The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Torsten Payne

Is your curriculum Ofsted ready?

Curriculum is under the spotlight for the Ofsted 2019 framework. What do you need to know about what they'll be looking for?

‘One of the areas that I think we sometimes lose sight of is the real substance of education. Not the exam grades or the progress scores, important though they are, but instead the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges: the curriculum.’ (Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector for Ofsted, at the Festival of Education 2017)

The biggest change in the 2019 Ofsted framework is surely going to be the increased importance of the curriculum. The idea that a curriculum should be broad and balanced is certainly nothing new, but Ofsted have dropped lots of hints that it will be scrutinised like never before. 

While it won’t receive a separate grading, it seems that a school will not be able to achieve a rating of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ without those labels also applying to the curriculum. Spielman has made her expectations clear in recent speeches, such as those at the Festival of Education in 2017 and again in 2018.

Dialogue, not dictation

The first thing to note is that there is no Ofsted prescribed curriculum. Instead, in her 2018 Festival of Education speech Amanda Spielman stressed her desire to hold a ‘dialogue’ with schools so that Ofsted can understand how curricula have been shaped to suit the needs of the students.

Ofsted have also come up with a working definition for the term ‘curriculum’, outlined in Sean Harford’s Ofsted spring conference blog.

A framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent)…

…for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (implementation)…

…and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact).

Intent, implementation and impact are the key words and inspectors have been asked to explore these areas when evaluating a school’s curriculum.

Amanda Spielman even went so far as to say that this exploration would be as important as exam results when it came to inspections: ‘we are just as interested in why and what schools are teaching, along with the outcomes.’ (Festival of Education, 2018)

So what do they want? Well, with no Ofsted prescribed curriculum, it’s actually a lot easier to pick out the things they do not want to see.

What not to do

In essence, Ofsted do not want to see any practice that puts the interests of schools ahead of the interests of the children. This means any ‘gaming’ elements or playing the system to bump up a schools statistic that do not help the students. Or as Spielman puts it, she hopes the focus on ‘inspecting the curriculum will help to undo the "Pixlification" of education in recent years’ (Festival of Education, 2018).

Spielman admits that Ofsted have helped create this culture by pressuring schools to ‘deliver test scores above all else’ over recent years (HMCI commentary: curriculum and the new education inspection framework), but clearly they now want to redress the balance.

Primary

  • Don’t neglect the non-examinable areas of the curriculum. Too many primary schools devote every morning to literacy and numeracy with all the other subjects jostling for a short slot in the afternoon.
  • No endless SATs practice. This gets a dishonourable mention for many a Year 6 as it’s at the expense of learning new things and experiencing that broad and balanced curriculum.

Secondary

  • Don’t let maths and English dominate. As with primaries, Ofsted are warning against giving a disproportionate amount of time to maths and English and squeezing out the other subjects. Rather, schools should plan for these vital skills to be taught throughout the curriculum.
  • Do not use GCSE specifications to design Key Stage 3. This effectively means that schools that do this are delivering a five-year Key Stage 4.
  • Don’t start GCSEs in Year 9. Or if you do, be ready to justify why you have narrowed the curriculum a year early.

Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with Ofsted. Would any teacher really be against the idea of an education system that offered a broad and balanced curriculum that put the needs of the students first and school data second?

Spielman has even stated her belief that ‘a focus on curriculum will help to tackle excessive and unsustainable workload’. I did think I might have dreamed that part, but I’ve checked and it’s definitely there in her Festival of Education 2018 speech. 

What should you do?

In conclusion, there are some crucial questions that each school should ask.

  • What is the school’s vision?
  • How is this vision shown in the curriculum?
  • Where and why does the curriculum narrow?
  • What do you already do that works?
  • Where are the opportunities to investigate the spiritual, moral, social and cultural questions?
  • Where can aspects of English, maths and science be taught through other subjects?

Or, to summarise it even further: what are the needs of your students and how does your curriculum address them? If any of these questions are difficult to answer, then this could be the ideal time to review and possibly reinvent your curriculum. As Spielman says: ‘those who are bold and ambitious for their pupils will be rewarded as a result.’

Further reading

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