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National Curriculum

English key stage 3 - Programme of study

Statutory content

Programme of study for key stage 3

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The programme of learning is made up of:

Importance of English key stage 3

English is vital for communicating with others in school and in the wider world, and is fundamental to learning in all curriculum subjects. In studying English, pupils develop skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing that they will need to participate in society and employment. Pupils learn to express themselves creatively and imaginatively and to communicate with others confidently and effectively.

Literature in English is rich and influential. It reflects the experiences of people from many countries and times and contributes to our sense of cultural identity. Pupils learn to become enthusiastic and critical readers of stories, poetry and drama as well as non-fiction and media texts, gaining access to the pleasure and world of knowledge that reading offers. Looking at the patterns, structures, origins and conventions of English helps pupils understand how language works. Using this understanding, pupils can choose and adapt what they say and write in different situations, as well as appreciate and interpret the choices made by other writers and speakers.

Key concepts of English key stage 3

There are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of English. Pupils need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding. These essential concepts promote pupils’ progress in speaking and listening, reading and writing.

1.1 Competence

  1. Being clear, coherent and accurate in spoken and written communication.

  2. Reading and understanding a range of texts, and responding appropriately.

  3. Demonstrating a secure understanding of the conventions of written language, including grammar, spelling and punctuation.

  4. Being adaptable in a widening range of familiar and unfamiliar contexts within the classroom and beyond.

  5. Making informed choices about effective ways to communicate formally and informally.

1.2 Creativity

  1. Making fresh connections between ideas, experiences, texts and words, drawing on a rich experience of language and literature.

  2. Using inventive approaches to making meaning, taking risks, playing with language and using it to create new effects.

  3. Using imagination to convey themes, ideas and arguments, solve problems, and create settings, moods and characters.

  4. Using creative approaches to answering questions, solving problems and developing ideas.

1.3 Cultural understanding

  1. Gaining a sense of the English literary heritage and engaging with important texts in it.

  2. Exploring how ideas, experiences and values are portrayed differently in texts from a range of cultures and traditions.

  3. Understanding how English varies locally and globally, and how these variations relate to identity and cultural diversity.

1.4 Critical understanding

  1. Engaging with ideas and texts, understanding and responding to the main issues.

  2. Assessing the validity and significance of information and ideas from different sources.

  3. Exploring others’ ideas and developing their own.

  4. Analysing and evaluating spoken and written language to appreciate how meaning is shaped.

Explanatory text

Competence: Competence in reading, writing and speaking and listening enables pupils to be successful and engage with the world beyond the classroom. They are able to communicate effectively and function in a wide range of situations and contexts. Competence includes being able to speak or write correctly, read or listen reliably and accurately and, beyond this, being able to adapt to the demands of work or study and be successful.

Creativity: Pupils show creativity when they make unexpected connections, use striking and original phrases or images, approach tasks from a variety of starting points, or change forms to surprise and engage the reader. Creativity can be encouraged by providing purposeful opportunities for pupils to experiment, build on ideas or follow their own interests. Creativity in English extends beyond narrative and poetry to other forms and uses of language. It is essential in allowing pupils to progress to higher levels of understanding and become independent.

Cultural understanding: Through English, pupils learn about the great traditions of English literature and about how modern writers see the world today. Through the study of language and literature, pupils compare  texts from different cultures and traditions. They develop understanding of continuity and contrast, and gain an appreciation of the linguistic heritages that contribute to the richness of spoken and written language. Comparing texts helps pupils to explore ideas of cultural excellence and allows them to engage with new ways in which culture develops. This also enables them to explore the culture of their society, the groups in which they participate and questions of local and national identity, for example by exploring regional and global variations in the way English is spoken.

Critical understanding: Pupils develop critical understanding when they examine uses of language and forms of media and communication, including literary texts, information texts and the spoken word. Developing critical skills allows pupils to challenge ideas, interpretations and assumptions on the grounds of logic, evidence or argument, and is essential if pupils are to form and express their own views independently.

