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National Curriculum

Planning and assessment in English


Planning across the key stage

The revision of the key stage 4 programme of study provides an opportunity to review and refresh your sequences of work. When reviewing planning across the key stage, developing new sequences of work or revising existing ones, you should consider the following.

How can I integrate the different sections of the programme of study in my planning to meet the demands of external assessment?

Specifications for GCSE draw on the programmes of study for their content and the range of skills they require to be demonstrated. By considering the assessment elements of a specification alongside the revised programmes of study, it is possible to plan a coherent course of study as new sequences of work are developed or existing ones revised.

  • Start by identifying one or more of the key concepts you want to focus on when planning to teach a sequence of work.

  • Look at which of the key processes in speaking and listening, reading and writing would give students opportunities to explore and extend their experience of that concept.

  • Select the most appropriate outcome from the specification (for example, a piece of coursework) and plan work to develop understanding of the key concept and make progress in the key processes you are focusing on.

  • Finally, build in experiences from the curriculum opportunities section that animate the teaching and learning for students. These will often engage and motivate them and help them see the relevance of what they are studying.

For example, you may feel that your students need to engage more fully in the key concept of creativity by focusing on their ability to use ‘creative approaches to answering questions, solving problems and developing ideas’.

To achieve this, you could identify the key processes in speaking and listening that would give them the chance to develop their creativity. These could include presenting 'information clearly and persuasively to others, selecting the most appropriate way to structure and organise their speech’ and ‘work purposefully in groups, negotiating and building on the contributions of others to complete tasks or reach consensus’.

The outcome would meet the requirements of GCSE specifications in terms of the opportunities to assess group discussion and presentation.

You could then select ‘build their confidence in speaking and listening in unfamiliar situations and to audiences beyond the classroom’ and ‘use their speaking and listening skills to solve problems creatively and cooperatively in groups’ as the curriculum opportunities you want the activity to provide.

This would create a frame for a sequence of lessons in which, for example, students research particular problems in their area by talking to local residents. They could work in groups to suggest creative solutions to the issues and plan and present their ideas to an invited audience. This work would provide assessment opportunities in a number of formal and informal contexts.

As you develop an activity or sequence of work such as this, you may also return to the key processes to see which others have been addressed. For example, there may be opportunities to take different roles in organising, planning and sustaining discussion. It may also be possible to draw in expertise in the form of adults with knowledge or experience of developing creative solutions to issues, and provide opportunities for students to extend their questioning skills in interviewing people who can feed into their work in direct ways. Equally, although the main focus may have been on developing students’ creative thinking and problem solving skills, there are significant elements of the work that would also support understanding of the key concept of competence.

Where are the opportunities to develop students’ experience of the key concepts of creativity, competence, critical understanding and cultural understanding?

Taking account of the key concepts is one of the routes to creating a meaningful and coherent experience of the subject for students. They outline what is at the heart of the subject, forming the foundation of the study of English. Planning needs to weave the key concepts into all aspects of teaching and across the key stage.

While the programmes of study define the key concepts individually, planning should recognise that they are mutually reinforcing and benefit from an integrated approach. Reflecting on and comparing poetry from different cultures and traditions and relating them to their own experiences, for example, helps students to develop their sense of cultural and critical understanding simultaneously. One key element in developing students’ ability to respond flexibly in different circumstances is to provide creative opportunities for them to experiment with different ideas and approaches.

A starting point could be to review your current provision to see where opportunities to develop the key concepts occur and where they need to be extended or broadened. Applying the concepts to the framework provided by GCSE specifications will clarify where they are being well covered and where they need further consideration. It may also be that there are opportunities to consider how the key concepts might work in combination to provide a richer curriculum experience. So, for example, how might creativity and cultural understanding be drawn on in examining the ways in which language changes in response to technology?

How can you provide opportunities for students to engage with real audiences?

Students should be given the chance to speak, write, listen and read for contexts and purposes beyond the classroom. Building activities into sequences of work that involve contact with groups, organisations and employers in the local community would be one way to achieve this. Using issues or campaigns of local concern and importance, engaging in dialogue with experts or developing links with local businesses can provide valuable opportunities for students to write for and speak with real audiences in meaningful contexts.

