Developing a Key Stage Plan and Schemes of Work

This article explores issues relating to developing a scheme of Work to
cover the whole of Key Stage 3.  It was inspired by

thread</a> on the schoolhistory teachers forum.  For issues
relating to
developing a scheme of Work for a specific study unit, see the book
pages on particular schemes of work


For many young people, the three years they spend studying history at
Key Stage 3 is the only time they will be taught this as a discreet
subject, often by a specialist teacher. The question of what should be
taught during this period is a point of some heated discussion. The
debates lit in the 1980’s by the New Right’s attack
on ‘New History’ which led to the National
Curriculum are still smoldering and flame up again in the media as
another figure comes forward to complain that too few children know the
date of the Battle of Trafalgar. (Phillips, 2002 p15-31) The original
National Curriculum orders were very prescriptive with regard to
content, but in their present form, actually give History departments
both flexibility and freedom when it comes to planning what pupils will
study at Key Stage 3. However, with this freedom comes the reopening of
the questions about what pupils should be covering. This article looks
at what ideas and principles should underpin a scheme of work at Key
Stage 3, and offers a skills-led rationale for making that choice. It
also offers some suggestions on how departments could go about
planning, implementing and evaluating their own.

Starting Principles

History is massive. Far too huge to even contemplate trying to cover
‘everything’ in 3 years, so departments need some
principles by which they can both select what to cover, and to assess
how well they are doing.
The following are series of principles that could be adopted, to
a scheme of work.

  • The scheme of work should be planned and viewed as a three
    experience, rather than three, one year experiences (even if the
    teacher changes from time to time). This allows the planning of better
    progression both in skills and in coverage and increases the likelihood
    of us being able to paint a coherent picture of the past.
  • A
    ‘Backwards Planning’ model should be used
    – start by asking where we want students to be at the end of
    the Key Stage 4 or 5. What skills are needed and how can they be
    developed at Kay Stage 3
  • As well as thought to what should be covered, departments
    should also
    give thought to not teaching certain things that may need to be
    unlearned at Key Stage 4. For example, the terms
    ‘bias’, ‘primary’ and
    ‘secondary’ are not currently used in any GCSE
    papers in the UK. Yet these terms, that can lead to over simplified
    thinking of quite difficult concepts, are often still taught at Key
    Stage 3.
  • Key Stage 3 should offer a complete history experience that
    allows those pupils who don’t opt to continue the subject to have
    developed both a clearer picture of the past in relation to the world
    around them, and an awareness of the skills that will allow them to
    continue enjoying history in a non-academic environment, post 14.
  • There should be a model of progression underpinning the
    scheme. This
    should not be based on the National Curriculum levels and descriptors,
    which were never designed for this task. Rather, a
    ‘spiral’ progression model should be developed
    which allows pupils to visit and revisit concepts (both substantive
    historical and second-order historical) and skills over the three year
    period, at increasing levels of complexity.
  • Units should allow pupils
    at a range of abilities to access the work, and develop their skills.
    This differentiation should not just relate to pupils literacy levels,
    but the nature of their current ideas about the historical skill they
    are using. (Lee and Ashby, 2000)
    In addition to these principles, consideration should be given to the
    expertise and interests of staff and, if possible, what topics pupils
    have already come into contact with at Key Stage 2.

National Curriculum

The requirements of the National Curriculum need to be addressed in the
planning of a Key Stage 3 scheme of work. However the Programmer of
study simply states that pupils should be taught the 5 units and 1
theme. It does not say that pupils cannot be taught additional topics,
nor does it specify how long schools are required to spend on each
unit. Many schools have taken the opportunity provided by the
requirement to teach an historical theme to look outside the restraints
of the five units, the Roman Empire being a common unit, other schools
choosing to look in year 8 at the Aztecs. The Level Descriptors
provided by the National Curriculum were not designed a model of
progression, to be used to track pupils progress, nor to do they
function very well in that role. Indeed, the QCA’s current
advice is that ‘Level Descriptions are not designed to be
used to “level” individual pieces of
work’ (QCA, 2006)They were simply designed to provide a
‘best fit’ at the end of Key Stage. As such,
alternative progression routes should be found through each identified
skill (see below). Some schools use National Curriculum levels to
report progress to parents over the course of the key stage. Where this
does happen, (Harrison, 2004) has shown that it is possible to
mark schemes based on more accurate progression models, and link these
back to a National Curriculum level afterwards.