Key processes of English key stage 3

These are the essential skills and processes in English that pupils need to learn to make progress.

2.1 Speaking and listening

Pupils should be able to:

  1. present information and points of view clearly and appropriately in different contexts, adapting talk for a range of purposes and audiences, including the more formal

  2. use a range of ways to structure and organise their speech to support their purposes and guide the listener

  3. vary vocabulary, structures and grammar to convey meaning, including speaking standard English fluently

  4. engage an audience, using a range of techniques to explore, enrich and explain their ideas

  5. listen and respond constructively to others, taking different views into account and modifying their own views in the light of what others say

  6. understand explicit and implicit meanings

  7. make different kinds of relevant contributions in groups, responding appropriately to others, proposing ideas and asking questions

  8. take different roles in organising, planning and sustaining talk in groups

  9. sift, summarise and use the most important points

  10. use different dramatic approaches to explore ideas, texts and issues

  11. use different dramatic techniques to convey action, character, atmosphere and tension

  12. explore the ways that words, actions, sound and staging combine to create dramatic moments.

2.2 Reading

Reading for meaning

Pupils should be able to:

  1. extract and interpret information, events, main points and ideas from texts

  2. infer and deduce meanings, recognising the writers’ intentions

  3. understand how meaning is constructed within sentences and across texts as a whole

  4. select and compare information from different texts

  5. assess the usefulness of texts, sift the relevant from the irrelevant and distinguish between fact and opinion

  6. recognise and discuss different interpretations of texts, justifying their own views on what they read and see, and supporting them with evidence

  7. understand how audiences and readers choose and respond to texts

  8. understand how the nature and purpose of texts influences the selection of content and its meanings

  9. understand how meaning is created through the combination of words, images and sounds in multimodal texts.

The author’s craft

Pupils should be able to understand and comment on:

  1. how texts are crafted to shape meaning and produce particular effects

  2. how writers structure and organise different texts, including non-linear and multimodal

  3. how writers’ uses of language and rhetorical, grammatical and literary features influence the reader

  4. how writers present ideas and issues to have an impact on the reader

  5. how form, layout and presentation contribute to effect

  6. how themes are explored in different texts

  7. how texts relate to the social, historical and cultural context in which they were written.

2.3 Writing


Pupils should be able to:

  1. write clearly and coherently, including an appropriate level of detail

  2. write imaginatively, creatively and thoughtfully, producing texts that interest and engage the reader

  3. generate and harness new ideas and develop them in their writing

  4. adapt style and language appropriately for a range of forms, purposes and readers

  5. maintain consistent points of view in fiction and non-fiction writing

  6. use imaginative vocabulary and varied linguistic and literary techniques to achieve particular effects

  7. structure their writing to support the purpose of the task and guide the reader

  8. use clearly demarcated paragraphs to organise meaning

  9. use complex sentences to extend, link and develop ideas

  10. vary sentence structure for interest, effect and subtleties of meaning

  11. consider what the reader needs to know and include relevant details

  12. use formal and impersonal language and concise expression

  13. develop logical arguments and cite evidence

  14. use persuasive techniques and rhetorical devices

  15. form their own view, taking into account a range of evidence and opinions

  16. present material clearly, using appropriate layout, illustrations and organisation

  17. use planning, drafting, editing, proofreading and self-evaluation to shape and craft their writing for maximum effect

  18. summarise and take notes

  19. write legibly, with fluency and, when required, speed.

Technical accuracy

Pupils should be able to:

  1. use the conventions of standard English effectively

  2. use grammar accurately in a variety of sentence types, including subject–verb agreement and correct and consistent use of tense

  3. signal sentence structure by the effective use of the full range of punctuation marks to clarify meaning

  4. spell correctly, increasing their knowledge of regular patterns of spelling, word families, roots of words and derivations, including prefixes, suffixes and inflections.

Explanatory text

Range of ways to structure and organise their speech: This includes chronologically, logically, in order of importance, by point/counterpoint or question/answer.

