Designing a New KS3 English Curriculum.

Here is a summary of the principle points guiding the development of our new KS3 English curriculum:

We want a curriculum that:

–          challenges our students and supports them to become well-read and knowledgeable about great writing in the English language (including novels, poems, plays and literary non-fiction) and how it developed chronologically.

–          develops students that can read easily and fluently in a wide range of styles and genres, who can understand high quality texts, making personal responses and critically analysing and evaluating patterns and ideas within and between texts, whether of language, structure, style or form.

–          develops students that enjoy writing skilfully in a wide range of styles and forms and for a variety of purposes and audiences.

–          develops students that speak confidently and fluently in a wide variety of contexts, who can adapt their speech to a wide variety of situations and who listen intently and with understanding and challenge and debate theirs and others’ ideas.

The Framework.

Each of the three years in key stage three will be broken down into four (roughly) 10 week units. Each unit follows the same structure of progression but is informed by a different theme and the texts studied are chosen in relation to the theme, with individual teachers having a large degree of freedom to choose the texts they want to teach. Students should study a variety of prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction in each unit. One full novel and play will be read at some point throughout the year, but most texts studied will be poems and shorter texts, with students encouraged to go and read longer texts themselves in their own time. Texts should be chosen from a range of time periods within each unit and contextualised historically in order to develop an understanding of the historical development of English, which will be consolidated in the Language and Literature unit at the end of year 9. Students must also study two authors in depth each year, but this will be down to the preference of the teacher and may be set as a homework “project”.

The below table outlines the structure of each unit:



General activities

4-5 weeks

Exploration and reading of a variety of texts related to the theme

–          Individual, paired and class reading.

–          Paired, group and class discussions of texts relating to narrative, character development, language and effect on reader.

–          Written personal responses to texts.

2-3 weeks

Analysis, evaluation and comparison of texts read

–          Comparing, categorising and ranking of texts

–          Highlighting and annotating aspects of language in extracts from a selection of chosen texts

–          Speaking and listening tasks

–          Written analyses and evaluation: focus on language, structure and form.

2-3 weeks

Creative writing production

Drafting, proofreading and editing

–          Students produce their own creative writing in various forms and styles, using the texts studied as models.

–          Creative speaking and listening tasks


Underlying Theoretical Principles.

Several theoretical principles underpin this proposed structure.

1)      SOLO taxonomy

If you’re familiar with SOLO, you will notice that each unit begins by building up students’ knowledge and understanding of examples of great literature within a theme at the multi-structural and, to some extent, the relational level. The second part is firmly working at the relational level with elements of multi-structural and extended abstract, and the final, creative part, moves into the extended abstract. It is deliberately structured in this way to ensure that students are able to move to a deep understanding of the texts in particular and the subject in general. The SOLO skills can be mapped onto the sections of each unit in the following way:

Part 1 (5weeks)


Define, identify, describe, list, combine.



explain, compare, contrast, classify.

Part 2 (2-3 weeks)





explain, compare, contrast, classify, analyse, relate.


Extended abstract:

evaluate, theorise, generalise, predict, reflect

Part 3 (2-3 weeks)

Extended abstract:

create, imagine, hypothesise, reflect, evaluate


You will notice there is significant overlap between the parts of a unit and the SOLO level, and this is intended to allow individual teachers to respond to the needs of their learners. Some students will move from one level to another more quickly, others less so, and by being aware of this through their formative assessment teachers will be able to differentiate and challenge students effectively.

2)      The Trivium

In his book Trivium 21C, Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy) explores the possibility of designing a curriculum based on the classical trivium subjects, but brought into the context of the 21st century. The trivium consisted of the teaching of three subjects; grammar, logic (or dialectic) and rhetoric. The grammar part consists of the building up of knowledge and understanding, logic or dialectic involves testing and debating that knowledge, and rhetoric requires the production and creation of new ideas and knowledge. The structure of our units will very much allow students to develop their knowledge and skills within this framework. (See blog entitled “The Tools to Rule“)

3)      Progression

Some may argue that this structure is repetitive and therefore doesn’t allow for progression. The repetitive nature and the freedom it gives teachers to personalise what they deliver is intended to ensure that progression is about both deepening and widening the skills that students have. Furthermore, the outcomes that are eventually mapped onto the long term plan will ensure that students are given the opportunity to learn, practise and revisit ways to express themselves in a very wide variety of formats, thus providing opportunities for summative assessment throughout the course. By 2015, I would envisage that the way these are assessed will be married up to the new GCSE 1-9 levels, although may be given a different name to allow a perceptual distinction between key stages, especially for students and parents.

4)      Freedom and flexibility

A key principle is that teachers get to teach the texts that they want to within each unit. This will need to be planned and worked out with the department before the summer and its financial implications evaluated, but the premise here is that teachers will do a better job of teaching texts that they love and that they will be more likely to impart this passion to the students. I also want to get away from setting and streaming so that we have the freedom to create groups that work and that are comprehensive and include all types of learners within them. This will also allow for teachers to have more flexibility in planning their lessons and groupings within the class for various activities, as well as eliminating the existence of the “sink” group.

Possible themes could include:






Myths and Legends



Exploration and discovery



Ghosts, magic and witchcraft



Growing up






Different cultures and traditions






Crime and Punishment



Sci-Fi and Fantasy









Class and gender



Language and Literature in English



Start of GCSE course


The specified outcomes that students will be assessed through are yet to be decided upon. This is pending the release of the new KS4 specifications which will inform discussions about how best to prepare our students to succeed in the new qualifications. Once the specifications are out it will be important to identify the knowledge and skills that students will need, and tie these in with the threshold concepts that must be taught in any rich and varied English curriculum.


About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

One response to “Designing a New KS3 English Curriculum.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: