean

Excuse the exciting title – this is not however, a confessional blog, in which I declare some terrible dark secret (like those days when I feel like I have completely lost the ability to teach – is it just me…?) No, today was a ‘clean copy annotation’ day for Year 10. It has been one of the successful new strategies I’ve embedded this year. It has become habit, and students seem to see value and purpose in it.

Designing the course for the new spec AQA, I decided to put as much of the content into this year as I could, leaving next year for perfecting skills, deep learning and practise. As we’re whooshing through the poems, I periodically whip out a clean copy and ask students to fully annotate it,  based on what they’ve remembered. And rather than groan and wail ‘Miss! That’s long!’, they pick up pens and tackle it.

It seems to be helping on many levels: it is building confidence, it’s forcing thinking hard about something and activating memory, and it’s embedding quotes, terms and analysis, and it is repetition – which I think we seriously underestimate the importance of, for fear of boring students.

Clean copy annotation has become one of my very quick-win teaching strategies. and could be used in just about any subject. No matter what damage students have done to a previous poem, it is also the promise of a fresh, clean start!