Be ‘bold and courageous’ with your curriculum, Ofsted urges

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Curriculum, exclusion and literacy – Ofsted outlines its key priorities at Headteacher Update’s Ninth Pupil Premium & Ofsted Conference

Ofsted’s new inspection framework in 2019 will bring with it a clear focus on the curriculum and will reward schools for being “bold and courageous”.

The message was delivered to delegates at Headteacher Update and SecEd’s Ninth National Ofsted and Pupil Premium Conference, which took place before Easter in Birmingham.

The keynote speaker at the event was Peter Humphries, Ofsted’s senior HMI for schools in the West Midlands region. He told around 150 senior leaders from primary and secondary schools that chief inspector Amanda Spielman “has a real focus on the curriculum”.

He explained: “Amanda Spielman has looked a lot at the curriculum and in the framework in 2019 I think there will be a focus on the curriculum. How well does your curriculum meet the needs of disadvantaged groups, SEND, boys excluded, etc?

“She (Ms Spielman) feels that schools are too focused on how the curriculum prepares children and young people for SATs and GCSEs.
“From a disadvantaged pupil’s point of view, if all you get is teaching to the test and a focus on examinations, you can see how that might affect you and disengage you. And it’s not just (the case for) disadvantaged pupils.”

He continued: “Please be assured that if you are bold and courageous to adapt your curriculum and do exciting things you will get credit for it.”

Mr Humphries said that the Ofsted inspection judgements may change from 2019, with something along the lines of “Quality of Education” likely to be introduced.

He added: “The curriculum will play a big part. School leaders will have to make clear the intent of the curriculum, the implementation of the curriculum and the impact – for different groups.

“Amanda Spielman is listening to schools to try and make sure that the Inspection Framework in 2019 is much more informed with your experiences of inspection.”


Exclusion is also an issue for Ofsted. The Department for Education (DfE) is currently conducting a review into exclusion practices and Mr Humphries reminded delegates of the evidence showing that certain groups of students are more likely to be excluded than others. He urged schools to reflect on their own situation.

He said: “Over half of permanent or fixed term exclusions happen in year 9 or above. Boys are over three times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion. If you are a Black Caribbean Boy in year 9 or above you are likely to be excluded. If you are on free school meals, you are four times more like to receive a permanent or fixed term exclusion.

“Have you got any figures that show you are disproportionately excluding that particular group? What do your exclusion figures say about particular groups? Who is attending and not attending school? Reflect on this.”

There have been calls for the DfE’s review to include a focus on “off-rolling” – the practice of taking students off-roll in order to protect a school’s exam scores (Call for a focus on schools that ‘off-roll’ students, SecEd, March 2018:

Mr Humphries warned schools that this practice is on Ofsted’s radar too: “If a number of pupils are removed from the school roll you will be asked about that. It makes worrying reading for some schools.

“Years 9 to 10 and 10 to 11 – it really is a high figure for some schools. It comes back to the pressure schools are under, but it’s definitely not right.”


Mr Humphries reminded delegates of the key role of literacy in closing the gap, pointing to American research showing that children in richer families will experience 45 million words, while for those in working class families and for those in families on welfare the figures are 20 and 13 million respectively.

He told delegates: “We know that literacy is an issue for disadvantaged pupils and it’s sometimes a bit of a surprise that it’s not being addressed more rigorously in schools.

“Ninety per cent of words you will only experience in books. It’s important to read because that’s where we can develop with our vocabulary.”

He said that literacy skills were essential, especially reading. He asked delegates what their schools were doing in terms of literacy and numeracy consolidation for Pupil Premium pupils. He added: “I am surprised sometimes in schools that pupils’ literacy skills are very low. They are reading but it’s not about catch up or vocabulary.”

Other key pointers

Mr Humphries reassured delegates on a number of other inspection issues in relation to the Pupil Premium:

  • Teaching: “It’s up to you how you teach and how to assess. The number of books we see with different colours and stamps of VF (verbal feedback) and when we ask why, they say it’s because Ofsted expects it – absolutely not. I can dispel that myth right away.”
  • Books and marking: “Daily marking – some people will say that it’s because Ofsted expects it. Absolutely not. The focus on any book will be about pupils’ progress from their starting points.
  • Spending: “There are many ways to spend the Pupil Premium but the important thing is that there should be impact. It’s really important that you use the data and information that you have about children and young people to decide on the approaches, curriculum and the way we teach.”
  • Pupil Premium Champion: “Do not treat (Pupil Premium students) as a homogenous group. Give disadvantaged pupils a high profile in your schools. Do you have someone with a particular focus on checking, monitoring how Pupil Premium pupils are doing? Who is that person? Are they the right person? Are they someone who does not have high expectations, who makes excuses for them? Are there staff that equate disadvantaged and SEN with low ability?
  • High expectations: Mr Humphries said that good schools have high expectations of what Pupil Premium pupils can achieve, they give them good teachers and quality first teaching. He added: “Are all the disadvantaged in the low groups and low sets? Do they get the best teachers or not? Ask these questions. There is nothing wrong with intervention groups, but is that masking the lack of good teaching?”
  • CEIAG: Mr Humphries said that schools where there was poor or non-existant careers education might have “the ingredients for pupils to become disengaged”. Effective careers advice is seen as vital, including at primary level.
  • Governors: “Governors have a vital role in how they challenge school leaders. That outside view is very helpful as a headteacher. Are governors the champions for disadvantaged pupils? Governors do not shy away from challenging leaders about variations in outcomes.”
  • