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Building a New KS3 Scheme of Work

Building a New KS3 Scheme of Work (Part 1 – an assessment model)

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into Key Stage 3 recently.  This key stage was the topic of my first ever blog entry and I’m happy to say that what my school has done with Key Stage 3 Music has been a big success.  Pupils are enthusiastic about learning music and they have a real sense of ownership of what they are doing in their lessons.  Communication between pupils and staff is very musical, with most clarification coming from actually playing or singing. We’re finding that the musicianship of our pupils often surprises us, especially when it comes to songwriting tasks.  Our take-up at Key Stage 4 has risen dramatically, our current Year 10 class has twenty pupils (much bigger than ever before), which is a sign that pupils are enjoying what they are doing, while the quality of their work is a sign that they understand what they are doing and are stretched by it.

“Why change something that I believe is working?”

This little summary of the state of play in my department begs a question.  Why would I want to change something that I believe is working so well?  The answer is that it needs to change precisely because it has been and is continuing to work.  We now have pupils that are musically able at every level in the school.  We have a Key Stage 5 class in the Music Department (a first for the school) and a large number of pupils in Key Stage 4.  Pupils from all key stages are involved in extra-curricular music and they have enough technological savvy to be able to record their work and use resources like NUMU and SoundCloud to collaborate with each other.  We have reached the point where younger pupils have older pupils to look up to as musicians.  Pupils are generating the enthusiasm for themselves and they are pushing the limits of what they can achieve in a one hour lesson.  I no longer feel that I have to ensure that their musical learning is scaffolded to the extent needed in the past.  No longer do I need to incorporate lots of elements into units that are designed to maintain interest for a subject that once had a very poor reputation within the school.  I no longer feel that the curriculum itself needs to be the motivating element – the very visible (or should that be audible?) success of Music throughout the school is and will continue to do that for us.  Now that younger pupils have many older pupils to look to as role models, the pupils inspire themselves.  What we now need is a drive towards excellence to further improve the standard of musicianship and give our future Key Stage 4 and 5 musicians an even greater capacity to inspire future Key Stage 3 musicians.

I have, therefore, been investigating many possible ways of upping the level of challenge that the KS3 programme presents.  We have very successfully used the Musical Futures model in our lessons and I am keen to keep that in place.  I’m a big believer in the non-formal and informal pedagogies, so don’t assume that I’m ready to throw that by the wayside.  In fact, I honestly believe that dropping this approach would lead to a noticeable decrease in the musicianship of our pupils.

“I have accepted the reality”

I was playing with all sorts of ideas for the KS3 curriculum: writing new schemes of work, purchasing a wider range of instruments, revamping homework, trying to make more use of visiting musicians, etc.  Then, early this academic year, a document was emailed to all teaching staff in the school from a member of senior leadership.  I won’t copy the document exactly but it basically mapped out Key Stage 3 National Curriculum levels with GCSE grades.  It looked a little something like this…

NC Levels mapped against GCSE and BTEC grades

Now, if truth be told, I really didn’t like this at first.  I thought it was an artificial method of lining up incomparable means of assessment.  I didn’t feel that grades and levels should work alongside each other.  I thought that grades should recognise something that you’ve done, whereas levels should represent something that you can do.  I also hate it when I see individual pieces of work being levelled – this was never the point in the system.  As with many UK teachers, however, I have accepted that the reality of the assessment, monitoring and reporting machine puts us in a position where we have to make use of such a system.  After I had become accustomed to using the system for our school’s new data entry system, I decided to just scribble on the grades for the RSL Music Practitioner courses as an additional column (as this was the course we were using in Year 10 and I was considering using it in Year 9).  My new table looked something like this…

NC Levels mapped against GCSE, BTEC and RSL grades

“Scribbles, crossing outs and question marks”

