A KS3 science curriculum that ticks all 3 Is

Oxford Smart Activate Resource hub

Ofsted have published their latest review of Science called Finding the Optimum. In this blog, Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt exemplifies how the KS3 science curriculum behind Oxford Smart Activate supports science departments to enact the recommended practices regarding intent, implementation and impact.

When designing Oxford Smart Activate, I was given a fantastic opportunity to work with a whole range of expert teachers and educators to create a coherent, aspirational and ambitious curriculum. Of course we carefully ensured we were meeting the expectations of the national curriculum and the demands of the current Ofsted framework. I wrote this blog back in 2019 raising some of the issues we needed to consider.

Curriculum intent: identifying what pupils need to know and do

Substantive knowledge

Building on the foundations of what is taught at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, the Oxford Smart Curriculum team have carefully sequenced the core concepts through a five year curriculum (Years 7-11). This was our first major task. Not only did we ensure that the content knowledge is sequenced carefully in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, we made sure that any links between disciplines were signposted e.g. where the particle model is used in biology and physics topics.

Look at Oxford Smart Activate:

  • Curriculum Narratives These show teachers the overview of all the threads of the KS3 science curriculum in Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2. You can read more about curriculum narratives here.
  • Teacher Handbook Introduction to Unit double page spreads. E.g. Teacher handbook 1. Each shows the segment of the learning journey ‘ Primary topics’, what this unit covers and how this new knowledge underpins later topics.
  • Student Books. Topic openers e.g. Cells double page spread reminds students of substantive knowledge that they have learnt in primary school and the concepts that will be taught and learnt in this chapter and subsequent chapters.

Disciplinary knowledge

Furthermore, we carefully mapped and sequenced the whole of working scientifically (what Ofsted call disciplinary knowledge) throughout Key Stage 3. You will notice that Oxford Smart Activate 1, Chapter 1 introduces the basics of all the working scientifically skills so that these can be developed seamlessly throughout Key Stage 3 and into GCSE. It can be taught as a stand alone topic, there after the knowledge is developed in the context of each topic.

Mathematics and Literacy coherence

Finally, maths and literacy skills have been sequenced carefully over Key Stage 3, ensuring that it is highlighted where and when each aspect should be taught and learnt as well how this links to teaching in Maths and English. A science leader needs to find out how and when these are taught in their school to ensure that the sequence is logical.

Look at Oxford Smart Activate:

  • Teacher Handbook Introduction to chapter double page spreads. E.g. Teacher Handbook 1 identifies the working scientifically knowledge that will be taught.  In addition, the maths skills and literacy skills (including key vocabulary) that need to be developed are exemplified.
  • Student Books. Topic openers e.g. Cells double page spread reminds students of the working scientifically, maths and literacy skills that they have learnt in primary school.

You will also notice that students identity (developing positive attitudes to science) are sequenced in the KS3 science curriculum narratives as ‘Science in Everything ‘– myself, society and careers and  ‘What do we know? How do we know? Why does it matter?’.

Implementation: teaching the curriculum

  • Connections to previous learning. Actively using the Curriculum Narratives supports teachers with ensuring they know what students have already been taught, the focus is for the current lesson and links to future learning. This way the teacher can check prior knowledge and intervene before introducing new knowledge if necessary.  To communicate this with students, use the curriculum journey diagrams at the start and end of each chapter in Oxford Smart Activate student books.
  • Misconceptions. Teaching to avoid and challenge misconceptions is a key part of curriculum design and responsive teaching. Common learning misconceptions for each chapter are listed in the Oxford Smart Activate Teacher Handbooks Chapter Introductions and on the Curriculum Narratives. In the Oxford Smart Activate Teacher Handbooks lesson plans, there are regular opportunities to check for misconceptions in these sections: Reactivate knowledge, exposition of main content, main activities and, review and reflect activities.
  • Practical work. Good quality practical work is not a random sequence of ‘practicals’, rather a planned sequence of opportunities where students have opportunities to develop skills in different contexts. This forms part of the sequencing of working scientifically (disciplinary knowledge). Each practical has its sequenced learning objective see Kerboodle and the Teacher Handbook lesson plans.
  • Teacher’s knowledge and expertise. Whether an early career teacher, a teacher teaching out of specialism or an experienced science teacher it is important to develop and refresh your subject knowledge. This is where the Curriculum Narratives give an excellent curriculum overview of all the aspects of the science curriculum. These can be used to plan appropriate CPD.


In their report, Ofsted exemplify a range of situations where students ‘have not secured an appropriate depth of knowledge.’

Our ambition for our KS3 science curriculum is that its impact is beyond getting good grades at GCSE. It is important for students to be fluent in their scientific knowledge and understanding and recognise the importance of science in everyday life. We also want students to develop positive towards science and present them with real opportunities of being part of science in their career choices.

Our careful sequencing and attention to coherence underpins excellent teaching. Supporting teachers to concentrate on good quality teaching, using responsive strategies, with a clear sense of purpose should in turn produce learners who are confident, passionate and have deep knowledge of science.

Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt has a doctorate in classroom assessment and a passion for science teaching and learning. Having worked as a science teacher for ten years, five of which as an AST, Andy has a real understanding of the pressures and joys of teaching. Alongside his research in school assessment, Andy is a Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the University of Brighton, and is a successful published assessment author. He is the Assessment Editor for Oxford Smart Activate, Activate, AQA Activate, AQA GCSE Sciences Third Edition and OCR Gateway GCSE Science.

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