A Key Stage Plan

This article was written by Dave Stacey for the wiki that used to run at this site. It was written before the National Curriculum innovations of 2008, but is uncannily accurate in the aspects of that change which it predicted.  Re-reading it for the new version of ODT I’m struck by the breadth of Dave’s thinking, the clear direction that he offers a department considering its curriculum and the room for teachers’ expertise that he leaves.

This article explores issues relating to developing a scheme of Work to cover the whole of Key Stage 3. It was inspired by a thread on the schoolhistory teachers forum. For issues relating to developing a scheme of Work for a specific study unit, see the pages on particular schemes of work Introduction

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 underpin a scheme of work.

* The scheme of work should be planned and viewed as a three year 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 Key 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 construct 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 Skills:

* Group and Independent working skills
* Research and Thinking Skills
* Writing and Drafting Skills
* Self Evaluation and 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 History, 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, Pictor3al 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 Continuity – 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 Features which 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 schoolhistory.co.uk Teachers’ Forum. 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 www.schoolshistory.org.uk.

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 paradigms 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 this thread, Chris Culpin makes the case for considering the following themes at KS3:

* Who rules?
* Ordinary lives/ human rights;
* Empire;
* War & peace.

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 www.thinkinghistory.co.uk – 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.

Planning and Evaluation cycle

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

1. Dept discusses (1) topics (2) skills that are important.
2. Individuals draw up a list of (1) and (2) – HOD compiles these
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: http://www.qca.org.uk/history/innovating/key3/assessment/index.htm

2 thoughts on “A Key Stage Plan

  1. Hey, have you tried KeyStageTwo.com? It is a ‘must’ for children studying at KeyStageTwo level, ages 7-11 !
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    Worth a look…. for children, parents, schools, teachers AND tutors!

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