Key Stage 3 Curriculum 2.0 (CLF)


It is probably true that the removal of levels and the growth of Trusts and collaborating groups of schools presents an enormous opportunity for teachers and leaders at KS3 to be curators of a curriculum, with embedded assessment and pedagogy, that inspires children to learn, secure progress, find meaning and grow into successful individuals … to educate the whole being so they can face the future.

“With opportunity comes responsibility … there are few more important roles in education than to be responsible for designing a curriculum that inspires the next generation to find meaning in their lives.”

It is also true that KS3 has typically been defined by mediocrity and over-shadowed by KS4. The opportunity, then, is to develop a curriculum that builds from KS2 and avoids drawing grades and progress 8 down from KS4. It should be the foundation of what we choose, across a broad curriculum, to pass on to the next generation.

Which begs the question.. what does an effective KS3 curriculum look like? How can this be designed to inspire the next generation to learn and make good decisions about the future and throughout their lives?

And… how can Trusts and partnerships of schools collaborate to enhance the curriculum and drive up standards?

What if the following is an approach to Key Stage 3?… (and the approach of the Cabot Learning Federation (CLF)) (link to: life after levels, KS3 1.0)

What if the intent of the curriculum is to enable children to acquire knowledge and skills, which are secured through application (over time and in different contexts) to develop understanding (change in long term memory) and allows children to seek meaning and achieve personal growth? (based on how we learn?)


“…our brains do something vastly more impressive, forming neural nets from billions of cells, each connected to thousands of others. And these networks are organized into larger structures, … and so on, in a complex hierarchical scheme..” (Leonard Mlodinow, 2018)

What if the KS3 curriculum builds-up from KS2 to secure a foundation for children to be successful in life (and KS4)? What if the curriculum is focused on the progression of key content, concepts and misconceptions through KS3 (in the right order) that are designed to accelerate progress within a progressive and purposeful 3-19 Curriculum? 

What if it is broad, balanced, conceptually stretching, relevant and contextually useful… and built on high expectations of what children should be capable of?

“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

What if it is designed to develop a sense of awe and wonder that secures a joy for learning; supporting children to do more than they thought possible. Boldly opening minds to hitherto uncharted knowledge and experiences? What if it empowers children to make well-informed decisions through life, with built-in entitlement for all by age 3-19?

What if the curriculum is our opportunity to inspire children to be successful individuals, historians, mathematicians, geographers, musicians, authors, artist, sportspeople, scientists, writers, innovators, dreamers, magicians, mothers, fathers, citizens?

What if we developed an approach that used well defined and detailed Age Related Expectations (AREs), for Year 7 and Year 8, across each subject that secured and deepened learning; bringing the curriculum to life? What if the Age Related Expectations are organised like this… (starting with a justification of why the subject exists?)


What if these are written by groups of CLF Curriculum Curators across the Trust? Those Curators of the Curriculum entrusted to evolve the curriculum for our children?

What if instead of levels or grades we were only interested in children working towards Age Related Expectations (following the primary model), achieving the Age Related Expectations and importantly being given the freedom to deepen their understanding to seek meaning for themselves so that they better understand their place in the world? We might describe a child’s attainment as.. (known as DOYA)

  • Deepening (D): child has reached the year group expectation and is now taking this deeper into more abstract work – following their passion within a broad curriculum that inspires the full range of attainment and interest.
  • On track (O) / Working At current age related expectation. The child is working at the age related expectation for their Year.
  • Yet to be on track (Y): the child shows some working at age related expectations, but is not yet on track to achieve them.
  • At an earlier stage (A) in their learning journey. The child is short of the age related expectation, typically around a year behind.

What if these Age Related Expectations were built into an aligned curriculum and assessment system that supported children (and teachers, and parents) to know what they can and cannot do/understand? What if these are the key questions?… and the three key elements: Age Related Expectations, Curriculum and assessment?


What if the transparency and publication of the Age Related Expectations gives ownership of learning to children and their families so that children are supported to keep-up, catch-up and deepen?

What if this is purposefully a knowledge-rich curriculum rather than a knowledge-based curriculum? What if there is a medium term curriculum plan in each subject across the Trust that identifies, quarterly, the key areas of age related expectations to be considered? What if this significantly enhances collaboration and focuses Networks across the Trust on planning and pedagogy?

What if the aligned Age Related Expectations, curriculum and assessment empowers teachers to collaborate across the Trust to focus on pedagogy and planning that secures and accelerates learning and progress to meet the needs of all children?

What if the curriculum provides the platform for teachers to teach, children to learn and to spread ideas (pedagogy and planning) that work?…

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” (Seth Godin)

What if we remain fully aware that there are distinct and important differences between the Planned Curriculum, the En-acted Curriculum and the Learnt Curriculum? What if we systematically evaluated the effectiveness of the learnt curriculum to inform teaching, pedagogy and learning episodes within the KS3 curriculum?

What if this is the purpose of Multi Academy Trusts? …to provide an aligned platform of curriculum and assessment so that experts are empowered to play with their pedagogy and planning to follow the learning and inspire children to achieve more than they believed was possible?


