Does the “dip” in KS3 actually happen?

David Didau’s book, “What if everything you knew about education was wrong” is great for getting teachers to question certain things which are a “given” in the education world. Inspired by the idea, I started thinking about various “givens” in the education world. One of these is that pupils experience a “dip” in performance in KS3. But where is the evidence for this? From what I can see, there seem to be three sources; progress data, Ofsted reports, and anecdote.

Progress data is unreliable as it is based on levels. Many secondary schools disregarded KS2 levels entirely, resulting in year 7 tutors having to explain to parents why their child’s level in English and Mathematics had dropped. Levels as a means of assessment have been discredited for some time now.

The second source seems to be an Ofsted report from last year mentioning the unsatisfactory teaching it had observed at KS3. This might well be biased, as secondary schools with outstanding ratings are exempt from routine inspection.

The third source seems to be anecdote; accounts from year 7 pupils saying they were repeating tasks done at KS2. I am not someone who thinks that anecdotal evidence should be totally disregarded, but it should be treated with caution.

Now there may be more substantial research out there which I have not come across and I admit that my thoughts here are not based on any research I have done. I am not saying there definitely is no drop in performance, but it seems to me that too often a drop in KS3 is accepted without the evidence for it being challenged.

I actually think Ofsted (for once!) talk some sense when they say that secondary schools focus too much on the pastoral transition and ignore or downplay the academic transition. I agree it would be tremendously helpful if teachers of year 7 could have access to their pupils’ year 6 reports. Yet I do question the idea, put about by some, that what is needed is to make year 7 more like a primary school. One could just as well argue that year 6 should be more like a secondary school. Yet are either of these approaches actually necessary? Are we actually making too much of a supposed “dip” in KS3 which may not be as great as some make out, or may indeed not exist at all?

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4 Responses to Does the “dip” in KS3 actually happen?

  1. Seeking Sir says:

    Here’s a thing that’s worth a try… Have a look at pupils’ CAT scores and then have a look at their KS2 Levels. You can probably guess what you will most likely find. It would be interesting top see if the alleged ‘dip’ still occurred if data was based on CATs with sensible projections of likely attainment rather than SATs levels.


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