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Curriculum Design: Key Stage 3

>>UPDATE IN CURRICULUM RATIONALE ALSO FREE IN HOT TOPICS August 2013 The final proposals for the new 2014 National Curriculum for history and issues affecting KS3 teachers.

>>PAGE REVISED AUGUST 2012 with comment on what the draft framework of the National Curriculum means to history (see below) and recommended reading for planning an imaginative curriculum

>>>ADDED AUGUST 2012 IN THE LITERACY SECTION What OFSTED are looking for in history lessons when reviewing literacy across the curriculum (August 2012) An insider’s view – what OFSTED are saying to their inspectors

Top priority for 2012-13 will clearly be preparing for the introduction of the new history curriculum for first teaching in September 2014.  We should see the colour of the new Programmes of Study by the end of the summer term 2013 but we will know well before that what constraints the government will be imposing.  A quick glance through my blog and hot topics will show Gove's cast of mind and my reaction to some of his ideas.  My advice is not to wait until you are told what to do.  Anticipate more freedom.

The draft Framework of the new National Curriculum. What it means for history, in a nutshell.

The Framework for the National Curriculum. (Published February 2012)

As you may already have read, the report from the Expert Panel was published a week before Christmas. About as indigestible as the worst Christmas pudding, the report deals only with broad issues of structure. As always the devil is in the detail, but there are some interesting points raised. None of these will be unfamiliar but at least they are being discussed and subjected to evidential scrutiny rather than allowing ministerial whim to reign supreme.

I found the whole document unnecessarily heavy-going, littered with bizarre phrases that teachers never use. I recommend that you don’t waste your time reading it. Instead read my summary of the 10 key points.

1. Most existing curriculum elements should be retained in some statutory form which basically is code for ‘subjects rule OK’.

2. There is much debate about KS4. So, will it now be statutory, yes or no? Well, yes, but…It is recommended that history should be studied in some form post 14 but not necessarily to GCSE level. There will be no statutory Programme of Study for history. If you’re wondering if this is good or bad news, I don’t blame you. Good to have some history but how much and what content will be up to schools to decide. This sounds like an awful cop out. If not GCSE, then what? What status will this subject have in the eyes of students, parents and headteachers who have lived their lives feeding a series of league tables? The experts acknowledge that there might be an issue with student motivation. Not ‘arf!

3. The decision about truncating KS3 to just two years, as is already the case in many schools, is fudged. The case is put for a shorter KS3, but the experts are aware that this poses challenges and is opening up the issue for debate which we must welcome.

4. At primary level there is little comment on history other than to recommend that Key Stage 2 be divided into lower and upper. The implication is that Y5 and 6 will receive more subject specialist teaching.

5. The mess that is history assessment has been tackled head-on. It is recommended that the single Attainment Target be abolished. OK, great, but what replaces it? Here you have to think hard about what they intend. Grab a wet towel to place over your head. I’ll quote at length from page 9: “POS should be stated as discursive statements of purpose, anticipated progression and interconnections within the knowledge to be acquired, with Attainment Targets being stated as statements of specific learning outcomes related to essential knowledge.” I told you it wasn’t easy! What we need to be very wary of is the last clause with its reference to ‘essential knowledge’. Until we know what that means we can only live in dread! References to ‘having mastered the knowledge’ (in an otherwise sane discussion of assessment on page 47) show how some minds are cast.

6. The nonsense that is levels is acknowledged in the report and we all hope to see the back of them, come 2014. I think we will. Reassuringly, on p.43, the experts reiterate that they don’t want to ‘encourage the promulgation of atomistic and trivial statements of attainment’. Go tell that loud and clear to your deputy headteacher who is always on your back to produce ludicrously spurious and unreliable statements for ‘performance at 4b and 5c’ every 6 weeks.

7. There is much discussion in the report of what it terms ‘powerful knowledge’ as if this will help clarify later decisions about content. It won’t. All it does is introduce a new word that historians haven’t yet disagreed about. They will!

8. There is talk of avoiding overloading the NC specifications but that is followed by the obvious statement that what is learned must be ‘broad and balanced but also deep and secure’. So just more of love your mother and apple pie.

9. There is waning support for citizenship, reclassified along with ICT and D&T as the Basic Curriculum.

10. Curriculum delivery will be linear, but not specified year-by-year, thank goodness.

11. Sadly the group are not recommending changes to the execrable GCSE in history. I’ll follow this up over the next few weeks with a more in-depth appraisal but I thought you might like the headlines, and an excuse for not having to read the impenetrable full version

Imaginative Key Stage 3 history planning

Earlier this summer OFSTED published its second good practice history cameo featuring outstanding curriculum planning. It featured the work of the history department at Copleston High in Suffolk. You can access the full article here.

The highlight for me, in addition to the interesting examples of diversity and local history, was the way the curriculum was structured. This paragraph from the report encapsulates it well.

“In each of the three years, a key overarching question links all the topics studied in that year. In Year 7, the enquiry is focused on ‘How and why has Ipswich changed since Saxon times?’ In Year 8, the key question is ‘Did Britons win their rights through violence or reasoning?’ In Year 9, the enquiry looks at ‘How should we remember the 20th century?’ In these ways, each year focuses on a particular theme, and moves from local history in Year 7 to national history in Year 8 and international history in Year 9”.

The other significant feature was the way the department focuses relentlessly on ‘real outcomes’ that mattered to students. At the end of Year 7 students undertake work on ‘Marketing historic Ipswich’, whereas in Year 9 they work in groups to produce a documentary film on an important issue of the 20th century in order to exemplify what the century meant to them. The full report is well worth a quick read if you want to make your KS3 curriculum more sharply focused on what matters to the students you teach. Inspiring stuff


If you have been asked to deliver one of those 'here-today gone-tomorrow' Learning to Learn skills courses, then you will be helped to make the best of a bad job. The PLTs and Opening Minds agendas are analysed and suggestions made to turn them to your pupil's advantage.

As well as guidance and imaginative ideas on curriculum design this section of the site also addresses issues concerning: literacy, numeracy, ICT and citizenship which increasingly seems to be finding its home in history. The Literacy section takes you well beyond writing frames and key words to look at genres of writing and interesting approaches to speaking and listening. The numeracy section offers you many more dynamic and realistic examples than the DfES video of dividing a monk's day into a pie chart!! The Citizenship section is very significant. Not only does it contain examples of how history and citizenship have been thoughtfully combined, it also gives ideas for activities and suggestions on how to make the 'newer' topics in the 2008 orders more exciting. Most of us would love to know how to make the Uniting of the UK more attractive to teach and few of us would not benefit from seeing how others teach the themes of migration and immigration which are so politically charged.

Further sections deal with creativity and thinking skills both of which have now become important planks of the KS3 curriculum. You will be delighted with the range of worked examples of thinking skills strategies such as history mysteries and living graphs that also feature in the outstanding lesson section.


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