In the last six months I’ve had the opportunity to see lessons in all years and I’ve spoken to teachers and leaders responsible for learning from Year 3 to Year 11. From what I see, the expectations, pressure and intensity in Year 6 and Year 11 are MASSIVE compared to what happens in the other years at KS2, 3 and 4. It’s as though everyone postpones the crunch point until there is really no option but to FACE IT. YIKES! We’ve only got SIX MONTHS!!! We’ve got to leave NO STONE UNTURNED.
Meanwhile in Year 3, Year 7? We’re cool. Comparatively speaking, it’s a cruise; no pressure here.
Do I exaggerate? Not much. It is a natural enough response in the drive to maximise outcomes to really pull out all the stops near the end. But, for sure, teachers’ and students’ lives in those final years would be a hell of a lot easier if there had been a bit more intensity and drive earlier on.
What this comes down to is two things:
Clarity about expectations and standards:
There needs to be a process defining excellence for each year in our provision. Does everyone in a faculty or year team share a clear understanding of what the expected standards in terms of knowledge and skills are for each teaching group? Some of this should arise from developing a shared understanding of the role each year’s curriculum plays in building the sequence of the overall knowledge structure:
Securing standards with drive and purpose:
Once the standards have been established, then it’s much easier to push towards them with some intensity. If students in Year 3,4,5,7,8,9 and 10 are being taught with the high expectations firmly in sight that provide the platform for excellence in Year 6 and Year 11, with the same sense of purpose, then the final years can become about finesse, polish, going deeper – not a last ditch effort to cover the basics.
The challenge here is to avoid the tendency to postpone; to defer; to pass up the chain. We need to be as bothered about standards in the foundational years as we are in the end-point years… and, yes, I’m saying that generally this isn’t the case.
Some practical strategies:
Make sure you have exemplars of excellence for writing, for the level of maths questions, for the standards of presentation, for the depth of response in any subject, for the products of learning – for all year groups. Collect them, display them, refer to them, discuss them. Aim towards them and beyond.
Run vertical book looks in teams, comparing work across year groups. Are your Year 8 books in good shape? In Science as well as in English? Are your Year 4 standards of writing the platform for excellence in Year 5 and then Year 6? What does the gradient of difficulty look like in maths, art, geography? Do you ramp it up soon enough?
Engage in KS2-3 transition work and make sure every teacher of Y7 has had sight of their students’ best work from Year 6. Children are expected to do joined up writing on the lines in Year 2. KS3 teachers take note. Scan the curriculum plan and resources and ditch anything that seems soft, lame, easy, coasting, filler, unrigorous. Pitch It Up!!
Pre-plan your learning interventions. What do you do when Ishmail or Izzy fall below the expected standards – in any year group. What practical, practisable learning activities can you set them so they can improve? We spend way too much time on assessments that identity students’ weaknesses (the data machine must be fed!) relative to the time we spend constructing the activities that scaffold and build back to where they should be.
Let’s make every year really count, make them truly vital, challenging, purposeful and driven… and give ourselves the chance to relish Year 6 and Year 11 without quite so much of the stress!