What if the content of the curriculum is progressive and is based on consolidating and revisiting content over time to secure changes in long term memory and progress over time? What if this shows how topics are taught, tested and re-taught over time; where gaps in the learnt curriculum are revisited in re-teaching and future testing?…


What if the curriculum seeks depth of study rather than breadth to build understanding and to seek meaning; stretching and challenging children to think? stock-footage-deep-end-deep-end-of-the-pool-a-good-visual-metaphor-to-show-madness-for

What if The Age Related Expectations and exemplars are widely published to support the child, parent, teacher, leader and other staff to understand the expected standards and the content of the curriculum; enabling wider ownership of the curriculum? What if exemplars of At an Earlier Stage, Yet to be On Track, On Track and Deepening (DOYA) are used across all subjects to raise the bar and exemplify the the Age Related Expectations? What if these are used for moderation and professional development to consider pedagogy, inform planning and becoming experts at supporting students to gain understanding and seek meaning in their learning… securing progress?

What if the values, assessment cycle, Age Related Expectations and written exemplars for every subject in Year 7 and 8 are put together in one document to form the CLF KS3 Age Related Expectations syllabus?

What if there are two key areas of assessment:

  • Shared on-line Multi-choice Quizzes (MCQs) assessments four times a year to assess knowledge/skills acquisition and elements of application and understanding. What if this provides immediate feedback to understand gaps in learning, to support planning and re-teaching? What if this reveals the level of knowledge acquisition and application across 1000 students; providing student, class, department, cohort and academy comparisons to support improvement and trigger discussion on the effectiveness of teaching, planning and pedagogy? (so that teachers can follow the learning?)
  • Teacher assessment of attainment that uses standardised exemplar material to support teachers to make an assessment of a child’s attainment against DOYA. What if we assess across the breadth of what children can do in any one subject to judge how far a child will achieve Age Related Expectations by the end of the year? What if this includes practicals, extended writing, presentation, oracy, performance, short assessments, long assessments etc. … to provide a rounded view of attainment based on DOYA, against the subject’s AREs? What if work scrutiny and student voice support moderation of the attainment of children across academies and the Trust? What if progress is seen in maintaining and improving a child’s DOYA and in the work (broadest sense) that a child is able to produce over time? (What if teacher assessment of DOYA is linked to broad standardised scores 100, 103, 105, 107, 110 etc. so that progress from a starting point can be measured?)

What if this is how the assessment within the KS3 curriculum works?


What if we could plot the attainment of over 1000 students (a benefit afforded by being part of a Multi Academy Trust)? What if this created a unique opportunity to moderate and standardise performance against a significant sample of children in each year, in each subject across all classes and groups? What if this was a significant nudge that raised standards at KS3?


What if the shared AREs, curriculum and assessment cycle empowers and frees teachers to plan to meet need, follow the learning and deploy pedagogy that supports all children to feel and be successful? What if approaches to pedagogy and planning are based on how we learn? so that we:

  • Explicitly teach children to achieve the age related expectations. So that we secure the knowledge and skills through application that are the foundation for building understanding and seeking meaning – in line with how we learn and cognitive science…
    • Modelling that sought to build from knowledge/skills to understanding to seek meaning.
    • Questioning that prompted and provoked application and understanding to articulate meaning – deeply exploring concepts and mis-concepts and seeking to support children to explore and explain their developing schema.
    • Planning for children to experience desirable difficulty as they deepen and grapple with the curriculum. Thinking different and deeper for presently high attaining children.
    • Using explanation (in a variety of ways) to support connections and tell stories that allow children to accommodate greater understanding in their schema so that they better understand their place in the world.
    • Tell stories to support (with emotion) to support changes in a child’s long term memory, so that they secure progress. (tapping emotion and feelings secures understanding by anchoring connection across different areas of the brain)
    • Revisit and interleave so that children build myelin and strengthen connections to semi-permanence in the long term memory.
    • Specificity of feedback for impact so that children are more precisely supported to make connections and learn in real time, whilst they are is cognitive conflict. Emphasising live feedback and adapting teaching during learning episodes.
    • On-going teacher assessment followed the learning of children; emphasising medium term planning and aims.

What if there is also an emphasis on the development of reading (widely and often), oracy as well as the quality of writing?

Maybe then we would have a KS3 curriculum that…

…builds a sense of awe and wonder and a joy for learning up from KS2 that inspires children to be individuals, historians, mathematicians, geographers, musicians, authors, artist, sportspeople, scientists, writers, innovators, dreamers, magicians, mothers, fathers, responsible citizens… a curriculum that empowers and frees teachers to plan to meet need, follow the learning and deploy pedagogy that supports all children to feel and be successful… a curriculum developed and evolved by experts across the whole Trust and assessment that is both formative and summative so that we raise standards and accelerate progress as part of a progressive 3 to 19 curriculum.

Dan Nicholls | June 2018

Director of Education | Cabot Learning Federation

2 thoughts on “Key Stage 3 Curriculum 2.0 (CLF)

  1. Pingback: Teaching and Learning Bulletin – Issue 19 | Buckinghamshire Learning Trust

  2. Pingback: CLF Teaching Framework | empowering teachers to teach | Dan Nicholls

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