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Key Stage 3

The curriculum in KS3 at Holcombe Grammar School is designed to help students develop a solid foundation, both in beginning (in year 7) and continuing (through years 8 and 9) their high level academic studies and in their development as productive and valuable members of society.

Our fortnightly timetable ensures students have access to a range of lessons and home learning opportunities to attain knowledge and abilities in preparation for their GCSE courses. Our curriculum builds on many subject specific skills, including numeracy and literacy covered in primary school, and develops transferable thinking skills that are used throughout the subjects. Many topics studied are demanding and unfamiliar but enable students to discover new ideas that may shape their future choices in work and education.

Academic mastery in KS3 is rooted in a student’s wider reading, research and general world knowledge that supports the classroom-based learning. Therefore, throughout KS3 lessons, form time and extra-curricular activities the development of a love of reading is a priority. In addition, students are encouraged to make use of the school library, share their book reviews with peers and attend extra-curricular book clubs to extend their interests and reading skills.

Individual focus days include Thinking Tools training in Term 1 and Revision Skills in Term 4. These days are led by the Form Tutors to introduce the Thinking Tools that form the basis of Holcombe’s approach to teaching and learning, and by the School Captains and Prefects to help students prepare for their end of year exams successfully.

Students are also encouraged to get involved in many other aspects of the Holcombe community. An extensive range of clubs, societies, music and sports are offered before school, at lunchtime and after school. Students also have the opportunity of making an impact on the life of the school through a number of different positions of responsibility including being an Anti-Bullying Ambassador, helping to run a club or taking on the role of a Form Captain or Sports Captain.

From September 2020, Key Stage 3 will expand into Year 9. Therefore, the curriculum will be switching from a two-year Key Stage 3 to a three-year Key Stage 3 (across Years 7-9) and a two-year Key Stage 4 model (Year 10 and 11). This is an exciting decision, which was made in response to significant national changes to the educational landscape and following a great deal of thought and discussion. This will mean our students will select their GCSE option choices in Year 9 instead of Year 8 and will commence GCSE studies in Year 10, instead of Year 9.

We concluded that a 3-year Key Stage 3 model was a better model for our students for these reasons:

  • By studying the full range of National Curriculum subjects throughout Years 7, 8 and 9, students have greater access to a broad, balanced and challenging curriculum. They are able to study a breadth of subjects for longer, and can study each subject in greater depth by studying it for three years instead of two.
  • Year 9 will deliver a learning experience that better prepares students for GCSE study, for example by extending their ‘mastery’ of key concepts in a range of subjects and through focussing on skills that we know are needed for GCSE study. We will also be amending our ‘Life Skills’ curriculum (encompassing Careers, Health, Citizenship and PSHE) to ensure our students are better prepared for life in 21st century Britain.
  • GCSEs are designed to be completed in two years, not three. Our students are very academically able and are more than capable of studying these courses in two years.
  • The vast majority of our students will progress to A Level study in Sixth Form. A Levels are two-year courses and we feel confident that students will be better prepared for the rigours of A Level study if they are used to completing GCSEs in a two year period.
  • The choice of which subjects to study at GCSE is an important decision. Year 8 is arguably too early to make such a big decision and by extending Key Stage 3 until Year 9, and giving the students an extra year of knowledge acquisition and skill development in a wide range of subjects, students will be that much more mature and prepared to make what is the right decision for them.


Key Stage 4

At Holcombe the transition from KS3 to KS4 begins when students start Year 10. Students will be well prepared for this change, as throughout Year 9 they will be given experiences of non-National Curriculum subjects such as Business Studies, Media, Sociology and so on, so that they will be able to make informed decisions about which subjects they want to study when it comes to selecting their GCSE options.

For the information 2020/2021 options information booklet, please see here:

They will also have chosen which Modern Foreign Language they wish to study in Year 9, selecting from either French or Spanish. All students will only study one Modern Foreign Language in Year 9, compared to the two they will have studied so far. It will then be up to them to choose if they wish to continue to study this language at GCSE when they make their options choices.

The Key Stage 4 Team and Form Tutors see your child on a daily basis and have the biggest impact on your child’s education. They follow a vigorous programme of activities during their time with your child offering one to one mentoring support catering not only for their academic performance but also their general wellbeing.

The Key Stage 4 Team provide a range of resources that will help you as parents understand the academic demands that your child will go through, as well as providing strategies to help support your child. Students are also supported with a range of support materials additional to those supplied by their subject teachers in order to strive for success.

Students are encouraged to be actively involved in school life and are given opportunities to have their voices and opinions heard by volunteering to be Form or Sports Captain or member of our School Council and Diversity group.