Vary vocabulary, structures and grammar: This could include use of technical or colloquial language where appropriate, movements between formal and informal registers for effect, modal expressions to negotiate the forcefulness and certainty of what is said (eg possibly, probably, maybe) and ways of signalling the shape and structure of talk such as signposting (eg now, so, first) and discourse markers to mark boundaries in conversation between one topic and the next (eg anyway, right, OK).

Standard English: When teaching standard English, it is helpful to bear in mind the most common non-standard usages in the UK for subject–verb agreement (they was), formation of past tense (have fell, I done), formation of negatives (I ain’t), formation of adverbs (come quick), use of demonstrative pronouns (them books), use of pronouns (me and him went) and use of prepositions (out the door).

Range of techniques: These include tone, expression, repetition, revisiting key points or ideas, asides, direct address, gesture and body language, as well as using illustrations, visual aids and images, evidence and anecdote.

Implicit meanings: This includes distinguishing tones, undertones and other signs of a speaker’s intention.

Different roles in organising, planning and sustaining talk: These include leading, introducing, chairing, mediating, recording, summarising and challenging constructively.

Different dramatic approaches: These include tableaux, hot seating, teacher in role, ‘thought tracking’ and forum theatre.

Different dramatic techniques: These could include: varying volume, tone and pace, use of pause, gesture, movement and staging, choral speaking, monologue and dramatic irony. These apply to both scripted and improvised performances.

Reading: On paper and on screen as appropriate.

Infer and deduce meanings: This includes recognising irony, allusion, connotation, understatement and exaggeration.

How meaning is constructed within sentences: This could include recognising the effect of different connectives, identifying how phrases and clauses build relevant detail and information, understanding how modal or qualifying words or phrases build shades of meaning, and understanding how the use of adverbials, prepositional phrases and non-finite clauses gives clarity and emphasis to meaning.


Multimodal texts: Multimodal texts combine two or more modes of communication (eg written, aural and visual) to create meaning. Examples include the combination of words and images in a newspaper or magazine, the combination of words, images, video clips and sound on a website or CD-ROM, or the combination of images, speech and sound in moving-image texts.

How texts are crafted: This could include: varying the length and focus of sentences to affect meaning; interweaving action/dialogue/description for effect; using impersonal constructions; withholding information; using short sentences to create tension; foreshadowing; using motifs.

How writers structure and organise different texts: This could include linking paragraphs in a variety of ways or varying paragraphs to support the purpose of the text. For non-linear and multimodal texts, it could include using links and hyperlinks or interactive content on websites or CD-ROMs, or editing and sequencing shots in moving-image texts.

Uses of language and rhetorical, grammatical and literary features: These could include using:

  • language in imaginative, original and diverse ways (eg through imagery, simile and metaphor)

  • contrast, irony, dramatic irony and emotive language

  • coordination and subordination to change emphasis and importance

  • the active and passive voice or using abstract and concrete nouns.

Present ideas and issues: This could include the use of empathy, anecdote and humour, evidence (eg statistics, quotations and examples), rhetorical questions, direct address and contrast.

Layout and presentation: This could include the use of:

  • print and web pages: titles, headings and subheadings, illustrations and pictures, font size and style, graphs, tables, diagrams and bullet points

  • moving images: sequencing, framing, speech and sound.

Writing: On paper and on screen as appropriate.

Varied linguistic and literary techniques: These include the use of imagery and figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification and symbolism), sound patterns (onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance), hyperbole, litotes, levels of formality or colloquial language.

Structure their writing: This includes using features of whole-text cohesion that clearly signal the overall direction of the text to the reader (eg opening paragraphs that introduce themes, clear links between paragraphs and closings that refer back to openings).

Use clearly demarcated paragraphs to organise meaning: This includes cohesion within and between paragraphs: constructing paragraphs to support meaning and purpose between paragraphs (eg chronologically, logically or thematically) and using a range of devices that support cohesion within paragraphs (eg pronouns, connectives, references back to text, and adverbials as sentence starters).

