Lessons learned: how are we changing our teaching in light of the first cohort of GCSE results?

In this blogpost a very experienced history teacher shares with us how her department are reshaping KS3 in the light of the first 1-9 GCSE results. 

Once we had completed the mammoth two-year task of planning and teaching for the new History GCSE we awaited the results with nervous apprehension. Had we understood the spec? Had we used teaching techniques that had helped our students to be confident with the material and have the knowledge at their fingertips? Had we mastered the assessment criteria enough to be able to mark our students’ work with accuracy and therefore give them the feedback required to improve their answers to reflect their knowledge and understanding? On Results Day we were really pleased with the student’s achievements – the grades reflected our predictions and there were a good number of top grades gained. So what next?

We now had two priorities:

1) How to develop KS3 curriculum to support the new GCSE (but avoiding the route of GCSE style questions for lower school pupils – can you imagine the boredom of answering ‘write a clear and organised analysis of …’ for 5 years?!)
2) How to consolidate our KS4 curriculum.

I am going to look at what we are now doing to develop our KS3 curriculum:

1) Strengthening knowledge of different time periods – we found that our GCSE students struggled with the thematic paper because they didn’t have the chronological understanding required to know what happened in which time period. They knew the events e.g. the Reformation but couldn’t place them in the bigger picture. Now at KS3 we are explicit about the time periods we are studying using macro timelines on the classroom wall as well as getting students to identify the period we are looking at and comparing it to previous periods we have studied.

2) The use of second order concepts – we have of course always used the second order concepts to structure our KS3 course, but when starting the new GCSE course I found that students struggled to think about history in these terms. We are now much more explicit about the type of question we are looking at – nothing more complicated than ‘what type of question are we looking at here?’ but the students are more aware of the concepts and feel more confident in choosing a second order concept to structure an answer around.

3) Introducing more reading at KS3, especially articles by historians. GCSE students were unused to wider reading and reading independently and found doing so daunting so we have introduced wider reading at KS3. Year 7 have just read an extract from Marc Morris’s book William I and Year 9 are reading an extract from Christopher Clarks’s The Sleepwalkers.

4) Introducing Y9 fieldwork day. We teach the OCR B SHP Spec and found that our students were unsure with the History Around Us topic; although we do fieldwork at KS3 we hadn’t really developed the activities to evaluate the site and instead had used fieldtrips to support knowledge/sense of period. Working with our Geography department (who had found GCSE students struggled to use fieldwork in an exam) we have developed a Year 9 fieldwork day. Geography looked at crime patterns and we looked at the impact of migration over time on Boston, incorporating a site study of the Guildhall. This fieldtrip has enabled students to look at a thematic topic and a site study at the beginning of Year 9 which can then also be used as part of the Year 9 exam as well.

There is still plenty of work to do with our KS4 course too, but that is another blog!


Thanks to SHP Fellow Sally Wilson (@salburnham) who teaches history at Carre’s Grammar School in Sleaford for this blog post. There is a lot of work going on across the country to reshape KS3 right now. Last week Richard Kennett (@kenradical) shared his ideas at the @histassoc HA Yorkshire History Forum. HA members will be able to see the film of Rich’s talk via history.org.uk very soon.


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