Are schools failing our brightest students?

"Inspectors reported concerns about Key Stage 3 in one in five of the routine inspections analysed, particularly in relation to the slow progress made in English and mathematics and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils."

Ofsted: Key Stage 3: the wasted years?



'No more wasted years', really?

Far too many times we jump on the popular band wagon, imitate without thinking, copy styles and means without asking why and expect the results to improve. I appreciate the notion of sharing good practice, but imitating without thinking leads to very little improvement.

In practice, what are schools doing to address some of the points raised in this report? For example, to what extent do schools make "Key Stage 3 a higher priority in all aspects of school planning, monitoring and evaluation"?

Key Stages: an artificial barrier for able students?

"Key Stage 3 is not a high priority for many secondary school leaders in timetabling, assessment and monitoring of pupils’ progress."

Ofsted: Key Stage 3: the wasted years?

Ofsted findings on the 'the wasted years' report should not have come as a surprise to school leaders. For far too long, schools have looked at KS3 as a transitional period before the 'serious' work begins, usually in year 10, and recently for many schools in Year 9. During KS3, students do not make progress expected from them and as a consequence, fall behind by the time they are at KS4. Most school leaders run around like headless chickens to close the learning gaps for year 11 underachieving students, and by that time, it's usually too late.

The terms 'KS3' and 'KS4' and its transition between the two can add to the confusion. Should the learning be separated in this manner, or should there be a continuous learning journey from the beginning till the end?


A national problem

Stretching our brightest students is a national challenge. According to Ofsted, this is because 'leaders had not embedded an ethos in which academic excellence was championed with sufficient urgency.' And 'too often, the curriculum did not ensure that work was hard enough for the most able students in Key Stage 3.'

Pathway X: it's all about expectations!

"In the most successful non-selective schools, the most able students thrive because school leaders provide a challenging curriculum and are tenacious in making sure that teaching is consistently good or better for all students. "

Ofsted

We all have confidence with skilled teachers because they are able to teach really well, ensuring students make excellent progress. But how often do school leaders make the assumption that teachers are planning and delivering a challenging curriculum? Wouldn't it be highly effective for school leaders to define such challenge and hold both teachers and students to account? Forest Gate Community School does just that. They have devised an innovative curriculum pathway called 'Pathway to excellence' or Pathway X.


Video: 'Pathway X' programme


By using Dynamic Progress Reporting (DPR), an online learning platform, challenging learning targets were identified for students in every subject.


Screenshot of pathway X key objectives


The most able students were set GCSE grade 7 to 9 skills/contents to learn from Year 7. This level of challenge was an expectation set by school leaders, and this meant teachers and students took their learning very seriously. The impact was significant. Last year, 'Pathway X' students made exceptional progress, achieving one whole grade above their peers of similar ability.


Barbara Firth, the lead inspector for NACE Challenge Award, commented “the progress of more able and talented students is meticulously tracked through the ‘Dynamic Progress Reporting' (DPR) and through regular contact with the lead practitioner. Individual needs are responded to in a timely manner to ensure that any underachievement is addressed quickly and effectively."



Despite students' starting point upon entry being significantly lower than national average, more than half of the students in the school achieved at least 3 A*-A GCSE grades in 2017, which is an outstanding achievement. With the Pathway X programme in place, over time, the school is expecting this result to improve significantly.


How is your school challenging your most able and what impact has it had?


Links

1. National Association for Able Children in Education

2. Schools not doing enough to support most able students

3. Key stage 3: the wasted years?