I actually started to find this pretty useful during assessment time for Key Stage 3.  If I was ever in any doubt as to a pupil’s work being worth a Level 5, I just pulled out the RSL L1 grading criteria for a unit similar to the work they were doing and marked it against the Merit criteria.  Similar with Level 7s and 8s – use the Pass and Merit criteria for the RSL L2 course.  With this little bit of experience, I started to ask myself how valid this was as a means of assessment and, so, I explored other qualifications that I could add onto the table.  I knew that grade exams had already been mapped onto the qualifications framework, so I added them on as an extra column.  I wasn’t sure how accurate it was but I thought it was an idea worth exploring.  The first draft of the table that I created looked like this (well, in reality it was covered with all sorts of scribbles, crossing outs and question marks)…

NC Levels mapped against GCSE, RSL and BTEC grades, with music grades incorporated – guesswork

At this point, my mind started racing.  Could it be as simple as getting every pupil to learn a Grade 5 piece to demonstrate them as all working at Level 8?  What if I were to build a KS3 programme that combined the RSL courses with grade exam pieces?  If I had pupils achieving Level 8 or EP, was there any point putting them in for a KS4 course in Years 10-11 if they’re already working at an A/B grade?  When a pupil hits Level 6/7, should I stop thinking about putting them through a KS3 programme and skip straight to RSL L2/GCSE/BTEC L2?  Next time someone asks me to use sub levels, why not using the ‘Distinction/Merit/Pass’ criteria to create Level 5a/b/c criteria?  My mind was practically exploding with ideas, most of them only embryonic but all of them seemed exciting and potentially very useful.

“Performance measures?…  Big mistake!”

Once it reached this point, I really wanted to make sure that I was working with accurate data.  I spent what felt like an eternity scouring the web to find the relationship between various qualifications and used the Ofqual register to confirm many of my findings.  Eventually, I was confident that the following was true (please excuse some of the more obvious statements, I just want to be clear)…

  • National Curriculum Levels 3-6 are considered to be Level 1 standard
  • National Curriculum Levels 7, 8 and EP are considered to be Level 2 standard
  • GCSE grades D-G are considered to be Level 1 standard
  • GCSE grades A*-C are considered to be Level 2 standard
  • The BTEC Level 2 courses at Distinction*-Pass are Level 2 standard
  • The RSL Level 2 courses are Level 2 standard
  • The RSL Level 1 courses are Level 1 standard
  • The Debut/Initial grades offered by music exam boards are Entry Level standard
  • Grades 1-3 are Level 1 standard
  • Grades 4-5 are Level 2 standard
  • Grades 6-8 are Level 3 standard

This gave me some reassurance that I was working on the right lines and it mostly married up with the rough, ink covered tables that I’d been working from but I still wasn’t convinced that it was bulletproof as a comparison model.  With this in mind, and partly because of my recent investigation into the new league table rules, I thought it would make sense to look at the ‘performance measures’ supplied by Ofqual to back up my findings.  Big mistake.  Look at what happened (you’ll want to click on the image to see the detail)!

Click on the image to view a larger version

This made no sense to me.  Qualifications that I knew were rated as Level 2 worked out as Level 1 (i.e. Grade 4), Grade 1 didn’t make it into Level 1 and Grade 5 barely registered as a Level 2 qualification. I saw some limited sense in how various instrumental grades overlapped (a distinction of one grade was usually the same as the merit of the grade above it) but I couldn’t explain the inconsistencies within this.  My first thought was that I needed to look at the GLH (guided learning hours for each course and then divide the performance points by this.  This resulted in thoroughly stupid results that made so little sense I didn’t even bother to tabulate them.  I played around with these numbers for a while (a very long while) trying to find some formula that would make them line up in a vaguely sensible or consistent manner, I had no luck whatsoever.  I also explored other numbers provided by Ofqual (contribution to Threshold, etc) and, despite a host of mathematical efforts, I wound up with yet more stupid results.  I decided that a degree of ‘best fit’ was necessary and that I should continue to work with the information I had about where qualifications stood using the Level 1-3 criteria that I had gathered above.  This made sense to me not least because these levels look at the at the challenge of the course rather than the size of it.  It also seems to be the most learner-focused way of looking at qualifications, whereas looking at performance points just seemed like an exercise in satisfying politicians and providing convenient data for school leaders (or confusing teacher-bloggers that want to redesign their KS3 assessment system).

