What works at Key Stage 4, two or three years of study?

pdf icon Privacy notice

We know from recent studies that some schools have opted to teach at least some of Key Stage 4 (KS4) over three years, rather than two. For example, last year we found that over half of respondents to the NFER Teacher Voice survey begin teaching GCSE content when pupils are still in Year 9.

The benefits of starting the KS4 curriculum earlier may include improved pupil outcomes at GCSE, although there are concerns that this prioritisation of certain parts of the curriculum is driven primarily by current school accountability measures (Brill et al., 2018).

At present there is an evidence gap around whether a two-or three-year KS4 is better for pupil outcomes and schools, or whether there is no difference. This research will explore the extent and rationale of this practice, and compare attainment outcomes in similar schools offering different lengths of KS4 delivery in some or all subjects. This will be in the context of the Ebacc/Progress 8 policy of encouraging a core curriculum at KS4, with a focus on disadvantaged pupils. The project will also provide contextual information about other factors that schools should consider, such as pupil wellbeing and impacts on timetabling and staffing.

How can schools take part?
We sent a short survey to all secondary schools in England asking them about their KS4 curriculum in February/March 2020. Due to the school closures, the survey was paused, but it is now available again to complete. The survey will remain open until September 2020.

We only need one response per school, and would like to hear from as many secondary schools as possible, whether they have a two-year or three-year KS4, or a mixture of the two.

This information will be matched to publically available datasets and an analysis will be conducted to compare the performance of schools teaching KS4 over two years with those teaching KS4 over three years.

We will also conduct case studies in a small number of schools in the Autumn of 2020.

If your school has not received the link to the survey you can sign up at https://surveys.nfer.ac.uk/uc/eesceoi/ or contact us at ks4length@nfer.ac.uk
or on 01753 637096.

When will the findings be published?
We will produce a report based on the findings, which will be published in 2021.