Planning a scheme of work

Given our starting principles it makes sense not to start with the
question ‘what topics do we want to cover’ but
instead to devise a framework on which the content can later be hung.
This framework should cover all three years of the Key Stage and set
out which skills are going to underpin the scheme. The framework should
be based around a series of key historical skills which will be
developed over the Key Stage through a number of topics (see below).
These focus skills should be used to frame enquiry Key Questions, and
to assess the unit at the end. The mark scheme for each assessment
should relate specifically to the skill being developed, and provide
clear instruction to the pupil of how they can develop their work next
time this type of enquiry comes up. When this skill is revisited,
explicit links should be made back to the previous study, and pupils
should have an opportunity to review the work they did then, and the
targets that were set.

As well as these focus skills, which will set the tone for specific
units within the scheme of work, the following other skills should be
planned for, to ensure a balanced coverage across the Key Stage, and a
chance to develop these skills in a similar way to the Historical

  • Group and Independent working skills
  • Research and Thinking Skills
  • Writing and Drafting Skills
  • Self Evaluation nd Motivation Skills
  • Any Historical Skills that are not used as Focus Skills
    (see below)

Assessments units should be planned to ensure a variety of assessment
methods, including extended writing, powerpoint or webpage design,
radio documentaries, drama, production of digital video and
presentations. Time should be built into the scheme of work for
debriefing, and evaluation of work, and the development of improvement
plans. These ideas underpin the concept of Assessment for Learning, and
as such should be planned for from the beginning, rather than bolted on
as an afterthought.

Any scheme of work should also look to ensure that it is
covering Black
and Asian
, Women’s History, Local History and any issues that
are of particular
interest to the pupils that make up the school cohort. In Wales,
Curriculum Cymraeg should be added to this list. However all of these
should be embedded across the curriculum rather than have occasional
lessons dedicated to them. A final consideration, either before content
is added to the framework, or in parallel with it, is the issue of
Themes. One of the largest complaints about History as currently taught
in schools is that it provides pupils with ‘chunks’
of history that may not be connected together in any meaningful way.
Without these connections, pupils find it hard to see how historical
narratives can be created, and may well leave the course without a
particularly coherent picture of the past. One solution to this is to
provide pupils with a thematic approach to History at Key Stage 3. This
is likely to be the major change in the next Key Stage 3 history
curriculum and is discussed in more detail below.

Historical Skills – Focus Skills

The structure of a scheme of work for the whole of Key Stage 3 should
be developed from a menu of
historical skills that pupils will use and develop. Across the Key
Stage assessment units should be directed at specific historical
skills, with mark schemes that reflect models of progression in that
specific skill. These should be revisited when that skill is next the
focus of a unit. One way is to do this is to have standardized ‘Key
Assessments’ across the department which could remain with the pupils
even if they move teachers between years. Many schools are adopting a
policy in which these Key Assessments become the focus for Assessment
for Learning style marking. Between three and six key assessments seems
the norm, with some of these being peer assessed.

The National Curriculum gives 16 specific skills, grouped into five
areas. However, as discussed above, the National Curriculum was never
designed to provide a model for progression. As well as the
‘Levels’ not providing a particularly helping
progression model, it can also be argued the skill list is not all that
helpful in framing a scheme of work. 16 skills makes it very hard to
make each the focus of a unit, with opportunity to revisits that skill.
The results include include unreasonable marking burdens on teachers,
and a scheme that tried to cover too much rather than given opportunity
for greater depth of understanding. It’s worth noting that there is no
requirement to report on each area and sub area, even at the end of
year 9, only to report a ‘best fit’ level across the descriptors.

Instead of those 16 skills, the following five are suggested as the
focus skills around which a scheme of work could be framed:

  • Understanding
    and Using Sources
    – Evaluating a
    ranges of sources in the context of an historical enquiry, including
    Contemporary, Historiographical, Pictoral and
    ‘Heritage’ sources;
  • Understanding
    how and why Interpretations have been constructed

    – These should focus on questions that address why X was
    presented in this way, at this time, as opposed to ‘was
    Cromwell evil or not’ – as Mastin and Wallace
    (2006) point out, the latter is an Historical enquiry rather than a
    study of interpretations;
  • Change and
    – Including an understanding of the
    mechanics of chronology and identification of ‘ripples and
    tides’ and ‘turning points’
  • Causation
    – Including studies of events and actions,
    and providing pupils with the mechanism to understand the differences
    between them; and
  • Significance
    – Making an assessment of how significant
    a person or event was.

There is some argument for the existence of two others. The first
is Enquiry
which would look at how well pupils could ask and
answer their own questions within an historical context. Best practice
suggests that all historical study should be enquiry based, led by a
Key Question, whether it is a focus skill in its own right is a matter
of some debate. The second is 
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would involves
pupils showing clear understanding of what was unique (or not) about a
specific historical period, or what it would have been like to live at
that time. Both clearly underpin all the work that will go on, there
are arguments for and against having them as the focus of specific
units. Each unit should be the focus of at least one study per year and
each year should include a study for each skill. Some good examples can
be found in recent editions of Teaching History, and on the Teachers
. Others will be added here in the near future.

