We’re overhauling KS3 as a school for next year – getting rid of using GCSE grades prior to GCSE level, deep joy! This has provided an opportunity to think again about what we teach at KS3 and how we assess progress.
My colleague Nick and I had already done quite a lot of work on the KS3 content last year. We were quite brutal and threw out absolutely everything. What came back had to fit the criteria of ‘vital knowledge’ – something important for underpinning GCSE or A-level, and/or something important for understanding their context and our world, and/or something we wouldn’t want them to leave school without knowing.
In practice, a lot of what we had previously taught came back, but some favourite topics couldn’t be squeezed in (RIP British diet through time) and we added studies of Islamic civilisations and the French Revolution, among other things.
Once we had our list of topics, we went to the mechanics of history teaching and fitted the topics to second order concepts, highlighting topics that provided fertile ground for sourcework and interpretations and making sure that we had a good mixture of everything.
I also thought it was really important to prioritise historical enquiry, so we added a personal history project into each year group to develop research and presentation skills. When this is fully fledged, it should ensure that students arrive at their A-level NEA with a good understanding of how to read around a topic and formulate an enquiry, as well as helping with smaller things like how to write a bibliography and speak confidently from notes. Students complete this project over a period of several weeks and we then give over two lessons to allow everybody to present their findings. I’ve written a follow up post about it here.
What we came up with has worked quite well this year, with a few tweaks necessary for next year. We realised there was a glaring hole where the British Empire should be and that we probably spend too long teaching the Middle Ages (with apologies to another colleague, Luke, who is a die-hard medievalist). Year 9 felt a bit sparse. A lot of the enquiries are still underformed or ‘working questions’ instead of the rigorous beasts I am hoping for in the long term. However, I’m satisfied that the content of the curriculum is broadly where I want it to be, which means that next year I can get on with improving it.
My next steps are, therefore –
- Add in units on the British Empire and, we think we’ve decided on, the Russian Revolution.
- Sort out a strong enquiry title for every unit and break it down into smaller questions that can be used to drive lessons. I’m relishing getting lost in a big pile of history books.
- Really nail down the assessment, which is still a little amorphous for my liking.
- Update the Y7/Y8 curriculum booklets and write one for Y9. These have all the key words for the units in them, alongside wider reading lists, homework tasks and brief sources or interpretations, as well as a log to help structure the research project. I need to rethink how we use these and I’m considering whether it’s possible to go digital and do it all through Google Classroom. I abhor the enormous amount of paper it requires to photocopy but I like them to have the booklets in class. Some careful thinking about the point of the booklets is necessary.
I’ve tweaked KS3 every year for as long as I can remember, so it’s nice to look at this list and find it isn’t very long – it must mean I am almost happy.
Very sadly I’m losing Nick’s assistance in this endeavour, as he’s wandering off to pasteurs (haha) new after spending three years as half SENCo, half history teacher.
The very silver lining to this, though, is that we’re currently recruiting for a whole new history teacher to join me from September. Get in touch if you’re interested and I will point you in the direction of the advert.