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Using your KS3 to prepare students for Edexcel GCSE
By Sam Slater
20 Mar
The main concern facing every GCSE teacher of the new specification is how to teach the amount of content that is now required.  With this in mind, I am suggesting that you focus your KS3 teaching on embedding the historical thinking and concepts so that you can master the content teaching needed at KS4.

If you are teaching the new Edexcel GCSE, my new KS3 Workbooks should help you embed a concept focused programme in the lower years that will free up time for you to cover the content needed across the three examination papers.  Here are my top tips for planning your KS3 programme, with a little help from my workbooks!
Tip 1: Start with the GCSE support materials and plan backwards
When planning my current KS3 programme of study, I started by identifying the key concepts in the new specification.  We are all familiar with these now; describing key features, significance of historical events, change and continuity, cause and consequence, utility of sources and analysing interpretations.  Once I was clear about the concepts my programme needed to cover, I could then match content to them.  All of the above historical concepts can be found throughout my workbooks.  They are clearly identified, just look for the Assessment Objective headings.
Tip 2: Don’t repeat the historical stories
With the main concern being the amount of content that now needs to be covered at KS4, it would be easy to repeat the historical ‘stories’ and try to cover most of it at KS3.  I believe this is a big mistake!  Repetition makes the learning of history boring and predictable.  It stifles students' desire to hypothesise, investigate and question.  By all means, touch on some of the content they will need for their GCSE in your KS3 programme, but don’t cover too much. Of course, the Battle of Hastings should not be ignored.  Teaching the events of the battle in detail at KS3 will reduce how much you need to teach at KS4 if you have chosen the Anglo-Saxon and Norman England unit.  However, is there really a need to teach the rebellions that William faced to your Year 7s?  Setting a homework project to Year 7 to build a motte and bailey castle not only makes homework fun, but makes the learning memorable.  A Year 10 student might not make a castle for homework, but they’ll certainly remember making it when they were in Year 7.  They may even still have it at home to visualise, meaning at KS4 you can focus on why they were built.
Tip 3: Give one skill the limelight without ignoring the others
As history teachers, we are acutely aware of the need to nurture students’ ability in all concepts to develop their skills.  However, trying to cover too many leaves the process having limited impact.  My advice is to focus on one concept in each six-week term.  Teach, assess and develop this skill for your chosen historical event, for example the causes of the peasants’ revolt or the analysis of historical sources from the First World War.  However, don’t ignore the other concepts that you could touch on during your teaching, for example how did the lives of peasants change because of the Black Death?  Consider the other concepts, just don’t give them the limelight.  
Tip 4: Focus your assessment using GCSE-style questions
Once you have planned your KS3 programme, content and historical concepts, you will then need to build in assessment opportunities.  One way to do this, is to use GCSE-style questions.  I did this by working through the sample assessment material and selecting the questions for each of the historical concepts.  The question stems can then be used to write an assessment question based on the history that you have covered.  Look at how I have embedded GCSE-style question stems into my KS3 workbooks; they can be found at the end of every chapter and in the assessments.
Tip 5: Don’t try to do too much too soon
The temptation is to set a Year 7 class an ‘Explain why’ question on the Battle of Hastings and expecting a three-paragraph answer.  But, is this reasonable?  After all, this is what Year 11 will be required to write in their final GCSE examination so how can a Year 7 successfully do this?  I feel setting assessments of this kind is a mistake.  Students should be supported and developed as they master the historical concepts and questions that you introduce them to.  To do this, I advise using the GCSE mark schemes to break down the requirements for each of the question stems that you decide to cover in your assessments and use the outcome of this to inform your teaching at KS3.  Arguably, it is more realistic to expect a Year 7 student to use their knowledge to accurately support three reasons that you have given them for William’s victory in 1066, moving on to identifying their own reasons for the peasants’ revolt by the end of Year 7, and supporting with precise knowledge once again.  Your focus in Year 8 can then be supporting your students to write analytical paragraphs that explain the causes of the First World War successfully, with a low ability group writing one paragraph and a high ability group writing three.  Look at each chapter in my workbooks; I have modelled this for you and hopefully you will take away ideas for how you can break down the historical concepts for your programme of study.
With a greater understanding of what the new GCSE specification requires, I am aware that many schools will be re-thinking their KS3 programme.  Hopefully this blog will give you some ideas of how you best use KS3 to prepare your students for their GCSE exam.  Good luck!

Sam Slater is Lead Practitioner of History at Spires Academy, Canterbury – an increasingly popular 11-16 nonselective school in Kent. Sam has been an examiner for Edexcel for over ten years and a Team Leader for the past four. Sam currently teaches Edexcel GCSE History and is author of My Revision Notes Edexcel GCSE (9-1) Medicine in Britain c1250-Present

Edexcel GCSE History skills for Key Stage 3: Workbook 1 1066–1700 publishes March 2018 and Workbook 2 1700–2000 publishes April 2018. You can find out more and order the books here.

Samples pages from Workbook 1 are available here.

Sam Slater is also running a teacher training workshop on 28 June 2018: ‘Planning and embedding your Edexcel Key Stage 3 History curriculum’. You can find out more and book your place here.
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