Against an extended KS4 or shortened KS3
In 2013, Michael J Reiss and John White wrote a paper called An Aims-based Curriculum. They advocate that schools should be striving to achieve two simple goals: ‘to lead a life that is personally flourishing’ and ‘to help others do so, too.’ Whilst these statements may seem too broad and akin to motivational-poster-speak, there is a great deal in them that has been echoed through time – education and knowledge as an end unto itself. The document in full is well worth reading and breaks these two aims down into fine detail – addressing moral education, basic needs, human flourishing and rich background understanding.
Recently, there have been a number of Twitter polls asking questions about early entry for GCSE and/or shortened KS3/3yr KS4 with an end goal to improve Y11 results. In one, a staggering majority of respondents said they already did, or they planned to, or they were thinking about it. I can’t help but hear Amanda Spielman’s words ringing in my ears:
“Are we all clear about what is being lost from that missing year and are we happy to lose it?” (gov.uk, 2017)
There is more excellent, absorbing, life-changing and life-affirming literature in the world than we could possibly begin to cover. As English teachers we know we are only scratching the surface. We are constantly treading a fine line between those texts that are culturally important and open up the world to our students, and those texts, outside of cultural capital, that provide us with classroom moments where jaws drop and the power of words becomes real. Do we really want to lose this to working on Lang P2 Q4? I know that’s an oversimplification, but there is a point to be made. What are we really gaining through early entry or extended KS4?
To me it feels like a race to the bottom. Because one school is doing it, another feels they must in order to compete. But I think everyone loses.
Far from tackling the ‘Wasted Years’ of KS3 (here), and making them purposeful, there is a risk of devaluing them further. The idea of using KS3 to build firm foundations, over 3 years is lost. This is where we have opportunities to nurture human flourishing – SoW on different voices, on gender, on race – on human experiences across time, as well as developing knowledge of discrete elements of writing, reading and speaking- tone, form, vocabulary, inference and so on. Martin Robinson in his post A Narrowing Curriculum states that ‘a good education doesn’t offer one lens through which to see the world, rather it offers a variety of lenses’ and that ‘reductive pressures’ should be resisted.
As well as losing valuable content, we deny students the right to mature. The writing of Y10 students across a cohort is very different to the writing of Y11. Even in this final few weeks there is evidence of pennies dropping & lightbulb moments. And anxiety, of the healthy & measured kind, is not only natural but also a great tool for bringing things into sharp focus.
Maybe rather than asking whether we should extend KS4 or opt for early entry, the questions we should ask are: What can we do to make our KS3 provision better? How can we ensure they are KS4 ready? What specific knowledge do they need to start Y10? Perhaps, most importantly, if we are aiming for principled curriculum design, how can we enable our students to flourish?
Michael J Reiss and John White (2013): An Aims-based Curriculum: The significance of human flourishing for schools
Martin Robinson: martin robinson.wordpress.com
The Wasted Years: http://www.gov.uk
HMCI’s commentary: recent primary and secondary curriculum research: http://www.gov.uk