Some thoughts on planning at KS3

The range of approaches to the curriculum and its assessment at key stage 3 suggest that further discussion about planning at this key stage might prove useful. The quality of planning will determine the quality of our curriculum. The following is a contribution to that discussion by considering how planning a Scheme of Work relates to curriculum content, outcomes and assessment. It will be important for us to agree a model of how pupils’ learning progresses over the three years, and how this influences the evidence we will use to monitor how well pupils are mastering the subject. These points are illustrated with a formal example which sets out the relationship between the detail of what is taught and the broader outcomes to learning in the subject.

The quality of planning will determine the quality of our curriculum
When a subject leader plans a Scheme of Work, they are drawing together their understanding of their subject curriculum, how the teaching of it will be organised, and how it will be assessed. So the task for subject leaders will be to organise the teaching of the content of the subject and to consider what pupils will learn on the journey through the course.

Planning will need to consider the four weighty elements of teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment. It will also need to be supported by a rationale for what pupils will learn over time, and how we will monitor and assess that learning. The taught curriculum in a subject is more than a list of things to remember and be tested on. With an evaluation focus now on the Quality of Education, the quality of planning and its implementation will be a key determinant.

“At the heart of the new education inspection framework is the new ‘quality of education’ judgement, the purpose of which is to put a single conversation about education at the centre of inspection. In doing this, we draw heavily on the working definition of the curriculum that Ofsted has used over the last couple of years. This definition uses the concepts of ‘intent’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’ to recognise that the curriculum passes through different states: it is conceived, taught and experienced.” – Inspecting the Curriculum, May 2019.

The quality of planning will determine how effective a particular Scheme of Work is in providing valuable experiences of learning about the subject.

A particular quality issue that should be considered will be the question of whether the planned course at key stage 3 provides a good foundation for studies at key stage 4, and offers a worthwhile and self-contained experience of the subject for pupils who will cease to study the subject after year 9. This second criterion will be difficult to achieve if a school has chosen to use year 9 as the start of GCSEs, or the course is planned as part of a continuum from year 7 to year 11.

Planning for Progression
Planning will start with breaking down a subject curriculum (the NC Subject Content Statements) into a series of individual things that need to be taught. There will usually be a choice in how we order the sequence of their teaching. So an issue we will need to consider is how content taught in year 9 will differ from content taught in year 7. If we consider how progression will occur it will clarify our understanding about how learning matures through a course.

Michael Fordham describes his work with Christine Counsell on defining progression at this link.
They deduce that: “A curriculum is too frequently understood to be simply a list of things to learn and indeed, by some definitions, that is all it is. But . . . it did not just set out what was to be learned, but it provided a sequencing to that. A curriculum sets out the journey that someone needs to go on to get better at the subject. In short, it models the progress that we would hope (although cannot guarantee) that someone will make. The curriculum is the progression model.”

A key feature of good curriculum design will be a well-planned Scheme of Work which has progression built into it. The advantage of pre-planning progression into a Scheme of Work is that if pupils are mastering what they are taught then we know that they will be making progress. We wont then need to struggle to look for evidence of progress at a later stage.

At the start of a course we will be teaching simple facts, ideas, concepts and examples designed to provide an incremental understanding and knowledge of the subject. How well pupils learn these elements of the subject will be monitored using tests and homework. As pupils go through the course they will see how these ideas build upon each other to provide a broader knowledge and understanding. Pupils will be given opportunities to apply their growing expertise to solve problems and develop capability in the subject. By year 9, the Scheme of Work will provide increasing opportunities to demonstrate learning across the whole attainment target, i.e. Pupils’ learning will gradually move from component learning to holistic learning. This is the essential idea behind progression through a course at key stage 3.

Planning will start with the National Curriculum Subject Content statements. From this, subject leaders will develop a Scheme of Work, which will describe what will be taught lesson-by-lesson. Implicit in this approach are two sets of outcomes which assessment will be based upon.
Firstly, there are the Learning Objectives associated with teaching the Scheme of Work. These are short summaries of what we want a pupil to learn after each Unit of Work has been taught.
Secondly, there are the Subject Content statements, or Attainment Targets. These are the holistic statements of understanding which the National Curriculum has defined as being the key characteristics of mastery of the subject.
Generally, monitoring the assimilation of Learning Objectives will be part of the Formative Assessment process, i.e. the checking, questioning and testing that monitors how well pupils are learning what they are being taught. Whereas more-formalised Summative Assessment, e.g. by examination, will assess pupils’ acquisition of subject understanding and capability as defined by the Attainment Targets. We must remember that we cannot start to assess the Attainment Targets until towards the end of the key stage, once most of the subject content has been taught.