Vary sentence structure: This could include varying sentence lengths and subjects, using a range of sentence features to clarify or emphasise meaning (eg adverbials such as Reluctantly, he... or Five days later, it..., or complex noun or prepositional phrases), varying word order and using a range of connectives to clarify the relationships between ideas (eg although, on the other hand).

Persuasive techniques and rhetorical devices: These could include rhetorical questions, irony, repetition, lists of three, contrast, antithesis, direct address, emotive language, analogy, euphemism, innuendo, use of evidence (eg statistics, quotations and examples).

Drafting, editing, proofreading: On paper and on screen, using dictionaries, thesauruses and spellcheckers.

Spell correctly: This should include applying knowledge of spelling strategies to spell unfamiliar words, and spelling homophones (eg there/ their/they’re, of/have) and common polysyllabic words that do not conform to regular patterns.

Range and content of English key stage 3

This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

The study of English should enable pupils to apply their knowledge, skills and understanding to relevant real-world situations.

3.1 Speaking and listening

The range of speaking and listening activities should include:

  1. prepared, formal presentations and debates

  2. informal group or pair discussions

  3. individual and group improvisation and performance

  4. devising, scripting and performing plays.

The range of purposes for speaking and listening should include:

  1. describing, instructing, narrating, explaining, justifying, persuading, entertaining, hypothesising; and exploring, shaping and expressing ideas, feelings and opinions.

3.2 Reading

The texts chosen should be:

  1. of high quality, among the best of their type, that will encourage pupils to appreciate their characteristics and how, in some cases, they have influenced culture and thinking

  2. interesting and engaging, allowing pupils to explore their present situation or move beyond it to experience different times, cultures, viewpoints and situations

  3. challenging, using language imaginatively to create new meanings and effects, and encouraging pupils to try such writing for themselves.

The range of literature studied should include:

  1. stories, poetry and drama drawn from different historical times, including contemporary writers

  2. texts that enable pupils to understand the appeal and importance over time of texts from the English literary heritage. This should include works selected from the following pre-twentieth-century writers: Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake, Charlotte Brontë, Robert Burns, Geoffrey Chaucer, Kate Chopin, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Thomas Gray, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, John Masefield, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare (sonnets), Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, Alfred Lord Tennyson, HG Wells, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Wordsworth and William Wordsworth

  3. texts that enable pupils to appreciate the qualities and distinctiveness of texts  from different cultures and traditions

  4. at least one play by Shakespeare.

The range of non-fiction and non-literary texts studied should include:

  1. forms such as journalism, travel writing, essays, reportage, literary non-fiction and multimodal texts including film

  2. purposes such as to instruct, inform, explain, describe, analyse, review, discuss and persuade.

3.3 Writing

In their writing pupils should:

  1. develop ideas, themes, imagery, settings and/or characters when writing to imagine, explore and entertain

  2. analyse and evaluate subject matter, supporting views and opinions with evidence

  3. present ideas and views logically and persuasively

  4. explain or describe information and ideas relevantly and clearly.

The forms for such writing should be drawn from different kinds of:

  1. stories, poems, play scripts, autobiographies, screenplays, diaries, minutes, accounts, information leaflets, plans, summaries, brochures, advertisements, editorials, articles and letters conveying opinions, campaign literature, polemics, reviews, commentaries, articles, essays and reports.

3.4 Language structure and variation

The study of English should include, across speaking and listening, reading and writing:

  1. the principles of sentence grammar and whole-text cohesion, and the use of this knowledge in pupils’ writing

  2. variations in written standard English and how it differs from standard and non-standard spoken language

  3. the significance of standard English as the main language of public communication nationally and globally

  4. influences on spoken and written language, including the impact of technology.


Explanatory text

High quality: Both fiction and non-fiction texts selected must be rich and substantial enough to repay sustained reading and offer scope for pupils to explore and analyse their language, structure, themes and ideas.