Models of Progression – How to ‘get
better’ at History

One issue that would also need to be resolved is the thorny question of
what is it to ‘get better’ at a particular skill in history. Lee and
Shemilt (2003) do an excellent job of pointing out that the level
descriptors found in the National Curriculum are not for this purpose,
and suggest other, research-based models of progression.
Given one of the underlying principles of Assessment for Learning is
that pupils need feedback on how to improve, teachers need models of
progression to guide pupils on how to improve.
Many teachers have
adopted models of progression based in part on the National Curriculum
and in part on Blooms Taxonomy. There are various examples of this
hosted at
However, the work done by Project Chata (Lee and Ashby, 2000) suggests
that these do not
sufficiently explain the processes by which pupils develop their
historical understanding. Far from being a ladder that pupils can
climb, their research suggests that pupils develop a series of
about what history is, with each new stage completely replacing the
previous one. While the authors accept much work still has to be done
to accurately map changes in pupil understanding of History, the
articles they have published so far providing a starting point for
those people trying to present a more accurate model of progression.
Whatever model is used to track pupils progress in History, and to
provide them with development advice, one fundamental principle should
be that pupils return to specific skills in a different historical
context. This may well be from year to year, and so thought should be
given to how targets for development from the previous piece of work in
a particular skill are revisited before that skill becomes the focus of
another unit of work.

Providing a Thematic Approach

As discussed above, a key area of development of history teaching at
the moment is (re)introducing a thematic approach which allows pupils
to develop a more coherent account of the topics they study at Key
Stage 3. There is a lot of evidence that the revised National
Curriculum will be more explicit about the idea of themes. However,
even without it, there are many people (including Ian Dawson, Dale
Banham and Chris Culpin) who make a convincing case for using themes to
better draw out the ‘stories’ of history and move beyond the
disconnected units that can easily occur at KS3. In
thread, Chris Culpin makes the case for considering the
themes at KS3:

  • Who rules?
  • Ordinary lives/ human rights;
  • Empire;
  • War &

Usually these themes would be embedded in units looking at a
particular historical period. However, you could also use these theme
as the basis for (brief) units in their own right, especially at the
end of years and Key Stage. Some ideas can be found at

– in the
‘short and simple’ part of the ‘resources’ section.


Having thought about skills and themes, specific units of study can be
added to the framework to create the scheme of work. There is a huge
amount of freedom to study topics/areas and issues that re of interest
both to staff and pupils. Ideas for units of work can be found at the
QCA website, and many schools are making the units in their schemes of
work available via the Internet. In addition to the larger units that
focus on specific skills and key questions, a series of single lesson
enquiries can be built in to provide for added flexibility.

and Evaluation cycle

The following cycle could be the basis of a strategy for planning and

  1. Dept discusses (1) topics (2) skills that are important.
  2. Individuals draw up a list of (1) and (2) – HOD compiles
  3. Dept discusses which areas of content (1) best fit with
    which areas
    of skills (2)
  4. discussions are recorded by HOD on a matrix which gives us
    a rough
    and ready cross ks scheme of work
  5. HOD checks scheme of work, making sure there’s an even
    spread of
    skills across the years.

At the end of the academic year, staff provide feedback on areas that
worked well and areas that would benefit from revision. In addition
specific units can be replaced with new topics that focus on the same
skill to provide a variety of content.


Burnham, S and Brow G (2004) ‘Assessment without Level
Descriptions’, teaching history June (115), 5-13

Harrison, S (2004) Rigorous, meaningful and robust: practical ways
forward for assessment. teaching history June (115), 26-29

Lee, P and Ashby, R. (2000) ‘Progression in Historical
Understanding among Students Ages 7-14’ In Stearns, P. et al.
eds. Knowing, teaching and Learning history: National and International
Perspectives New York: New York University Press
Lee,P and Shemilt, D
(2003) ‘A Scaffold not a cage; progression and progression
models in history’ teaching history (113), 13-23

Mastin, S. and Wallace, P. (2006), ‘Why
don’t’ the Chinese play cricket?’ in
teaching history March (122), 6-14

Phillips, R. (2002) Reflective teaching of history London: Continuum
QCA, 2004. Innovating with history [online]. Available from:
[] [12/06/06]


showing National Curriculum Levels matched with Bloom’s Taxonomy
from””>Doug Belshaw’s teaching blog

One thought on “Developing a Key Stage Plan and Schemes of Work

  1. We had a meeting that followed many of the paths outlined by Dave. It is good to know that we are on the right track!

    Nick Dennis

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