Engaging with real audiences needn’t just mean local audiences. Technology offers opportunities to engage with other international audiences by using the internet, email and video conferencing, supporting the key concept of cultural understanding and the global dimension.

What opportunities do students have to develop their skills in speaking and listening? How is speaking and listening assessed?

Effective verbal communication continues to be a vital skill for personal development, citizenship, educational attainment and success in the world of work. Students should have the chance to develop and refine their skills and participate in speaking and listening in formal and informal purposeful activities that increase in demand across the key stage. Constructive and peer and self-evaluation as well as teacher feedback, support progression and assessment, ensuring that students develop the skills to operate with confidence in increasingly unfamiliar contexts.

Is there progression in the selection of activities across the key stage?

When students revisit the key processes for reading, writing and speaking and listening at different points in the key stage, there needs to be a clear increase in challenge to ensure that they progress. Students need to draw on a repertoire of techniques and strategies and apply them in different contexts, including those that are unfamiliar. Planning for writing across the key stage for example should develop not only students' written accuracy but also their ability to adapt these techniques and strategies to a widening range of contexts and purposes with independence. Planning for progression in reading should be focused on the sophistication and demand of the activities and outcomes chosen, as well as selecting texts that deal with complex ideas and issues. Texts should be grouped in illuminating ways that invite comparison and require students to make judgements about the validity of sources.

Continuity across the key stages

To make good progress students need continuity and opportunities for development across the key stages. To achieve this, curriculum planning at key stage 4 needs to:

  • build on and extend students’ achievements and experiences at key stage 3
  • provide students with a clear sense of how teaching and learning is helping them develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, and what they are aiming to achieve by the end of the key stage
  • prepare students for the demands of further study in the subject or the world of work.

Progression from key stage 3

At key stage 3 students will have encountered a wide range of increasingly challenging fiction and non-fiction texts, including literary texts written before the twentieth century. They will have had opportunities to develop their speaking and listening in a range of collaborative and individual contexts, including those beyond the classroom and ones that require them to respond formally. Students will have experienced a wide range of contexts and purposes for writing, and will have explored different ways to interest and engage their reader and create an impact.

By the end of key stage 3, most students are able to speak and listen for a wide range of purposes, and make informed choices about how to match delivery and content to the task. Most are able to engage with the detail of the texts they read and develop increasingly independent interpretations supported by relevant textual evidence. Most can comment on how texts are crafted to produce meaning and how structure, language and presentation can produce particular effects to have an impact on the reader.

Most students are able to write with ambition and accuracy and have developed a repertoire of techniques that they can bring to bear on a variety of writing purposes, selecting appropriately for clarity and impact.

Progression within key stage 4

Progression to key stage 4 is built on the key ideas of independence, complexity, flexibility and transferability. As students progress across the key stages, there is a growing expectation for them to demonstrate their ability to use and transfer skills in an increasingly wide range of contexts, including the more formal. This is clearly signalled in the key concepts section, where, for example, within the competence strand there is a clear expectation for students to process more complex ideas and make independent judgements. Within the critical understanding strand students are expected to question and challenge what they read and hear in independent ways and make connections within and between what they read and hear.

Within the key processes section at key stage 4 students are expected to draw on skills in more complex ways. So, for example, in speaking and listening the importance of unfamiliar contexts and audiences is clearly indicated. Students are expected to select from strategies for adapting and adjusting their talk, which demands an understanding of what such strategies might be, as well as the independence to select appropriately.

In reading at key stage 4 there is an increased emphasis on analysing and evaluating information, which is more demanding than the expectation at key stage 3 that students should be able to understand and comment on what they read. More complex skills of synthesis and comparison are also expected. So, for example, an understanding of the way different cultures might be reflected through what students read is present at both key stages, but at key stage 4 they would be expected to make connections and comparisons between texts to explore these differences.

In writing there is an increased emphasis on students drawing on a wider range of materials and evidence to support their writing. They are expected to write about complex subjects that are unfamiliar to them, collating information from a range of sources. Having assimilated a range of linguistic and literary techniques in key stage 3, students at key stage 4 are expected to select from these in independent ways and orchestrate them for a wide range of forms, contexts and purposes.

