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Reverting from a two-year KS3 geography curricula to a three-year kS3 geography curricula

In this article I explain the reasoning and processes behind the transition from a two-year key Stage 3 curriculum to a three-year key Stage 3 curriculum. The big decision, to revert back to three-year key Stage 3, was made at a whole school level following consultation with various stakeholders. It was then left down to departments to reshape their curricula to represent the spirit of the change. This meant providing Key Stage three learning for all students right up until their final day in Year 9, rather than embarking on GCSE study, whether in full or in an abridged format. Below I identify the reasons driving the present change, the core principles underpinning the new Key Stage 3 curriculum, the process behind the change and an overview of the merits and possible development areas of our new curriculum model.

The driving force behind the change

It was felt that following the severe disruption of Covid-19 on a two year-long Key Stage 3 education during the 2020 -21 academic year that Year 8 students would need time to reacclimatise to learning in the classroom. Therefore, they would benefit from being welcomed back to a supportive Key Stage 3 environment, where staff can nurture and enthuse a love of learning once more. Moreover, Key Stage 3 lends itself to a year of risk taking, learning and discovery that fully prepares students for their GCSE course and gives them the confidence and knowledge to make those big life defining choices. It also gives staff the time to monitor the students and the impacts of lockdown on their learning with a view to adapting the Key Stage 4 curriculum that moves beyond just traditional GCSEs to being tailored directly to student interest and need. For example, some students may prefer to study Geology GCSE instead of Geography GCSE and others may benefit from entry level study. Thus, improving the curriculum diet and creating a focused two-year GCSE/Level2 curriculum, fulfilling student needs and in turn improving engagement and passion for learning.

Core guiding principles for key stage 3 curriculum development

Firstly, it was important to approach the task of redeveloping the Key Stage 3 curriculum with the right outlook, from the beginning it was viewed by the entire geography staff team as an exciting opportunity. I then provided the team with my vision for the curriculum, which is as follows:

‘Geography plays an incredibly important role in 21st century education, in that it provides students with much of the propositional and procedural knowledge they need to become successful local and global citizens. Therefore, it is imperative for the Key Stage 3 curriculum to be both relatable and expansive with a clear underpinning in the core geographical and geopolitical focuses of the day.’

With the above in mind the geography team set about redesigning the Key Stage 3 curriculum with the following parameters:

  • A long-term sustainable curriculum with clear links to both GCSE and A level.

  • A curriculum that combines an appropriate mix of both propositional and procedural knowledge.

  • A curriculum that meets the needs of the Geography Secondary National Curriculum.

  • A curriculum that prepares students for their life outside school and thus includes elements of literacy and numeracy that prepares them for further study and the local labour market.

  • A curriculum that can be produced in the limited time frame available (One half term).

The process

The initial development process started with a departmental discussion about what skills and knowledge a Key Stage 5 geographer should possess when they leave school. Thus, moving beyond grades as a binary measure of success and failure, towards a more person-focused holistic approach. This group discussion activity designed to produce ideas and problem solve provided us with the end point we knew our curriculum needed to reach. Next we focused on the local labour market, which showed an above national average figure for those employed in high skilled professional occupations within the Reading area. This led us to emphasising the importance of literacy (speaking and listening) and real-world numeracy in our curriculum. Then because the focus was largely Key Stage 3 development, we audited the current two-year curriculum against the Geography Secondary National Curriculum to identify any missing elements.

The above findings provided an essential starting point for the finer development of curriculum topics and at the same time provided evidence that the current two-year key stage 3 curriculum was largely effective. Therefore, with the aforementioned in mind and time constraints considered, it was decided that the Year 7 and 8 curriculum plans should remain largely unaltered. Only minor changes have been made, to improve the relevance of topics and enhance links with GCSE and A level topics.

So, with the fundamentals in place, it was time for the fun! Picking and order the new Year 9 topics. This process was done via email consultation, due to covid restrictions, and staff room discussions before being finalised during a department meeting. Now with everything in place it was a case of deciding how the revised curriculum should be presented.

The key stage 3 curriculum model and the reasons behind it

Already in place were traditional long-term plans where each unit of work was outlined in a column on a table. It was felt that although this format is useful for outlining detail such as assessment points and careers opportunities it was not a useful document for displaying how the Key Stage 3 curriculum fits into and links together with the wider geography curriculum. Therefore, as a department we began researching geography curriculum maps and curriculum journeys to try and find a more suitable holistic presentation method. As part of this research stage, several members of the department also read ‘Powerful Geography – A curriculum with purpose in practice’ Mark Enser 2021.

Eventually it was decided that a curriculum journey map was too linear to reflect the complex interrelationships that exist between geography knowledge, concepts and understanding. Therefore, it was decided that any curriculum model ought to be circular to display the dynamism and intertwined nature of geography as a subject. This new approach to displaying the curriculum was partly inspired by Enser’s idea of the tapestry model, which portrays geography as a unified whole rather silos of discreet knowledge (Enser, 2021). The new model was developed, as shown below, and named the ‘Ripple Curriculum.’ The fundamental idea behind the ripple is that a Year 7 student starts in the middle with a solid selection of geographical topics, and these disseminate throughout the secondary geographical experience. This is similar to a ripple in a lake that starts with a well formed and structured centre and then dissipates in many directions at different speeds and strengths. This concept is reflected and explained further in the annotations below.

At first glance the strengths of the ripple model could go unnoticed. However, the power of the model lies not only in how it displays the curriculum goals in a visual way but how it shifts the focus away from disparate silos of knowledge to a web of interconnected flows of knowledge. This was evident when the model was used in a department meeting to map links and connections between units and key stages. The below diagram shows the result of this discussion laid over an earlier prototype of the ripple curriculum.

Finally, we paired the curriculum model with our department 3i’s document (Intent, Implementation and Impacts) to provide a comprehensive summary of the geography curriculum. Please see attached for an example of the Ripple Curriculum model and a summary of the 3i’s.

Future developments

As a department we would like to explore the potential of infographics to better convey the ripple effect of our curriculum. Furthermore, we would love to hear from other educationalists who feel this is a way you would like to display your curriculum and is an area of curriculum innovation you are thinking about.

David Tomala and Joe Bateman, The Geography Department – Bulmershe School, Reading