A three year KS4 at BDB: rationale

Context

As at 2018, the school sits in the top 20% for proportion of EAL and SEN.

Year groups arrive from Primary with scores significantly below the national average in Reading, Writing and Maths, with scores varying between 1.5 – 2 points lower. This is true for every element of KS2 Reading, GPS and Maths papers when viewed on a question-level basis, with historic, noticeable gaps to the national average with areas such as ratio, fractions, making inferences and using vocabulary in context specific weaknesses.

The school also has a large number of casual admissions who arrive in-year, often with no prior attainment data.

The school has underperformed with regard to national norms in proportion of subject areas at GCSE and has not yet achieved a positive Progress 8 score, particularly in respect of Maths, Science and other EBacc subjects.

Rationale for a three-year Key Stage 4

The school made the decision to implement a three-year Key Stage 4 in 2017, with the current Year 11s the first cohort to experience this. In essence, students made their GCSE choices in year 8 to begin in year 9, with four hours of teaching allocated per option subject, but across three years rather than two. Core subjects have maintained a strong presence on the timetable, with English and Maths having at least eight hours, Science at least nine.

Leaders in different subject areas have worked hard to ensure that the Key Stage 3 curriculum offer is more challenging than before; there is a clear rationale behind every choice made in terms of topics and content, which highlights the rigour and depth of the KS3 curriculum. In Years 7 and 8, students are taught in at least thirteen different subject areas, covering the full range of the National Curriculum. The intent of each subject area’s curriculum offer is also clear in that they are planned with a flow-through into KS4 in mind, with a gradual increase in complexity and breadth, which is possible using this ‘long-thin’ approach.

This re-envisioning of the KS3àKS4 model has enabled teachers to develop their curriculum offers to support students transitioning into their GCSEs and to cover topics in greater depth than before, with the intention that standards are raised at GCSE. This is important in light of the new-style GCSEs, which contain more content than ever before, with a focus on lots of end-of-course examinations in place of controlled assessment. This has meant that a greater need for interleaving and spaced practice is required, which is especially important for our cohort, which therefore requires more time to be spent at KS4 focusing on these key concerns alongside content. Our ambition is for students to leave with more qualifications at a better level than ever before, regardless of their starting points. With more time spent on option subjects in particular, this will ameliorate the gaps that are presented on entry and enable a greater proportion of our students to access further education and careers. In essence, our students would be more disadvantaged through spending less time at KS4.

As well as this, we also recognise that the pressure experienced by young people in this high-stakes system means that students’ own resilience towards examinations must be developed alongside content delivery, which takes place to a greater extent with a three-year KS4. Inevitably, this will lead to benefits for students’ own well-being and confidence.