Progression through the key stages comes not only through increased complexity in the interplay of skills applied in a wider range of contexts, but also through growing demand and challenge in other ways. For example, the range of reading expected at key stage 4 reflects the need for students to encounter more challenging texts. The ideas students encounter in fiction, non-fiction and media texts should be concerned with more abstract topics that make greater demands on higher level reading skills as they continue to develop and mature as readers.

Progression to post-16 education

The experience of a varied and stimulating curriculum through key stage 4 will be a significant factor in whether or not students continue with some aspect of English to A level and beyond. The development of curiosity about the factors that change and shape language, consideration of the differences between spoken and written texts, as well as an increased understanding of how writers shape and craft texts for purpose will support students wanting to continue to deepen their understanding of the English language through further study.

The variety of literary and non-literary texts that students encounter at key stage 4 will be extended and enriched in ways that continue to develop them as independent, critical readers. The curriculum at key stage 4 allows students to experience depth and breadth in their reading in ways that enable them to make connections between texts. These skills are further developed as students progress to further education, where they explore the relationships between texts and appreciate the significance of cultural and contextual influences on readers and writers.

New opportunities

The revised programme of study offers you many opportunities to refresh and renew your curriculum, making it broader and more relevant in ways that will inspire and engage learners. In addition to having separate programmes of study for key stage 3 and key stage 4 to clarify progression and reduce repetition, some of the key themes that underpin the revisions include:

A curriculum for the 21st century

We live in a rapidly changing world and the revised programme of study is designed to equip learners with the skills they need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As the workplace changes, young people will need to be increasingly flexible, adaptable and independent. By introducing the key concept of competence and embedding the functional skills standards, the programmes of study emphasise these qualities, and help students develop the skills needed to be successful and engage with the world beyond the classroom.

Many of the reading and writing skills we take for granted are being transformed by the internet and increasingly accessible digital technologies. The revisions take account of the impact of technology on the subject and include references to exploring how meaning is created in multimodal texts such as web pages.

More room for creativity

Creativity is a vital part of any curriculum, but it is an area that many feel needs to be represented more explicitly in the programmes of study. To address this, creativity is now one of the four key concepts that underpin English. Placing creativity at the heart of the English curriculum recognises the importance of engaging students' imagination and commitment. It provides opportunities for them to respond creatively in different contexts, play with language, make connections and develop new ways of thinking.

Exploring culture and identity

The study of English has always been a way of exploring the world around us and our place within it. Through the key concept of cultural understanding, students have greater opportunities to use their experience of literature and the variety of linguistic heritages that contribute to the richness of language to explore the culture of their society, the groups in which they participate and questions of local and national identity.

Building critical engagement

The increasing demands of an information-rich society mean that students must develop and use a wide range of techniques for testing the validity of what they read and are told. The revised programmes of study include the key concept of critical understanding. This provides opportunities to focus on a repertoire of critical and analytical skills that will allow students to become confident readers who can select and sift information thoughtfully and assess its provenance.

Crossing boundaries – making connections

Students are most motivated when they can see the relevance of what they are learning within and beyond school. Students need to see how the skills they are developing and practising in the classroom have value and application in both the world of work and their day-to-day lives and be aware of the range of contexts for the application of the skills they acquire. By focusing on transferable skills and emphasising real audiences and contexts for tasks, the revisions give opportunities to achieve this and make English more connected with the outside world.

A more outward-looking curriculum can also be achieved through building on and extending students’ contact at key stage 3 with writers, actors and journalists and others whose 'business' is words. This can have a lasting impact on students' understanding of both the craft and the art of language.

The curriculum opportunities sections of the programmes of study also include working with other subjects. Encouraging students to make connections between the concepts and processes they encounter in different subjects helps to reinforce learning and broaden their thinking. It has a valuable role to play in creating a more integrated whole-school curriculum and a more coherent learning experience.

Refreshing the reading curriculum

The range and content section for reading includes a new category of recommended authors under the heading ‘contemporary authors’. This list has been extensively updated and revised to reflect the best writing for young people. This provides a good opportunity to look again at the authors studied and introduce some fresh texts.

