Key Stage 3: the wasted years? – A Summary

In September Ofsted published a report which examined Key Stage 3 provision in secondary schools – this is part of the Ofsted survey and thematic reports; more are available here. This is my summary of this report.

“The importance of a good start to pupil’s secondary school education cannot be over emphasised. Leaders of successful schools set the right culture for learning that is embrace by their pupils from the outset.”

  • In 2013/14 HMI reported that primary schools continued to improve but secondary schools had stalled; with one of the contributory factors being poorly handled transition from primary to secondary. Gains made by pupils at primary school were not embedded and developed at Key Stage 3.
  • In MFL, history and geography lessons too often failed to engage and challenge pupils. In part the weaknesses in teaching and progress can be attributed to the lack of priority given to Key Stage 3 by school leaders.
  • Leaders prioritise the pastoral over the academic needs of pupils during the transition gem primary school. This can have a detrimental effect on progress and engagement of the most able.
  • Secondary schools do not build sufficiently on pupils’ prior learning; repeating work is more of an issue in mathematics and English than in the foundation subjects.
  • Developing literacy is a high priority but there is not the same level of priority evident for numeracy. Schools should ensure they have literacy and numeracy strategies that build on pupils prior attainment.
  • A number of pupils interviewed made an explicit link between quality of teaching at Key Stage 3 and their option choices for Key Stage 4.  When pupils had not continued to study a subject, reasons most frequently given included finding the subject difficult or dull.
  • Only a small number of the senior leaders spoken to were able to articulate a clear vision and rationale for their Key Stage 3 curriculum. In one of the most successful schools visited the headteacher had changed the philosophy and culture of the school. He believed this was the bedrock of future success, commenting “If you get Year 6 to Year 10 right then Year 11 looks after itself.”
  • Homework is not consistently providing the opportunities for pupils to consolidate or extend their learning in Key Stage 3.
  • The importance of secondary schools working closely with their partner primary schools was clear from the good practice visits; where primary and secondary schools worked closely together the results were powerful.
  • Only half of the pupils that were interviewed said that their Year 7 teachers built on what they had learnt at primary school. One Year 9 pupil said, “when I began Year 7, it was as if I had started my education again; nothing from primary school continued”.

Overall the findings indicate that too many secondary school leaders are not using Key Stage 3 effectively enough to develop pupils’ learning. Key Stage 3 must become a higher priority for secondary school leaders. They must not allow Key Stage 3 to become a lost opportunity.

For the full document click the link below to the full Ofsted document.

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