Influenced culture and thinking: This includes texts that are widely known, referred to and quoted, and have become part of the cultural fabric of society through their language and the way in which they present ideas, themes and issues. They could be influential in terms of the impact they have had on the way we use language (eg the common use of phrases from George Orwell’s 1984 such as ‘Room 101’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘double-think’) or on our understanding of periods of history, people, places and issues (eg the influence of Charles Dickens’ work on current perceptions of Victorian society and social justice).

Explore their present situation: The choice of texts should be informed by the cultural context of the school and experiences of the pupils. It could include texts that:

  • help pupils explore their sense of identity and reflect on their own values, attitudes and assumptions about other people, times and places, either through continuity or contrast with their own experiences

  • explore common experiences in different and unfamiliar contexts (time, place and culture).

Contemporary writers: This includes texts written for young people and a wide range of recent and contemporary writing, such as historical, crime, science fiction and diaries. Pupils should be encouraged to experiment with new texts, particularly in their individual reading.

Texts appropriate for study at key stage 3 include some works by the following authors: Douglas Adams, Richard Adams, David Almond, Simon Armitage, Bernard Ashley, Jean M Auel, Malorie Blackman, Alan Bennett, Henrietta Branford, Charles Causley, Brian Clark, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Berlie Doherty, Carol Ann Duffy, Alan Garner, Alan Gibbons, Morris Gleitzman, Willis Hall, Adrian Henri, Susan Hill, Anthony Horowitz, Janni Howker, Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Laird, Joan Lingard, Roger McGough, Michelle Magorian, Jan Mark, Adrian Mitchell, Michael Morpurgo, Brian Patten, Peter Porter, Philip Pullman, Celia Rees, Philip Reeve, Michael Rosen, Willy Russell, Louis Sachar, Marcus Sedgewick, Dodie Smith, Robert Swindells and Robert Westall.

Other appropriate contemporary writers are included in the list of writers from different cultures and traditions (below).

The English literary heritage: This includes authors with an enduring appeal that transcends the period in which they were writing, and who have played a significant role in the development of literature in English. The study of texts by these authors should be based on whole texts and presented in ways that will engage pupils (eg supported by the use of film resources and drama activities). Writers from the English literary heritage writing during the twentieth century include: WH Auden, Robert Bolt, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, William Golding, Graham Greene, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, DH Lawrence, Ursula Le Guin, Jack London, George Orwell, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Siegfried Sassoon, George Bernard Shaw, RC Sherriff, Dylan Thomas, RS Thomas and John Wyndham.

The qualities and distinctiveness of texts: This includes the values and assumptions in a text, the significance of the subject matter and language, and how the text compares and contrasts with other texts studied.

From different cultures and traditions: When choosing texts from different cultures and traditions, it is important to look for authors who are so familiar with a particular culture or country that they represent it sensitively and with understanding. The texts should help pupils learn about the literature of another culture, as well as reflect on their own experiences.

Texts appropriate for study at key stage 3 include some works by the following authors: John Agard, Maya Angelou, Kwesi Brew, Anita Desai, Deborah Ellis, Athol Fugard, Jamila Gavin, Nadine Gordimer, Gaye Hicyilmaz, Beverly Naidoo, Grace Nichols, C Everard Palmer, Bali Rai, John Steinbeck, Meera Syal, Mildred D Taylor, Mark Twain, Adeline Yen Mah and Benjamin Zephaniah. The study of texts by these authors should be based on whole texts and presented in ways that will engage pupils.

At least one play by Shakespeare: The study of Shakespeare should be based on whole texts and provide an experience of the play in performance (eg through drama techniques, acting out key scenes, watching a performance in the theatre).

The principles of sentence grammar and whole-text cohesion:

These should include:

  • word classes and their grammatical functions

  • the structure of phrases and clauses and how they can be combined to make complex sentences (eg through coordination and subordination)

  • paragraph structure and how to form different paragraphs

  • the structure of whole texts, including cohesion, openings and conclusions in different types of writing (eg through the use of verb tenses and reference chains)

  • the use of appropriate grammatical terminology to reflect on the meaning and clarity of individual sentences.

Curriculum opportunities of English key stage 3

During the key stage pupils should be offered the following opportunities that are integral to their learning and enhance their engagement with the concepts, processes and content of the subject.