Planning for inclusion

Planning an inclusive key stage 4 means thinking about shaping the curriculum to match the needs and interests of the full range of learners.

These include:

  • the gifted and talented

  • those with special educational needs and disabilities

  • students who have English as a second language

  • the different needs of boys and girls.

Students in the school will also bring a range of cultural perspectives and experiences, which can be reflected in the curriculum and used to further students' understanding of the importance of the issues of diversity.

An inclusive curriculum is one where:

  • different groups of students are all able to see the relevance of the curriculum to their own experiences and aspirations

  • all students, regardless of ability, have sufficient opportunities to succeed in their learning at the highest standard.

You may find that a useful starting point to planning for inclusion could be to consider your own school's Disability Action Plan, Race Equality Plan and other equality policies alongside a comprehensive overview of the data available on students from various groups. This can then be used to draw up a useful framework for curriculum review. You will also be able to identify appropriate points to involve learners themselves in some of these developments.

Teachers may find the following additional information helpful when implementing the statutory inclusion statement: Providing effective learning opportunities for all pupils. Teachers need to consider the full requirements of the inclusion statement when planning for individuals or groups of pupils.

To overcome any potential barriers to learning in English, some students may require:

  • support to overcome specific difficulties in learning that result in an uneven profile across the attainment targets. They will require help to improve areas of weakness and strategies for managing specific difficulties

  • opportunities to meet the demands for speaking and listening and other oral activities through the use of alternative communication systems, to compensate for difficulties in using spoken language

  • opportunities to learn and develop alternative methods of recording, such as ICT, to compensate for difficulties with handwriting, to enable them to demonstrate their wider writing skills

  • opportunities to learn and develop tactile methods of interpreting written information, to overcome difficulties in managing visual information.

In assessment:

  • where students use alternative communication systems, judgements should be made against the level descriptions for speaking and listening. It will be necessary to note any demands that are not met, such as the awareness and use of standard English

  • for students with disabilities who are unable to write by hand, the handwriting requirement of the writing attainment target will not be applicable

  • for students using tactile methods, the assessment of reading will be through the use of materials of equivalent demand presented in the appropriate medium.

Support for assessment

Assessment is an essential part of normal teaching and learning in all subjects. It can take many forms and be used for a range of purposes. To be effective assessment must be ‘fit for purpose’; being clear what you want the assessment to achieve will determine the nature of the assessment and what the outcome will be.

When planning assessment opportunities consider the following:

Purpose – What is the assessment for and how will it be used?

Does it form part of ongoing assessment for learning to provide individual feedback or targets so that the student knows what to do next? Is it to provide an overall judgement about how the student is progressing against national curriculum levels? Related to this is the need to consider how the purpose of assessment affects the frequency of assessment. For example, there should be sufficient time between level-related judgements to allow a student to show progress, whereas to be effective the assessment of ongoing work should be embedded in day-to-day teaching and learning.

Evidence – What are the best ways to gather the evidence needed to support the purpose of the assessment?

Assessment shouldn’t be limited to a narrow range of evidence. Any meaningful judgement of progress or attainment should be based on a range of activities, outcomes and contexts This could include assessing the learning as it’s happening through observation, discussion or focused questioning; involving students in the process through peer or self-assessment; or sampling a range of work over a period of time. If there are areas where you don’t have sufficient evidence you could either adjust your planning or use a more focused short task or test to fill the gap. The gathering of evidence also needs to be manageable. With care, the same evidence may be used for a variety of purposes.

Outcome – What form will the assessment outcome take and how will it be used?

Depending on the purpose of the assessment the outcome could be a level judgement of progress over time or a specific and measurable improvement target for the student. Effective use of the assessment outcome results in actions such as providing an instant response or planning for the longer term. The best means of communicating assessment outcomes should also be considered. For example, it might be through written feedback or discussion. The outcome may also provide you with valuable information for your future planning, by identifying areas that need to be revisited by a class or individuals to secure understanding or by revealing gaps in curriculum coverage where there is no evidence of achievement in a particular area to assess.

Further guidance on gathering evidence, integrating assessment, periodic assessment and the role of tasks and tests can be found in the assessment section of the website.

Further guidance on day-to-day assessment and peer and self-assessment can be found under the assessment section of the website.

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