Chemistry is not a taught subject at KS2, and as such we regard KS3 very much as the foundation of knowledge and skills which will be required to access the GCSE curriculum, and for many students to continue their studies to Advanced level.  Unfortunately, the range of provision at KS2 is very wide and not always well-matched to our intentions, requiring careful consideration of a curriculum which makes no initial assumptions about the knowledge of students, but equally is challenging and engaging, and is linked to our ambition that students will contribute to society more meaningfully and effectively because of the skills and knowledge gained in Chemistry.

Students must learn how to undertake practical work safely, how to communicate about and understand the apparatus and techniques needed to grasp what is essentially a practical, everyday area of Science.  Furthermore, they must be given early opportunities to grasp and wrestle with the challenging, less concrete concepts such as atomic structure, bonding and chemical equations such that they will not be surprised when the ideas are extended at GCSE.  This approach, too, addresses our complete understanding of cognitive science; the requirement that frequent re-exposure and extrapolation of concepts builds long-term understanding.

Furthermore, our intent is highly considerate of the range of skills and knowledge of departmental colleagues, since for a number of staff, Chemistry will lie outside of their immediate specialism, so the development of understanding must be deliberately staged and highly organised to be safe and appropriately challenging.  Therefore, the KS3 curriculum should be well-resourced and clear for teachers, with high priority given to safe practical work and sequential, targeted development of knowledge and understanding.

Progression to Key Stage 4 is largely considered on the basis of ability and aptitude, where our intent is to consider whether students will better manage the slightly reduced pace of delivery required for Combined Science and benefit from the significantly smaller teaching groups.  Nevertheless, the process involves testing, discussions with parents and students, the professional judgement of class teachers and balancing of the decision against other GCSE choices.  Each individual student thus makes his decision about whether to opt for Combined or Triple science having had the benefit of 1:1 discussion, careers advice and data.  In general, 2/3 of each cohort are directed towards separate GCSE sciences and this matches very well with our ambition that students will go on to be the outstanding practitioners of STEM careers.

While the exam specification is central to delivery at KS4, driving most lessons, our intent is to have a keen eye on progression beyond GCSE into Advanced courses.  KS4 teachers are all subject specialists and as such prescriptive SoW’s are not necessary or helpful to embed the required levels of flexibility, challenge and impact we wish to engender.  Learning objectives are provided by the exam board, enabling us to model grade 7-9 outcomes in all aspects of the assessment tasks and homework tasks designed to help teachers implement the curriculum.  Of course, the required Core Practical tasks are carefully managed and embedded in the curriculum from the very beginning of year 10, but we intend to offer a far greater range and scope of practical activities than other providers.  With purpose-built laboratories and superb technical staff, our intention is to build upon the skills embedded at KS3 and offer a very broad practical experience, again with the goal of further study and future careers in Sciences and Technology being our ambition for the students.

While progression from KS3 to KS4 can be carefully and deliberately managed, at KS5 our intake includes students from most Medway schools.  This, together with the vast size of the exam specification suggests involving students in their own learning from the beginning of the course.  To be specific, this means students must learn to deal with the minutiae of learning facts and developing applied knowledge in Chemistry while we use lesson time as constructively as possible to introduce and assess the challenging concepts and undertake practical work leading to the development of CPAC skills required for accreditation.  This is deliberately managed for students by introducing them to the concepts of cognitive science and the importance of staged revision, with teacher oversight of revision folders they must create and use from day 1.  The curriculum time made available is split 4:1 to emphasise the importance of recall and extrapolation alongside new knowledge.

Pervading all we do in Chemistry is the general premise that there is no long-term value in cramming students full of facts to regurgitate.  Our operational objective is that students will understand, at a deep, theoretical level, the concepts in Chemistry and will be able to apply them accordingly to any problem they should encounter, whether it be one of the increasing number of ‘unprecedented’ exam items, or a technical challenge in a future course or career.  Central to this drive is the examining experience of the HoD:  Increasing appreciation of the overarching goals of OFQUAL and awarding bodies has led to an approach to learning focused on application of knowledge and elaboration.  Teachers aim to ask searching, open questions; assessments require students to respond with understanding rather than just factual knowledge; the curiosity of our students is used to further discussion.

