KS3 Science Curriculum

As the 7th change in (10 years) to GCSEs and GCEs is now currently underway, it only feels fair that Key Stage 3 has a bit of a revamp too! In 2007 we were told by the (now) Department for Education that the new Programme of Study at KS3  http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/s/qca-07-3344-p_science_ks3_tcm8-413.pdf would empower learners to think ‘more scientifically’ and would allow them, more than ever before, to develop a real understanding of how science works. I wasn’t convinced at the time. I was less so later. I guess that the key, as ever, was in the implementation of this.

At the time the Department for Education stood by their admirable mantra:

The study of science fires pupils’ curiosity about phenomena in the world around them and offers opportunities to find explanations. It engages learners at many levels, linking direct practical experience with scientific ideas. Experimentation and modelling are used to develop and evaluate explanations, encouraging critical and creative thought. Pupils learn how knowledge and understanding in science are rooted in evidence. They discover how scientific ideas contribute to technological change – affecting industry, business and medicine and improving quality of life. They trace the development of science worldwide and recognise its cultural significance. They learn to question and discuss issues that may affect their own lives, the directions of societies and the future of the world


Wow! Stirring stuff, I’ll think you’d agree(?) Which is why I’m saddened that this has now been modified by the DfE to merely: ‘Science is an integral part of modern culture that should drive creativity and imagination in students’ just as the new KS3 PoS / National Curriculum (whatever you want to call it) lands in our palms! This revised NC for science has the same ultimate aims as the previous 2007 PoS, although specific reference to the disciplines of Biology, Physics and Chemistry is now made. The ‘Key Concepts’ of (i) scientific thinking, (ii) applications and implications of science, (iii) cultural understanding and (iv) collaboration are now, pretty much (though they do not appear explicitly), under the umbrella of Working Scientifically, with more specific detail having been added and with clearer lines of progression to KS4, particularly through the key language used. There is less of a focus on the social and economic aspects of science, and ‘cultural understanding’ has, at least in name, gone completely. However, the new curriculum does state that:

The social and economic implications of science are important but, generally, they are taught most appropriately within the wider school curriculum: teachers will wish to use different contexts to maximise their pupils’ engagement and motivation in science

The other ‘How Science Works’ element of the old 2007 PoS was ‘Key Processes’ and included (a) practical & enquiry skills, (b) critical understanding of evidence, (c) and communication. The newly titled ‘ Experimental Skills and Investigations’ is (again) pretty much the old practical and enquiry skills section with a KS4 slant on it so there is now explicit reference to dependent/independent variables, controls, making predictions and errors, for example. The newly titled ‘Analysis & Evaluation’ section (once again)pretty much covers the remaining 2 ‘Key Processes’ of critical understanding of evidence and communication (with the word interpret replacing analyse), though there is no longer any reference to using ICT! Instead there are maths applications (not previously specified), such as energy calculations. (There are 2 more aspects Working Scientifically that are titled ‘Scientific Attitudes’ and ‘Measurement’; neither were specified in the previous 2007 PoS and both are clearly included with the progression to KS4 in mind).

In terms of actual content, the whole new NC is a lot more prescriptive and detailed than the 2007 PoS and the content required to be covered is much more, with far more scientific terms being used to promote scientific literacy. Scientific terms are indeed important to construct understanding of scientific processes, as well as communicating scientific ideas (and learners need a rich and accurate scientific vocabulary to achieve these high skills), but surely a scientific vocabulary needs to be developed whilst establishing strong associations with actual scientific processes and skills?

The new ‘Biology’ section (which is largely unchanged, though content heavy) gets off fairly lightly – new terminology such as biomechanics and stomata is being used for the first time at KS3, topics such as anaerobic respiration and DNA have filtered down from KS4 and the importance of biodiversity has a much stronger emphasis, but that is about it.  A significant change has occurred in the ‘Earth Science’ section though (now called Chemistry) where all reference to geological activity has been removed (despite extracting metals from ores having percolated down from KS4!) However, the biggest change I feel has been to the newly formed Physics unit, where significant KS4 topics on static, echoes, convex lenses, work done, Hooke’s Law and comparing electrical appliances all appear at KS3 for the first time along with new vocabulary such as torque, equilibrium and sublimation. More complex concepts, calculations and equations are being introduced earlier on too (pre-KS4) such as calculations in ‘processes that cause change’ like ‘rates of change measured in kW’ and ‘audit calculations using measures of change in the energy associated with elastic deformation, moving and/or vibrating objects, heating materials, and chemical changes involving fuels’. The importance of numeracy is being highlighted clearly here and physics is the vehicle being used to deliver it in a PoS. Disappointingly there is very little in the way of the Universe (perhaps reflecting this country’s lack of a space programme).

I wonder how happy different subject specialists are with these different content changes and how departments are planning for the delivery of this new PoS from September (2014).

A comprehensive review of the new KS3 science curriculum highlighting items new to the KS3 curriculum, items that remain largely unchanged and items where there is a close match to previous QCA schemes of work can be found below:


Happy planning!


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