Ofsted: What curriculum evidence will they need?

Written by: Imogen Rowley | Published:
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With Ofsted’s new ‘quality of education’ judgement in mind, Imogen Rowley examines how inspectors will be judging the ‘intent, implementation and impact’ of your curriculum

The introduction of Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework, with its “quality of education” measure, has put the curriculum firmly in the spotlight.

‘Intent, implementation and impact’

The quality of education judgement looks at your curriculum, which includes teaching, assessment and standards. Ofsted’s working definition of “curriculum” explains it as: “A framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent) ... translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (implementation) ... and evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact).” (Harford, 2018)

The inspection process

When it comes to inspection time, the process will be split into three stages:

A top-level view: This will just involve the senior leadership team and curriculum leaders, who will be required to talk through the curriculum with inspectors. You will need to cover what is on offer, who it is for and when it is being delivered. You should also expect to talk about the school’s context, your understanding of curriculum intent and sequencing – and why content and sequencing decisions were made.

Going deeper: A “deep dive” into specific areas, subjects or topics to gain first-hand evidence – this will involve a wider group including the senior leadership team, curriculum leaders, teacher and pupils. The core of the “deep dive” approach is: “Let’s see that in action together.” Inspectors will gather evidence on intent, implementation and impact over a sample of subjects, topics or aspects identified in the conversations you had in the top-level view. They will carry out as many activities as possible jointly with school and curriculum leaders.

Further examination: Identification of patterns and areas for further examination includes the senior leadership team, curriculum leaders, teachers, governors and pupils. Inspectors will triangulate the evidence gathered in a “deep dive” to test whether any issues they uncovered are systemic and which are isolated to a single aspect (for example, a particular teacher, subject, or year group). They will quality-assure the evidence they have, and identify areas for further investigation on day two.

Sources of evidence

Sources of evidence will include work scrutinies and lesson observations. Inspectors will rely heavily on first-hand evidence and there will not be one type that is more important than another. The focus will be on the interconnection of all the pieces of evidence and what they tell inspectors about whether pupils are knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more. A deep dive will include the following.

  • Conversations: A big part of the process will include inspectors speaking with the senior leadership team, curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils. Ofsted’s new handbook (May 2019) provides more detail about what these conversations will cover.
  • Work scrutinies: Inspectors will look at a minimum of six pieces of work per subject, per year group, and look across at least two year groups. They will not grade individual pieces of work or teachers. The purpose of work scrutiny is to evaluate whether pupils’ books support other evidence that what your school set out to teach (your intent) has indeed been covered.
  • Lesson observations: Inspectors will visit four to six lessons for each subject/area, depending on the size of the school. It will be a deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons, chosen in connection with other evidence and the focus of the “deep dive”. They will not grade individual lessons or teachers. The purpose of observations is for inspectors to evaluate how well what is going on in lessons contributes to your curriculum’s intentions.

What is ‘outstanding’?

There are a number of components that go into achieving an outstanding quality of education judgement. In a nutshell, it is important that:

  • Everyone knows your curriculum intent (what you are teaching pupils, as well as why you are teaching them that) and how it is being implemented, including their role in that.
  • The curriculum, schemes of work, lessons and work given to pupils are sequenced and planned effectively so that pupils know more, can do more, and remember more.
  • Teachers’ pedagogical and subject content knowledge is good. Pupils’ work and outcomes are good, including for specific groups.
  • This is all consistent across subjects/year groups.


Do not worry if you have not got everything in place. These are transitional arrangements so, if you are due an inspection this year, make sure that you can show inspectors that, where necessary, you are taking steps that are likely to result in at least a “good” quality of education in two years’ time. Ofsted explains more about the transitional arrangements in its recent School inspection update (September 2019). 

  • Imogen Rowley is a lead content producer at The Key, a service for education leaders.

Further information & resources

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