Core topic areas, which are required through the whole of KS3-5, and as such are met in every key stage are:

  • Practical experimental skill and technique, including the naming of and understanding how to use equipment, safe handling of chemicals, planning experiments, recording and handling data (including the understanding of experimental error) and making sound conclusions.
  • Particulate nature of matter, including sub-atomic matter, as well as categorisation of elements into the Periodic Table.
  • Chemical bonding, beginning with simple ideas such as forces between the particles in the three main states of matter, extending through types of strong and weak chemical bonding, finally into the subdivision of the types of intermolecular forces at A level, as well as much more data-interrogative treatment of strong chemical bonding at KS5.
  • Categorisation of chemical reactions into general types, first encountered at KS3 as simple acid-base and acid-metal reactions, extending to neutralisation, combustion and decomposition at KS4, before significantly extending to all the types of organic reaction at KS5. This includes polymerisation which is first met at KS4.
  • Chemical energetics, beginning with simple binary classification (exo/endothermic) at KS3, extending to bond energies and the reasons for chemical energy changes at KS4 before (again) advancing significantly at KS5 with Hess’ law, entropy and Gibbs’ energy.

Intertwined with all the core topic areas are quantitative calculations.  These rely heavily on students’ algebraic skills, developed elsewhere and deployed effectively in Chemistry.  The foundation for quantitative chemistry is delivered in KS3 with extensive work on the writing and balancing of chemical equations (without which further study is impossible), followed by early year 10 topics in KS4 as part of the exam ‘core’ topics.  Implementation at KS5 deserves special mention, since this aspect is without doubt the one which causes the greatest consternation amongst students and is the area of greatest variability in capability; therefore, deliberate weekly quantitative workshops are used in year 12 and 13 to enhance skills to the point where they will be resilient to challenge in the year 13 exams.  It is notable that the task design is to present challenging questions without scaffolding, revisiting themes on a monthly basis to aid learning and build capacity to answer unforeseeable questions.  All the tasks used were purpose-written by the HoD using examining experience.  Slightly less challenging tasks on a similar theme are introduced at KS3.

We concentrate on maximising the accessibility of Chemistry to SEN students.  Those with physical disabilities are always paired with sympathetic other students during practical lessons and specific risk-assessments carried out on an individual basis to ensure lack of mobility can be safely managed.  Chemistry often proves popular with ASD students because of our deliberate focus on reducing cognitive overload and logical, unemotive approach to learning with minimal extraneous distraction.  All SEN individual action plans are considered by staff with notes on all seating plans evident and our intent is always to maximise communication with LSAs and the SEN department to establish the most appropriate protocols to meet the individual needs.

KS3 schemes are highly prescriptive, allowing consistency throughout the department, while ensuring safe management of practical work and predictable, controlled resource management. This ensures all students arrive in year 10 on equal footing, with the ability to understand and use key terminology which is crucial for the GCSE exams, and to participate effectively in practical Chemistry without the need for further direct training. There are 7 distinct schemes of work, all of 12 lessons, dealing with core practical skills and particle theory in year 7, extending these ideas to rates of reaction and atomic theory respectively in year 8 while introducing the reactions of acids and metals, before finally teaching formulae and equations and the chemistry of hydrocarbon fuels in year 9.

At KS4 the HoD provides a timed curriculum map, clarifying what topics must be delivered, by when, and in what order, as well as timing of Core Practicals and all assessed tasks.  The individual teacher then delivers the specification around this framework according to the needs of the students in each class and in a style appropriate to their skills.  Meetings are used to discuss specific curriculum areas, often from the ‘how hard can an exam question be’ approach in order to stretch students as much as possible, often a little beyond the required curriculum so as to pique interest and increase understanding through elaboration.  Assessed tasks too, while using GCSE questions as a basis, use mark schemes which are significantly more demanding of correct vocabulary and working in quantitative questions.  These are revisited frequently as examiner’s marking schemes develop and improved to maintain the level of challenge, aiming always for grades 7-9, though conscious of the fact that not all our students are initially equipped to access work at this level.