4.1 Speaking and listening

The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to:

  1. experiment with a range of approaches, produce different outcomes and play with language

  2. engage in specific activities that develop speaking and listening skills

  3. use speaking and listening to develop their reading and writing

  4. evaluate and respond constructively to their own and others’ performances

  5. make extended contributions, individually and in groups

  6. develop speaking and listening skills through work that makes cross-curricular links with other subjects

  7. watch live performances in the theatre wherever possible to appreciate how action, character, atmosphere, tension and themes are conveyed

  8. participate actively in drama workshops and discuss with actors, playwrights, directors and other drama professionals the impact and meaning of different ways of performing and staging drama, wherever possible

  9. speak and listen in contexts beyond the classroom.

4.2 Reading

The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to:

  1. develop independence in reading

  2. engage with whole texts for sustained periods

  3. develop reading skills through work that makes cross-curricular links with other subjects

  4. meet and talk with other readers and writers wherever possible

  5. become involved in events and activities that inspire reading

  6. discuss reading interests and preferences, and sustain individual reading for pleasure.

4.3 Writing

The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to:

  1. develop independence in writing

  2. produce extended writing to develop their ideas in depth and detail

  3. play with language and explore different ways of discovering and shaping their own meanings

  4. move beyond their current situation and take on different roles and viewpoints

  5. evaluate and respond constructively to their own and others’ writing

  6. draw on their reading and knowledge of linguistic and literary forms when composing their writing

  7. develop writing skills through work that makes cross-curricular links with other subjects

  8. work in sustained and practical ways with writers where possible to learn about the art, craft and discipline of writing

  9. write for contexts and purposes beyond the classroom.

Explanatory text

Evaluate and respond constructively: This includes self-evaluation related to success criteria, recording and reviewing performances, target-setting and formal and informal use of peer assessment.


Cross-curricular links with other subjects: These include using speaking and listening skills developed in English in other subjects (eg arguing persuasively in history) or using work developed in other subjects to provide a purposeful context for speaking and listening in English (eg a presentation explaining the outcomes of a design and technology project).

Contexts beyond the classroom: These include engaging with other schools or groups, organisations and individuals in the local community, nationally or internationally. Opportunities could include contributing to debates on local and national issues, drama performances for audiences other than pupils’ peers and conducting interviews.

Cross-curricular links with other subjects: These include using reading skills developed in English in other subjects (eg assessing the usefulness of texts and distinguishing between fact and opinion when analysing websites in ICT) or using themes and ideas from other subjects to provide a purposeful context for reading in English (eg selecting and comparing information on an issue of local importance raised in citizenship).

Meet and talk with other readers and writers: This could include author readings, visiting writers or writers in residence, interacting with writers via the internet and sharing peer reviews and recommendations (eg in library displays, on the school intranet or on the web).

Events and activities that inspire reading: These could include book groups, National Book Week, National Poetry Day, readathons, reading buddies for younger pupils, and visits to bookshops and local libraries.

Move beyond their current situation: In non-fiction writing this could include anticipating how issues might affect others and presenting views that may not be their own. In fiction writing this could include imagining and creating contexts, situations and settings outside their experiences and using empathy to help create different characters that act and react believably.

Cross-curricular links with other subjects: These include using writing skills developed in English in other subjects (eg using knowledge of common grammar rules and roots of words when writing in another language) or using work in other subjects to provide a purposeful context for writing in English (eg drawing on experiences of a landscape encountered on a geography field trip to inspire poetry).

Work in sustained and practical ways with writers: This could include participating in a series of workshops or having ongoing interactions with writers via the internet. The writers could include writers of fiction, poetry, journalism and biography. They may be experienced writers but not necessarily professionals.

Contexts and purposes beyond the classroom: These could include writing letters on issues of local/national importance to newspapers or people in authority; publishing and distributing pupils’ work in print or on the web; writing and distributing information/guidance/advice on a particular issue; or developing and distributing campaign literature relating to a local or national issue.

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