Key stage 3


Maths follows a sequential learning pattern so if a student does not have the prerequisite early learning or has failed to fully grasp a concept, then they will struggle to cope with new learning. Many students are in this situation through no fault of their own. They may have missed some learning due to absence; part of the curriculum may have been omitted in class due to lost learning time; they may have been accelerated, having given the teacher the impression that they knew what they were doing or, as is the case for many, the student just didn’t have enough time or teaching input to fully master the subject area. Whatever the reason,it is essential that students can plug their gaps in knowledge.

Unfortunately, discovering gaps in the knowledge of students within a secondary maths class is extremely difficult as tests given will rarely assess competence with earlier concepts. Plugging gaps, if and when they are found, means coming away from the main curriculum and giving individual / small group instruction – exceedingly difficult to manage within the secondary maths classroom. Consequently, it is difficult to catch up when you fall behind. If the subject of maths is equated to a brick built wall, then it will be falling down without enough blocks in the lower levels! It certainly won’tgrow very high without firm foundations.

Shyness; fear of peers and their reaction to someone daring to say they don’t understand; fear of appearing ‘stupid’ and even not knowing how to ask for help are among the reasons why a student may not ask for help when in KS3 and KS4. This is a common issue among students coming to Aspire Tuition. They know they are struggling with their school maths work and actually want help but cannot access extra support. Not only will they struggle to manage any new maths but self-esteem is likely to be low, leaving them feel dreadful about their learning capability generally.

Students often come to Aspire Tuition who clearlyare not comfortable working at the level their school assessment had put them at. They are struggling in class and feel under pressure to meet a seemingly unattainable level. Frequently parents bring their child to us confused as they know their child has issues with areas of learning that the school hasn’t identified.

Whether or not the student is working at the right level, without firm foundations in place, secondary maths is challenging. With concepts such as algebraic factorisation and simplication, ratios, geometry and percentage increases, students can struggle in class to take on board this new learning. Some parents try to help but this is fraught with issues. Teens often don’t want their parents to help them; possibly they don’t want to expose their weaknesses. Frequently parents lack the knowledge of current methods and struggle with mathematical vocabulary. Many are working longer hours as their children are now older.

It is not unusual forsome students to actually coast through KS3. It is acknowledged that those in the KS3 phases do not fully understand assessment processes in primary years and the challenge that pupils have gone through for SATs. Therefore secondary schools are not always building on this prior knowledge. There is often an emphasis on the pastoral needs of students, helping them settle in is prioritised above challenging them appropriately academically. Some students will begin to slide rather than develop.

Unfortunately KS3 has frequently become the poor relation of key stage 4. KS3 students are often be taught by less experienced staff, sometimes supply or job share teachers with the more experienced teachers put in to KS4 and 5 classes. 


Key Stage 3 is demanding for students and for many parents. It is becoming more confusing for parents as schools embrace the government policy of life without levels and leave work ungraded. Whilst it is aimed at a move forward to focus on the quality of the work and how to improve it rather than relying on arbitrary end grades, it can be confusing as a parent to know exactly how well your child is actually performing. 

In Year 7 and 8, students are suddenly expected to understand demanding and challenging texts from Shakespeare to Victorian poetry, to write at length on a myriad of topics and to have a secure grasp of grammar and punctuation. Homework demands may well be much greater than at Key stage 2 and parents find it difficult to get involved due to the limits of their own subject knowledge and,frequently, their maturing children no longer welcome their input.

Often we see students where they will have been given aspirational targets based on their Key Stage 2 results but may well be struggling to even get close to these targets. With the need for students to be involved in their own learning, schools regularly inform them of their test scores, with some schools even ranking students across the year group. From feeling secure within their close knit primary school classroom, their confidence plummets, sometimes resulting in more serious self-esteem and mental health issues. 

Moreover Year 9s face a different set of concerns as many schools commence GCSE courses either directly taking on the syllabus over three years or directing every scheme of work towards the final GCSE course. The challenge schools have here is to keep the work stimulating and motivating throughout. Parents often notice their child de-energised with the work in Year 9: bored even, and with the boredom, a decline in performance.

But don’t just take our word for it, read more from our students and their families.