The current curriculum design for English has been created to build students’ retention of knowledge and skills for their final GCSEs. It spirals backwards to build on prior knowledge and skills to both allow them to study a good breadth of Literature and build on their cultural capital.
To exemplify this, Y7 are exposed to the history of the Victorian child via extracts from Dickens and Bronte novels, poetry by William Blake and non-fiction accounts of the Workhouse/Poor Law to allow them to engage fully with their GCSE set text A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and the social messages therein. We guide our students to not only read, examine and analyse texts thoroughly, but also to read critically to prepare them for a future where they will need to weigh up the legitimacy of the written word by exploring writer’s perspectives.
We also guide students through many literacy skills including learning to apply a variation of sentence structures to craft their writing for effect. We consider literacy in every lesson allowing students time to proof-read, edit and re-draft elements of their extended writing; this builds resilience in our students as they further their skills in writing for various purposes. Another key area of literacy that we focus on is vocabulary development where we ask students to ‘up-level’ their written expressions by considering more specific and precise word choices. New vocabulary is also embedded into our Schemes of Learning so students use it naturally with the topic they are learning.
At KS3 our focus is broken into yearly themes. For Y7, this is titled ‘The Evolution of English Language’; Y8 study ‘The Dark side of English Literature’ and Y9 focus on ‘The Struggle for Identity’. In each case, we offer a range of reading, writing and spoken language opportunities. We aim for challenging texts which broaden students’ ideas of the world and afford them opportunities to practise important English skills. For Y9, we begin preparing students for the skills they will need to be ready for their exams. This means that we begin using GCSE style assessments to familiarise them with the type of responses they will need to produce later on. To support our students become more self-aware, we share the exam criteria used to make judgements so they can make progress more independently.
For Y7 and Y8 students we also run a library programme where reading, using the library, quizzing and writing reviews on books is encouraged. Each student is also tested for their reading age three times a year to enable us to track student progress in their reading skills. The library is a busy place with small groups of students visiting to be mentored in their reading by our librarian on a regular basis.
At KS4, we begin the GCSE modules for both Literature and Language. We move between the two GCSEs in Y10 to Y11 finishing both courses by Christmas of Y11. This allows us time during lessons to revise set texts and practise exam-style questions in the run-up to the final examinations.
The set texts we currently study for Literature are:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
An anthology of poetry from AQA
GCSE Language does not require set texts because unseen extracts are used in both examinations. We therefore provide similar material for students to practise with for the fiction, non-fiction, 18th Century, 19th Century and 20th Century texts.
Homework and Independent Study
Y7-9 receive weekly tasks to complete in the form of a Home-Learning menu. We request creativity and ‘pride in presentation’ for these. Tasks range in challenge and we often direct students towards something that they haven’t tried before.
Y10-11 students complete a more rigid programme of work including producing revision aids and practising GCSE skills to further the learning completed in lessons. We also break-down our knowledge organisers (a bank of knowledge including quotations, contextual information and key terminology) for students to learn and be quizzed on each week to support knowledge retention.
Teachers assess informally each lesson with questioning, recall and spot-checking student’s work to ensure that the depth of understanding had been attained. We also more formally mark five books per lesson; these are rotated so that each student is held to account for the quality of work they produce.
At KS3 we formally assess students each half term for either writing or reading skills in connection to the unit of work they have studied. We build-up to the assessment to allow students the opportunity to synthesise their learning effectively. The assessment might be in the form of a written argument, an essay about how a writer has used language to present a character or a written comparison of two poems.
At KS4 we often use GCSE past-paper questions to test their ability within the exam format. We assess in exam-style conditions and these become timed assessments in Y11 to emulate more realistic conditions.
After any formal assessment, work is marked using assessment criteria and then students are given opportunities to improve their work using teacher-assigned targets to guide them. We see students realise literacy errors, up-level a skill, complete additional paragraphs and amend misconceptions through this process.
For both KS3 and KS4, we have also developed knowledge assessments to support the learning of knowledge organisers. These are quick to complete and mark in class so that students can discover areas of weakness in their knowledge before completing their formal written skills assessment.