Ofsted’s changed regime: Questions to consider

Written by: Danny Cuttell | Published:
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The Education Inspection Framework is a radical departure from what has gone before. Danny Cuttell considers some aspects that you might have missed and asks some key questions of your curriculum provision

Much analysis has been given to the renewed focus on the quality of education in Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) and how schools are designing and implementing their curriculum. In addition, there are some other important areas that schools will need to consider. Below are some key questions to ask...

Curriculum: An ambitious vision

Do we have a clear and ambitious vision for our curriculum?

Curriculum is at the heart of education; one can see and understand the values and philosophy of a school by looking at the curriculum it puts in place for its pupils. Having a clarity of vision for your curriculum – and ensuring that vision is shared by all involved in implementing the curriculum – is vital to its success. Ask yourself the following:

  • What is the “intent” of our curriculum?
  • What knowledge, skills or experiences does our curriculum prioritise and why?
  • What outcomes are we trying to secure for our pupils?
  • Is our curriculum ambitious for each and every pupil in our school?

Ofsted will be looking for staff across the school to be clear and consistent in their responses to the above. Make sure everyone is on the same page as it will help drive the focus and coherence of your curriculum at a whole school and subject level.

Curriculum: Structure

Is my curriculum logically structured to ensure pupils remember more?

Ofsted defines learning as “an alteration in long-term memory” where pupils are making progress in terms of knowing and remembering more. They also draw a distinction between this “genuine” learning – where pupils connect new and existing knowledge – and the recalling of disconnected facts.

Underpinning the new framework is the belief that the sequencing of learning in a curriculum has a direct impact on whether pupils learn and remember more. Can you and your colleagues answer questions around:

  • Why is content taught in the order it is?
  • Where is content revisited and built on?
  • How does the sequencing of the curriculum ensure you build on, rather than repeat, pupils’ prior learning?

Curriculum: The school context

Is my curriculum tailored to the school’s context?

Ofsted is looking for well-designed curricula that take account of the school’s local context. Think about the following:

  • Are there any opportunities local to the school that could be used as part of providing a broad and balanced curriculum? For example the history and geography of the local area or potential links to local industry/employment.
  • What knowledge and experiences do pupils not have easy access to which the school curriculum might need to address? This links closely to the idea of “cultural capital”. What is your curriculum doing for pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds?


Are governors skilled and effective in holding the leadership to account?

Away from the curriculum, Ofsted is looking for effective leadership and management across all elements of the school, rather than it being overly concentrated with a handful of people. Most obviously this means senior and middle leaders all leading effectively and with unity of purpose and vision, but it also extends to the governors of the school.

In schools “requiring improvement”, there is a common picture of a governing body that functions ineffectively – this might be in terms of the governors lacking relevant skills or expertise, or of the relationship between governors and school leaders being broken. Similarly, governors might lack a basic understanding of their role and therefore stand little chance of being able to hold the school to account.
In contrast, where governors are judged to be performing effectively they are often a driving force for improving the school, being a critical friend to school leaders and bringing additional expertise and insight to the leadership of the school.

Now is a good time to think about whether the governors in your school have a breadth of relevant skills and experience. Do they have a deep understanding of the school’s priorities and its improvement strategy? And do they fully understand the remit of their role in holding the school leadership team to account?

Workload and wellbeing

In what ways does your school take into consideration the workload and wellbeing of staff?

Ofsted is keen to understand what schools are doing to address teacher workload and wellbeing in response to the wider recruitment and staff retention issue facing schools.

During inspection it is highly likely that staff will be asked how well supported they feel in their role and what measures leaders take to ensure workload is manageable. This is particularly pertinent where schools are seeking to redevelop or broaden out their curriculum in response to the new framework. In what ways can a school do this without overloading their staff?

Similarly, a school’s assessment policy will be scrutinised in relation to teacher workload. Inspectors will be interested in how assessment and the collection of data is used to inform the teaching and learning but without significantly increasing teachers’ workloads. Think about how the policies and strategies in place in your school represent an efficient use of time and are sustainable for staff.

Ofsted will also monitor whether schools have a sensible policy around the frequency with which teachers are asked for data drops – with a preference for no more than two to three per year. Many schools will already be in line with this, but where schools are carrying out more than three, a sound rationale will need to be in place.


Is your school fully inclusive in how it provides for the needs of pupils with SEND?

The EIF gives more emphasis to what schools are doing to support SEND pupils. A key focus is on inclusion: what are schools doing to ensure pupils with SEND can fully access and make the most of the curriculum? It is important to note that it is not possible to become, or remain as an outstanding school if you are found to not be inclusive in any way – this is effectively a red line for Ofsted. Focus will be given to areas such as:

  • Whether staff have the training and skills needed to effectively support SEND pupils.
  • The ways in which the curriculum has considered the needs of SEND pupils to ensure they can access it as fully as non-SEND pupils.
  • Whether school leaders and the curriculum have a high level of ambition for SEND pupils – namely, the same level of ambition as for non-SEND pupils. Ofsted has explicitly said that a school should not offer disadvantaged pupils or pupils with SEND a reduced curriculum.

If you look at the “sources of evidence” Ofsted has said it will use when inspecting the quality of a school’s curriculum, it is telling that there is an additional, separate bullet point focusing on how well pupils with SEND are prepared for the next stage of education and their adult lives. The message from Ofsted is clear: this is a framework that places particular emphasis on and scrutiny of how well SEND pupils are supported by schools.

  • Danny Cuttell is head of curriculum services at Pearson UK.

Further information & resources

  • Ofsted: Education Inspection Framework, May 2019: http://bit.ly/2M3ttuj
  • Pearson has created a series of Handy Guides to Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework. Part one summarises these questions as well as key changes and their implications. Part two focuses on leadership and management. Part three (due out soon) looks at personal development. Visit http://go.pearson.com/curriculum

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