Making KS3 Count – Chapter 1


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“A wise, accessible and practically useful book” – Professor Bill Lucas, author of Educating Ruby

“Compelling, clear and convincingly argued” – Dr Jill Berry, author of Making the Leap

“A useful summary of research [and] a helpful contribution to the literature” – Mary Myatt, senior inspector and author of High Challenge Low Threat


According to Ofsted, the quality of teaching and pupils’ progress in Years 7, 8 and 9 are not good enough. These weaknesses, they say, reflect a general lack of priority given to Key Stage 3 by school leaders. This book offers help and advice on how to lead Years 7, 8 and 9 in order to ensure that those three years of a child’s education that constitute Key Stage 3 do not prove to be time wasted during which the attainment gap is allowed to widen but are – instead – fruitful, enjoyable and rewarding.

This book will help you to: ensure your curriculum offer at Key Stage 3 is broad and balanced and that teaching is of a high quality and thus prepares pupils for more challenging subsequent study at GCSE; improve the transition from Key Stage 2 to 3 so that it focuses as much on pupils’ academic needs as it does on their pastoral needs; ensure assessment and tracking at Key Stage 3 is robust and focuses on the needs of disadvantaged pupils, including the most able, in order to close the achievement gap as quickly as possible; ensure homework helps pupils to make good progress, and develop effective literacy and numeracy strategies.


M J Bromley is an experienced education leader, writer, consultant, speaker and trainer. Find out more at Follow him on Twitter: @mj_bromley

PUBLISHED BY Autus Books | | @AutusBooks


Extracts from the book


The Wasted Years?

In the autumn of 2015 Ofsted produced a report entitled Key Stage 3: The Wasted Years? in which it summarised the findings of approximately 1,600 section 5 inspections carried out between September 2013 and March 2015, 318 monitoring inspections carried out between September 2014 and March 2015, 55 section 5 inspections from June and July 2015, 100 interviews with senior leaders, 10,942 questionnaire responses from pupils in Years 7 to 9, and 14 good practice visits.

Rather depressingly, the report found that, while pupils generally had the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects throughout Key Stage 3, in too many schools the quality of teaching and the rate of pupils’ progress and achievement were not good enough.

In fact, inspectors reported concerns about the effectiveness of Key Stage 3 in one in five of the routine inspections, particularly in relation to the slow progress made in English and maths and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils.  Inspectors also reported significant weaknesses in modern foreign languages (MFL), history and geography at Key Stage 3. Too often, inspectors found teaching that failed to challenge and engage pupils.  Additionally, low-level disruption in some of these lessons, particularly in MFL, had a detrimental impact on pupils’ learning. Achievement was not good enough in just under half of the MFL classes observed, two-fifths of the history classes and one third of the geography classes.

The report claimed that the weaknesses inspectors identified in teaching and pupil progress reflect a general lack of priority given to Key Stage 3 by many secondary school leaders. The majority of leaders spoken to as part of the survey, the report said, admitted they staffed Key Stages 4 and 5 before Key Stage 3. As a result, some Key Stage 3 classes were split between more than one teacher or were taught by non-specialists. In this sense – and in the way schools monitor and assess pupils’ progress – Key Stage 3 is regarded as a poor relation to the other key stages.

The report also asserted that too many secondary schools did not work effectively with partner primary schools to understand pupils’ prior learning and ensure that they built on this during Key Stage 3. Some secondary leaders simply accepted that pupils would repeat what they had already done in primary school during the early part of Key Stage 3, particularly in Year 7.  In  addition,  half  of  the  pupils  surveyed  said  that  their  homework  never,  or  only  some of  the  time,  helped  them  to  make  progress.  And inspectors found  that,  too  often, homework  did  not  consolidate  or  extend  pupils’  learning.

The report claimed  that  some  school  leaders  did  not  use  the  Pupil Premium effectively  in  Key  Stage  3  to  ensure  that  gaps  between  disadvantaged pupils  and  their  peers  continued  to  close  following  transition  to  secondary  school. Instead, additional support tended to be focused on intervention activities at Key Stage 4, which by then would have to compensate for ineffective practice in the earlier years of secondary education.

