KS3 vs KS4: How can we stop relegating KS3 assessment to the back seat?

Ofsted’s recent report ‘Key Stage 3: The Wasted Years?’ has certainly stimulated a lot of conversation over the last couple of months, not least for what blogger, Sion Humphreys, aptly referred to as its ‘Adrian Mole-like title’.

The report calls into question the lack of priority that is placed on KS3 after 1,600 inspections judged that “pupils’ progress and achievement were not good enough”, with schools often placing greater focus on KS4.

With an education system which culminates in high-stakes summative exams, it is perhaps no surprise that KS4 is given that number one spot, especially when resources are already stretched. And if KS4 is indeed given the limelight – first dibs on timetabling, staffing and intervention – then should we really be surprised that pupil progress at KS3 falls down in comparison?

It stands to reason that a firm foundation built in KS3 leads to success at KS4. As Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw succinctly summarised in the report, “KS4 results will not improve until KS3 is given greater priority by school leaders.”

So how do we bring the focus back to KS3 to ensure our assessment systems are robust and rigorous, and those ever important foundations are laid?

For some schools, where deployment of resources and personnel is skewed towards KS4, this may require a shift in priorities.But perhaps it isn’t so much about shifting our priorities from KS4 to KS3, but more about balancing the attention that is given to both. Further, with the removal of National Curriculum levels at KS3 now is as good a time as any to rethink how to achieve this balance.

One way to do this would be to use a consistent approach at KS3 and 4 – one system which flows through both, allowing you to track progress from year 7 through to year 11. The introduction of the new 1-9 grading scale at GCSE gives us an excellent opportunity to do this, and this is where Doddle progress comes in.
Doddle Progress combines the new GCSE 1-9 grading structure, with a skills based assessment model.  In every subject, we have broken down the curriculum into meaningful skills which teachers can assess their students on using a simple traffic-light system: red, amber and green.

Doddle tracks pupil progress through the skills using the new 1-9 grading system, giving you a consistent metric to discuss progress which can be used right the way through school.  Furthermore, the platform is fully flexible, meaning you can adapt the skills so that they suit the schemes of learning and assessments your teachers are using.

Doddle Progress provides a consistent assessment framework which focuses on identifying where pupils’ strengths and weaknesses lie –a key driver for improving outcomes. It is this that allows us to build on pupils’ prior learning, focus on gaps in knowledge and understanding, and ensure we are providing challenge.

Is KS3 ever likely to take on the starring role in progress and assessment? Perhaps not. But by ensuring our KS3 assessment and reporting has the same clarity and rigour as KS4, we can go some way to ensuring KS3 plays a more significant role in preparing students for KS4.

Gemma Gilbert is a Senior Education Adviser and a former English teacher who has taught at a number of inner city schools in the Midlands. Doddle Education Advisers support schools on how to use Doddle to achieve their longer term priorities, and in their day-to-day use of Doddle. In this occasional series of blogs, Doddle Education Advisers share great teaching and leadership ideas and best practice from schools they work with.

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