A KS3 Curriculum in Context: Applebee

Planning and sequencing a Key Stage 3 curriculum that is diverse, exciting, and interconnected.

In seeking a balance between context and objectives, Applebee’s (1996) influential publication Curriculum in Conversation emphasises that curriculum reform must focus on ‘Systems of knowledge-in-action’ (p.36). Applebee is most concerned with students being taught in a relevant and current context.

Applebee’s work struck a chord with me, especially after reading my PGCE professor Lorna Smith’s recent investigative piece Top Ten Texts: a survey of commonly-taught KS3 readers in NATE’s Teaching English on the most commonly taught texts at Key Stage 3. Most are by white men, and most feature male protagonists.

In renewing the department’s Key Stage 3 curriculum, we spent time discussing possible texts and worked on including texts that were both diverse, and challenging. The Key Stage 4 curriculum does not offer a broad range of texts in terms of diversity, so we were keen to maximise the opportunity that Key Stage 3 offered for this.

The temptation to choose texts chronologically was avoided as there is more we can offer students than with this approach. To teach chronologically encourages alignment of similar contexts and writers, which again, tends to lean towards traditions and values that are mostly white and patriarchal.

In choosing texts for Key Stage 3, we decided on certain principles:

>Texts and topics will be sequenced to encourage progress – meaning, students have the opportunity to layer and connect their previous learning to new learning, be it through skills, content, concepts, or context.

>Texts are to be written by a diverse range of authors from a range of contexts and time periods

>Texts will offer subject matter that is diverse – for example, texts by non-white writers will not to all be about trauma; texts that feature women will present them from many different perspectives; texts the reflect on masculinity will consider different views on masculinity etc.

This is not a ‘should’ list, but what we discussed and decided as appropriate for our department.

Applebee states that ‘Interconnectedness is an important feature of effective curriculum and instruction’ (p.32). The way in which the curriculum is sequenced encourages this interconnectedness. Students are able to build concepts, perspectives, and understandings of the subject and move between these confidently to make connections and to build on meanings and interpretations. Students should be able to explain how their texts and topics are connected. For example, a student studying the works of Martin Luther King can make connections to the novel The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas; a student studying Romeo and Juliet can reflect on the gender norms that Angela Carter rejects in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber.

Applebee’s ‘knowledge in action’ seeks to connect the subject to the relevant conversations that are connecting us together in the present, but he does not disregard tradition. Tradition can be used as a springboard in English to gain an understanding of broader cultural traditions and of how these traditions have evolved and changed. To plan a curriculum that has real breadth and variety encourages the curriculum maker, the teacher, to react to social contexts and to the cultural values of their students, rather than a dominant cultural tradition that has been passed down.


Applebee, A. (1996) Curriculum as Conversation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Smith, L. (2020, June) Top Ten Texts: a survey of commonly-taught KS3 readers. Teaching English. Issue 23. p30-33

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