An example of planning for assessment using Learning Objectives and Attainment Targets
Here I describe one approach to Planning. It is designed to be thorough. It may appear to be complex. Could it be simplified while still providing assurance that progression in learning is taking place?
There is an example spreadsheet for the subject Computing to illustrate these points at this link.

The AT tab shows the National Curriculum Subject Content statements, or Attainment Targets.

The Planning tab shows how the Subject Leader has broken down the Attainment Targets into the ‘big picture’ language of the subject, by identifying processes characteristic of the subject, the context in which they can be taught, other attributes that we would wish to the pupil to acquire, the focus for lessons to teach these, the activities that would support the lesson, and the resources that are available to the teacher.

The Teaching Tab is the Scheme of Work which incorporates the thinking in the Planning tab. The example is for year 7 which covers 10 Units of Work and describes the lesson content for each unit.
The LO tab describes the Learning Objectives that relate to the Units of Work. This planning grid has packaged the teaching into 88 Learning Objectives, taught over three years. A fewer or greater number of Learning Objectives could be used; it is up to the subject leader to decide what is manageable.

Note how the Teaching tab cross references the Learning Objectives with the Attainment Targets to recognise that the Learning Objectives build up to contribute to the holistic statement of the Attainment target. This may look complicated, but it is only done once at the planning stage to provide lasting evidence that the Scheme of Work will fully cover the required learning in order to achieve each Attainment Target.

Generally, in monitoring pupil progress at key stage 3 we would be noting the extent to which the Learning Objectives were being mastered (mostly by a process of Formative Assessment). Towards the end of key stage 3 we will wish to see whether pupils were making progress towards acquiring the Attainment Targets. The main opportunity for Summative Assessment would be an end-of-key-stage examination, supplemented by end-of-year tests.

By the end of key stage 3 we should be able to report on whether the Subject Content statements (ATs) were attained, usually by using grading based on GCSE number grades. Reporting during the key stage could usefully be based on notes on the Learning Objectives achieved, on a termly, and yearly basis.
This could be supplemented by a prediction of the most likely grade by year 11 were this level of progress to be continued. The predication would be based on the evidence arising from the extent to which Learning Objectives were being mastered, from the teacher’s prior experience of teaching the course, and from other evidence. The Progress Chart referred to in a previous article would provide good composite evidence for that prediction.

The above describes the process and purposes of planning a Scheme of Work at key stage 3 and gives an example of what could result from this detailed approach to planning being applied to Computing. We developed this approach in response to Assessment Without Levels. We have school-produced examples similar to the above for every subject of the National Curriculum. They are available to users of our software to act as starting points when a school plans a Scheme of Work appropriate to their situation. This approach is designed to be rigorous in response to a probable general lack of clarity about planning and assessment at key stage 3. It may seem laborious, but planning is only done once and it shapes the quality of the subject for the next three years. Even if another approach was used, a subject leader would need to consider all the above issues in devising an effective Scheme of Work which provided good coverage of the subject in working towards attainment of the National Curriculum Content Statements.

How to systemise an approach like this.
The above planning model will be applicable to other methodologies relating to assessment and reporting. However, we know that the use of IT can help a school organise an agreed approach to planning, assessment and reporting. In particular, prepared spreadsheets can make the termly capture of evidence of progress easier than if IT was not used. IT can also provide help with aggregating evidence across subjects and with producing reports.

We did a short survey of approaches to managing KS3 assessment a few years ago and this showed that a wide variety of methodologies were in use. The ‘Flight Path’ approach was quite common at that time, mainly because it appeared to offer accuracy and was largely based on subjective marking and a comparison with a prediction from KS2. In many schools there is likely to be scope for reviewing whether the planning of key stage 3 produces a Scheme of Work that is progressive, provides a worthwhile experience for those who don’t go on to study the subject at key stage 4, prepares pupils for study at key stage 4, and provides a good interpretation of the National Curriculum Subject Content Statements.


Mike Bostock is an educationalist specialising in the use of performance data tools for school improvement. Mike has worked as a science teacher, DfE IT in Schools Programme (MEP), LA school improvement adviser, inspector and with software development teams. Mike’s company, New Media Learning, produces the 4Matrix school performance system which is used in around 1,200 secondary schools.

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