KS5 again uses schemes of work written internally, for our students, providing lesson by lesson detail.  This enables less-experienced teachers to deliver A level effectively while ensuring all practical activities are risk-assessed and safe.  The scheme is not, however, prescriptive and teachers are free to deviate when necessary to clarify ideas, take more time on areas students find challenging, or deliver content more quickly when students are coping well.  Lessons are split 8/2 where possible, with one teacher covering all initial content delivery and the ‘2’ teacher monitoring student revision folders, revising and revisiting previous topics to ensure spaced review is deliberately provided, giving feedback from major exams (one per term on average) and monitoring the progression of CPAC skills.  This teacher is invariably the HoD or 2nd in department.

A deliberate approach to maximising relevant content when answering Chemistry questions is taken in all Key Stages; differences between the required written output in Chemistry and other subjects are also made clear to students, namely that simple, logical statements of fact and reason in an appropriate order gain credit in assessments, with minimal need to expand, extrapolate or discuss.  Students are encouraged to build personal glossaries of subject-specific language in the backs of books and folders for easy reference.  In lessons, deliberate focus on verbalisation using correct key words is required of students, while developing the depth and quality of responses and simultaneously minimising the number of words needed in an answer.

Co-curricular efforts are also part of curriculum delivery, with KS3 STEM trips (Salter’s) undertaken every year, as well as Chemistry in Action curriculum days and our involvement in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge to really push the year 12 cohort to excel!

Due to COVID safety regulations our aspirations to complete practical work in a varied KS3 curriculum have been scaled down somewhat, with the lack of practical work only mitigated slightly with the creation of video demonstrations over the summer by the HoD.  We are just as ambitious, however, to offer the full range of practical opportunities in KS4 and risk assessments have been completed to ensure that, practical laboratory space permitting, we can deliver an unaffected curriculum for those year groups.

Impact is largely assessed by direct questioning in assessments which test knowledge, understanding and the appreciation of practical skills at all Key Stages.  GCSE foundation tier questions were used as a basis on which to develop year 7 and 8 assessment tools, while years 9-11 use GCSE higher tier questions as a beginning.  However, all questions are honed and the mark schemes significantly abridged and tightened to ensure our students must use the best means of expression for their answers.  CPAC skills must be individually teacher assessed during KS5, and these are moderated by HoD.  Feedback from these assessments gives us a strong guide as to the effectiveness of our KS3 practical skills implementation policies.

Regular meetings are held based on assessment data, in which individual performances are discussed and strategies assigned.  For instance, we direct students to additional booster sessions in years 7-11 and provide further work and scrutiny of KS5 students to ensure they are undertaking effective long-term revision.  SEND students are always discussed and their relative performance considered at such meetings.

Uptake at KS5 is a very strong measure of performance and it has been noted that years with lower uptake correlate to years with lower GCSE outcomes. Uptake over the last two years, even during COVID, is at its highest ever and we now entertain 50+ students in both year 12 and year 13.  ASD students in particular regularly access A-level chemistry and GCSE triple science Chemistry, with outstanding eventual outcomes both in terms of grades and destinations.

Qualitatively, we see huge impact for students through the values we instill in everyday teaching and everyday expectations:  Diligence, thoroughness, safety, professionalism and self-reliance are endemic to all we do and expect of our students.  We check revision folders frequently in KS5 and are regularly told it is the most valuable approach to learning taken; we build an awareness of what revision is in younger students and the importance of it in the acquisition of applicable knowledge, the impact of which is seen in results but more importantly in the expectations our students have of themselves.  In particular, this approach adds enormous value to students when they progress to further education and their future careers where their resilience and skills can be applied without the comfortable clarity of a specification.

Final impact is of course quantified through the outcomes of public examinations, but additionally to this the HoD keeps records of students’ placements on KS5 STEM courses and on their post-18 choice of university, employment or apprenticeship to gain awareness of whether the overall goal of serving society with useful, contributing and employable individuals is met.  This information is shared with students, who measure themselves against the outstanding achievements of the department and aspire to exceed them, and sells us in the most impressive way possible to parents and the wider public; if your child attends this school, this is what they can achieve!

Schemes of Work

Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 Year 12 Year 13