The Year 9 question – Part One: the changes to KS3

The changes to GCSE English (Lit and Lang) have been looming large in my mind for a while now. I’m feeling fairly on top of things with what I need to do in terms of changes for Years 7 and 8, and have started (slowly) to implement these as part of my role coordinating KS3.

However, the question of what to do with Year 9 has been hanging, sword-of-Damocles-like, over my head. Yes, I am aware that this cohort will be sitting the new, terminal-exam GCSEs. No, I don’t want to commit to anything until I am certain of what this will entail… Happily, I spent Wednesday of last week at a course in London which aimed to address just that question.

The below, and what has quickly mushroomed into what will be a short series of posts, is an attempt to sort out the jumble of notes I took from the day, and a slightly stream-of-consciousness hypothesis of how I might ‘action’ these changes.

What are the changes to the KS3 Program of Study?

I was relieved to note that there was nothing unexpected in this: having completed a detailed analysis of the changes before I joined my new school in September I felt au fait with what was presented to us: I’ve already implemented SOWs on Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe in Year 7, and was passed a fab ‘Inspirational Speeches’ SOW which I’ve slotted into Year 8. If you’re not as geeky as I am (surely not! I hear you cry) the main changes are these:

So far, so good. As it were. This isn’t the time to expound my growing conviction that a knowledge-based curriculum in English is no bad thing, and in any case, in the interests of pragmatism, I’m not going to worry about the whys or wherefores. For now.

The biggest change, however, which I don’t mind admitting I am more concerned about, is the introduction of an equally-weighted fourth strand, focussing on grammar and vocabulary.

4th strand

I’m 29. This means that when I attended secondary school, I wasn’t taught discrete grammar lessons. Since qualifying in 2012 I haven’t had to teach discrete grammar lessons in such depth. This is scary! Again, thanks to my geeky obsession, I wasn’t unprepared for this change. I should interject here that having a best friend who teaches Year 6 is a fab thing, in many ways – I was, prior to my little investigation, completely unaware that the L6 SPAG paper contained such questions as

‘Rewrite a sentence in the passive voice; add a subordinate clause to a sentence; expand a noun into a noun phrase; identify abstract/common/proper/collective nouns; write a sentence using a colon and semi-colon correctly; identify the impersonal version of a sentence; tick boxes to show the type of adverb used – manner/time/place’

L6 example spelling words – recognised, wreckage, correspond, plummet, infinite, rhythmic, phenomenon

Paper 3 example (Level 6 only) – Write an article for your local paper describing something important to you that is available at no cost (eg a museum, park, good memories); write a short report arguing for or against cyberschooling

*edit: Robert Howell has got in touch to say that this indented text is from his curriculum map. Having perused my scrappy handwritten notes it certainly appears his ideas have penetrated all the way to the South Coast! All credit, etc. Further info on the KS2 SPAG tests can also be found here *

Yes, I am aware that not *every* child sits the L6 paper at KS2, but it illustrates my point. My top set Year 10s were, at the start of this year, unable to use a semi colon correctly – whether this is as a result of the dreaded ‘summer dip’ or something else, I cannot comment, as I didn’t teach them.

The issues, as I see them (for MY school) are these:

  1. How do we ‘apply and extend’ the discrete teaching of SPAG from the Primary PoS?
  2. What do I need to do in terms of refreshing/upskilling KS3 teachers (including myself!) to ensure that I am providing enough stretch for all learners in KS3?

Well. Weighty questions indeed. The first question, to my mind, is a case of ‘refresh and extend’. I’ve been in regular contact with Mr Hildrew with regards to a few things recently, and find his refreshingly no-nonsense approach to progress applies here. The fact is that regardless of how we, in secondary, regard our Year 7s’ ability against their reported KS2 level, they were assessed, somehow, as being at that level. There is no point mithering about it: we need to refresh their understanding of SPAG and move forwards. The fact is, students need to be at a certain proficiency by Year 9 to best ready them for the challenges of KS4. This brings to the fore my second question. Many English teachers are Literature graduates. I myself am a Classicist. A quick straw-poll of my department (and again, the point is anecdotal and will of course vary from school to school) revealed that many are not as comfortable as they would like to be in the discrete teaching of grammar. The new KS3 PoS has 27 pages of language terminology! Flicking through it, I remember (vaguely) a lecture during my GTP in which we were taught what a ‘split digraph’ is, from which I dutifully filed the notes into my standards file, and have never looked at since. To my mind, we in secondary have a great deal to learn from our primary colleagues. My first point-of-call, therefore, will be to speak to some primary practitioners and beg, borrow, or steal ideas. Secondly, and once I have a clearer idea of the direction we need to move into, I need to think about the ‘how’. At the conference I attended last week, one teacher explained how they had a ‘grammar’ department. I reacted with surprise: it seemed to be a nonsense – how can grammar *not* be interwoven within our normal teaching? I still firmly think that – as with all ‘literacy’ teaching – it shouldn’t be a bolt-on. However… I am still feeling a little woolly as to how else we can address this: ideas gratefully received!

Planned next post: an overview of the changes to KS4 and what this means for Year 9.

The Year 9 question – Part One: the changes to KS3

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