Ofsted warns on poor quality Key Stage 3 teaching

10 Sep 15

The quality of education in the first three years of secondary school is a cause for concern and is letting down too many students, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

An Ofsted examination of the period, which usually covers the first three years of secondary education (years seven to nine), found the transition to secondary was too often poorly managed. Teaching often failed to build on the gains pupils have made in primary school.

Analysing more than 1,900 inspections as well as interviews with 100 school leaders, and almost 11,000 questionnaire responses from pupils, inspectors also concluded that too many school leaders treat Key Stage 3 as the poor relation of Key Stages 4 and 5, when students site GCSEs and A-levels.

As a result, the deployment of staff and resources was skewed towards the upper age ranges, with one in five inspection reports having identified Key Stage 3 as an area for improvement.

Wilshaw said the report found too many secondary schools did not give provision at Key Stage 3 the priority it deserves.

“Inspectors have found that pupils often leave primary school with good literacy and numeracy skills, confident and eager to learn, but their progress then stalls when they start secondary school,” the chief inspector added.

“In too many schools, the quality of teaching is not adequately preparing children for their next stage in education. In particular, lessons in modern foreign languages, history and geography often fail to ensure that pupils have the confidence or enthusiasm to get to grips with these important foundation subjects. It is, therefore, no surprise that there is a low take-up of these subjects at GCSE.”

He said schools needed to have a clear understanding of their pupils’ achievements in primary school to enable them to build on these from the day they start secondary school life.

“Key Stage 4 results will not improve until Key Stage 3 is given a greater priority by school leaders.”

Specific recommendations included a call for better partnerships with primary schools so that Key Stage 3 teachers can successfully maintain pupils’ progress, as well as more thorough evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of homework to ensure it helps pupils to make good progress.

Responding to the report, National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower highlighted Ofsted’s decision to scrap its previous inspection framework after admitting in January 2015 that reliability was a problem.

“Yet it is on the basis of school inspection reports drawn up under this unreliable framework, many written by the inspectors who were not retained, that Ofsted is now drawing conclusions in this provocative report," she said.

“We have a school system that holds schools accountable for what their students achieve through high stakes testing at 11, and at 16. These are the sharpest pressure points. It is no surprise that schools come under pressure to focus on Key Stage 4. Indeed, it is high time that the Department for Education and Ofsted recognise that it is their own accountability agenda which causes schools to focus on high stakes tests and league tables.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “It is vital that all pupils receive an excellent standard of education at every stage of their school career – and we will not tolerate a single day wasted.

“That is why our new Progress 8 measure will change the way that we hold secondary schools to account - by measuring the progress that all pupils, including the most able and those who have struggled, make throughout key stage 3 and 4.”

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