My next decision was that I would ignore Level 3.  I was trying to design a Key Stage 3 programme and, since Level 3 is A-Level standard, I really didn’t see much sense in giving myself an extra bunch of qualifications to investigate.  That allowed me to ditch a lot of data and focus on what mattered.  I then decided to take the plunge and ignore where the grade exams overlapped each other.  I understood the value of this when using the grades to allow all musicians to develop but I felt that it confused the issue for my purposes.  I allocated each grade to the level that I knew it to be worth and then stacked them on top of each other, preserving their relative size from the performance measures.  This created this table, which was starting to make sense to me.

This is what happens when you stack the grade exams – you may want to click on this image to see a larger version

“Teacher and Musician Key Stage 3 Criteria”

Feeling that this was getting somewhere, I decided to factor in the fact that the National Curriculum Levels are supposed to incorporate performing, composing, listening and appraising (if not more).  Since the grade exams are only really focused on performance (with some listening elements), I felt that it was necessary to consider this in any comparison.  I decided that it was necessary to incorporate this into the system and that the most logical way to do this was to make use of units from the RSL L1 course (which are worth either 4 or 8 credits towards a qualification of at least 12 credits).  I used these to boost the value of Debut grade to a Level 1 course and force the grade exams to closely match NC Levels 3-6.  With this done, I now faced the challenge of marrying up just two grade exams at Level 2 against the three GCSE grades/NC levels that occupy this level.  A mostly even split seemed most sensible and I justified this by using RSL L2 units to boost the value of Grade 4.  The final table looked like this (‘T and M KS3 Criteria’ stands for ‘Teacher and Musician KS3 Criteria’, i.e. a summary of the above)…

The Teacher and Musician mapping of grading criteria (click to see a larger version)

It is important to remember that this was all calculated based on the standard of work, not the quantity of it.  Pupils would not need to complete a whole Debut/Initial grade exam to be considered as working at Level 3 – one piece would be sufficiently indicative.  

By combining the two qualifications together, we can build units that can be custom designed for each pupil.  A child who has been working at Level 4 and is working towards Level 5 could be given the following to work on:

  • A half term working independently to learn a Grade 2 piece, culminating in a solo performance in front of her peers
  • Homeworks based on RSL unit 107 ‘Listening to Music’
  • A half term working in a group on RSL unit 103 ‘Composing Music (Collaboration)’

If the candidate completes this work to a standard that would meet the ‘pass’ criteria for all three courses, then she is certainly working at Level 5 and can start a programme that will bring her towards Level 6.  If she completed the RSL units to Distinction standard, then her composing and listening would be at Level 6, whilst performing would still be at Level 5.  Perhaps this would even suggest that she should receive a Level 6c (keeping in mind the overlaps from our first diagram).

“This isn’t a new scheme of work”

The reason that I’m fond of this idea is twofold.  First, it allows for some very specific grading criteria rather than the National Curriculum levels that many teachers complain about being too vague.  Second, it allows us to design schemes of work that can be fully individualised.  Pupils can work on whatever will prove that they’re moving to the next recognisable level.  Pupils with ambition can jump to a higher standard by following the more demanding work.  For me, this combines the best of the Musical Futures pedagogy (independent learning, non-formal teaching, informal learning) that I believe so strongly in with a strong and thorough assessment system that I have learnt to trust.  This isn’t a new scheme of work but it’s the assessment model around which I intend to build one. 

In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at how this can be done and will share some of the ideas I have for per-pupil schemes of work designed around each level.  In the meantime, I feel that it’s time my thoughts on this were unleashed from my head and left open for debate.  Please tell me if I’m doing something stupid!