Some of the report’s key findings are as follows:

  • Key Stage  3  is  not  a  high  priority  for  many  secondary  school  leaders  in timetabling,  assessment  and  monitoring  of  pupils’    Eighty  five per  cent  of  senior  leaders  interviewed  said  that  they  staff  Key  Stages  4  and  5 before Key Stage 3. Key Stage 3 is given a lower priority.  Classes are often split between more than one teacher and pupils are often taught by non-specialists.
  • Leaders prioritise the pastoral over the academic needs of pupils during transition from primary school. While this affects all pupils, it can have a particularly detrimental effect on the progress and engagement of the most able.
  • Many secondary schools do not build sufficiently on pupils’ prior learning. Many of the senior leaders interviewed said that they do not do this well enough and accepted that some pupils would repeat some of what they had done in Key Stage 2.
  • Some school leaders are not using the Pupil Premium funding effectively to close gaps quickly in Key Stage 3. Inspection evidence and senior leaders’ comments indicate that this is another area where Key Stage 4 often takes priority.
  • Developing pupils’ literacy skills in Key Stage 3 is a high priority in many schools but the same level of priority is not given to numeracy. A majority of the headteachers Ofsted spoke to were able to explain how they were improving literacy at Key Stage 3 but only a quarter could do the same for numeracy. This is reflected in inspection evidence, for example from monitoring inspections, where inspectors reported improvements in literacy nearly three times more than they did in numeracy.
  • Homework is not consistently providing the opportunities for pupils to consolidate or extend their learning in Key Stage 3. Approximately half of the pupils who responded to Ofsted’s online questionnaire said that their homework never, or only some of the time, helps them to make progress.

In concluding their report, Ofsted recommended senior leaders should make Key Stage 3 a higher priority in all aspects of school planning, monitoring and evaluation, and ensure that not only is the curriculum offer at Key Stage 3 broad and balanced, but that teaching is of a high quality and prepares pupils for more challenging subsequent study at Key Stages 4 and 5.

Ofsted also recommended that senior leaders ensure that transition from Key Stage 2 to 3 focuses as much on pupils’ academic needs as it does on their pastoral needs, and that senior leaders foster better cross-phase partnerships with primary schools in order to ensure that Key Stage 3 teachers build on pupils’ prior knowledge, understanding and skills.

Ofsted said middle and senior leaders should make sure that systems and procedures for assessing and monitoring pupils’ progress in Key Stage 3 are more robust and that leaders should focus on the needs of disadvantaged pupils in Key Stage 3, including the most able, in order to close the achievement gap as quickly as possible. Leaders should also evaluate the quality and effectiveness of homework in Key Stage 3 in order to ensure that it helps pupils to make good progress.  And, finally, school leaders should put in place literacy and numeracy strategies that ensure pupils build on their prior attainment in Key Stage 2 in these crucial areas.

All of Ofsted’s recommendations are sensible and worthwhile but they are also – perhaps understandably for a high level report – vague and intangible.  For example, what does it mean, in reality, to give Key Stage 3 a high priority?  What, in practice, do cross-phase partnerships look like?  What is robust assessment and monitoring, exactly?  And what, precisely, constitutes quality and effective homework?

Over the course of twelve chapters (and two bonus chapters), I will explore these recommendations in greater depth and detail as I seek to offer my own advice on how to lead an effective Key Stage 3 in order to ensure that the three-years of a child’s education that constitute Key Stage 3 do not prove to be time wasted but are instead fruitful, enjoyable and rewarding.  By the end of this book, I want us to be able to confidently and robustly answer the question that forms the title of Ofsted’s report – ‘KS3: The Wasted Years?’ – with a firm and frank ‘no’.


The secret to an effective Key Stage 3, I believe, is a better transition process (by which I mean a more effective transition between Key Stages 2 and 3 but also within Key Stage 3 itself as pupils transfer between Years 7, 8 and 9), a better curriculum (by which I mean greater curriculum continuity between the key stages, a curriculum that is challenging, engaging and different to that which precedes and succeeds it, and a curriculum that provides for the effective development of literacy and numeracy skills), better homework (by which I mean homework that enables pupils to practice their learning and provides a real audience, purpose and context), and better assessment (by which I mean the regular monitoring of progress, quality formative feedback, and timely interventions which seek to close the gaps in the performance of different groups of pupils).

As such, my book will be in four distinct parts focusing on:

  1. Transition
  2. Curriculum
  3. Homework
  4. Assessment
(C) Bromley Education 2016