Key Stage 5

We are a large Sixth Form and offer a wide range of subjects for students to choose from. Although academic success is at the heart of everything we do, we believe that education is about a lot more than that. Therefore we provide lots of opportunities for students to participate in a range of clubs and activities including school trips, sporting teams and events, the opportunity to participate in debates and much, much more. We will also be keen for students to develop leadership skills through becoming a school council representative, a prefect, a student mentor or by becoming a member of the School Captains’ Team.


Cognitive Education at Holcombe

 At Holcombe Grammar School we believe passionately in providing our students with the best foundations on which to build their academic and personal success. In doing so we draw on the very latest pedagogic research to place cognition and Thinking Skills at the heart of our teaching and learning provision.

As part of our journey toward being acknowledged as a centre of best practice in this field, we recently gained accreditation as a Thinking School from University of Exeter’s prestigious Cognitive Education Development Unit. We were delighted after we became one of only thirty schools in the country to receive the ‘Thinking School’ accreditation from the University in September 2019, a status we will hold until September 2022. In its report, Exeter University highlighted the strong partnership between the School and the Trust, noting that staff at Holcombe Grammar School have “fully embraced” the Thinking School vision and are “committed to creating a positive learning culture”.

“The philosophy of developing students’ thinking skills is being developed well… evidently motivating students to challenge themselves and step outside of their comfort zones.” – Ofsted October 2014

 Ofsted have also noted how our School’s ‘vision to develop pupil’s thinking skills was having a positive impact on the quality of learning and teaching.’


What is a Thinking School?

Thinking Schools follow many different paths, but one useful definition that encapsulates our approach at Holcombe is that offered by Knapp:

“A school which is successfully developing as a thinking community will strive to ensure that all pupils are developing and demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills using a range of thinking tools and strategies. The school will generate high levels of achievement and an excitement and enthusiasm for lifelong learning. ”

Thinking Tools and Strategies at Holcombe


Thinking Maps

Thinking Maps are eight graphic organisers that foster students’ abilities to see connections across their studies and encourage lifelong learning. Taken together they form a visual language of learning that is shared by staff and students.


Thinking Hats

Widely used in business, Thinking Hats provide a practical method of directed cognition. Each of six distinct types of thinking are represented by a different coloured hat. When an individual is ‘wearing’ a specific hat they focus their thinking in the associated manner. Consequently the method helps people be more productive, focused, and mindfully involved.


Thinkers’ Keys

Thinkers’ Keys are a set of twenty different ways of approaching an issue or subject designed to engage and motivate learners in a range of thinking activities.


Useful Links

Thinking Hats- A Guide

Thinking Maps – A Guide

What is a Thinking School?

Holcombe Grammar School’s Thinking School Accreditation

More Information about Thinking Maps

Habits, Hats, Maps and More


In this section


Key Stage 5 Our Sixth Form Application Form for 2021 is available here. The majority of our students continue their post-16 studies here at Holcombe, joined each year by a number of external students…

Art and Design

Curriculum Intent Intended curriculum outcomes: Whilst studying Art and Design at Holcombe Grammar School you will develop a variety of skills and a working knowledge of materials, practices and technology in different disciplines such as drawing,…

Curriculum Intent Astronomy is the Science governing the study of the Universe beyond the Earth.  It is taught at Holcombe Grammar School at GCSE level. The intent of this course is to enable pupils to understand…


Curriculum Intent The Biology department at Holcombe Grammar School is passionate about what it does. We believe everyone has an interest in living organisms and the natural world around them, whether it be a fascination with…

Business Studies

Curriculum Intent In Business, our aim is: To give students the opportunity to explore real business issues and how businesses work. To provide students with the knowledge and skills needed with a firm foundation for further…


Curriculum Intent Chemistry is taught at Holcombe Grammar School across all three Key Stages; at KS3 it is taught as part of the Science curriculum, whilst at KS4 students have the choice of studying Chemistry as…

Computer Science

Curriculum Intent Intended curriculum outcomes: At Holcombe we aim to deliver the following ambitious outcomes for our students through our curriculum. Students will: Be aspirational and ready for the next step in life Achieve high quality…

Design Technology

Curriculum Intent Design Technology at Holcombe is focused on equipping students with a rounded experience of being a designer and maker. This experience is underpinned by traditional techniques but embraces the modern world of new technologies,…

Curriculum Intent Whilst studying drama, students will develop a knowledge of rehearsing, performing and analysing theatre, and in turn will enhance skills that are invaluable to all students throughout their lives. Drama enables students to explore…


Curriculum Intent In economics, our aims are: All students should be able to engage with the economy as it happens in society, within the classroom Identify their own economic preferences, reflect on their political and social…