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Progress 'too slow' in key stage three

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says leadership and quality of education is a concern at KS3

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 14, 2015 | Teaching

A new Ofsted report, ‘Key stage 3: the wasted years?’ explores whether students are sufficiently supported and challenged to make the best start to secondary school. 

Their survey included evidence from more than 1,900 inspections, interviews with 100 school leaders, 14 school visits, and almost 11,000 questionnaire responses from pupils. Inspectors also investigated the quality of teaching at key stage three in modern foreign languages (MFL), history and geography, to see how this experience influenced pupils’ choices later in secondary school. 

The report found that pupils typically study a broad range of subjects at key stage three. However, the transition to secondary is too often poorly managed and teaching fails to build on the gains pupils have made in primary school.

Too many school leaders treat key stage three as the poor relation of key stages four and five. As a result, the deployment of staff and resources is too often skewed towards the upper age ranges. One in five inspection reports identified key stage three as an area for improvement. 

Inspectors also found:

  • The progress made by pupils during key stage three is often slow, particularly in English and mathematics
  • MFL, history and geography teaching at key stage three often fails to challenge and engage pupils. This, in turn, impacts on the take-up of these subjects at GCSE
  • Low-level disruption detracts from pupils’ learning, particularly in MFL lessons
  • Teachers are not consistently building on pupils’ prior knowledge and skills during key stage three
  • Some schools are not using pupil premium funding effectively at key stage three
  • The quality of homework in key stage three is too variable and does not effectively enable pupils to consolidate or extend their learning 

HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said: “Today’s report demonstrates that too many secondary schools do not give provision at key stage three the priority it deserves. 

“Inspectors have found that pupils often leave primary school with good literacy and numeracy skills, confident and eager to learn, but their progress then stalls when they start secondary school.

“In too many schools, the quality of teaching is not adequately preparing children for their next stage in education. In particular, lessons in modern foreign languages, history and geography often fail to ensure that pupils have the confidence or enthusiasm to get to grips with these important foundation subjects. It is, therefore, no surprise that there is a low take-up of these subjects at GCSE. This is a serious concern, given the Government’s ambition for all pupils starting secondary school this month to enter the EBacc subjects in five years’ time. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT said: “We know that this stage is crucial in the development of pupils, not least in ensuring a smooth transition from primary to secondary education. 

“School leaders continually work hard to make sure that pupils are supported at the start of secondary education, whilst receiving teaching that stretches, supports and develops. 

“The danger is that the high stakes accountability applied to GCSEs and A levels, along with constant tinkering by government, distracts attention from key stage three. It is hard to find the specialist staff to teach this age group, for example, when you are also transforming your GCSE offer and facing a recruitment crisis at the same time. This shortens school leaders’ horizons and forces them to focus on the short term.  

'Too often in the past, Ofsted has focused on the current year's exam results rather than investments in areas like key stage three, which would only show up in years to come. The situation is partly of their own making and we are therefore glad they are changing their focus in the new framework to better reward this sort of development.”    

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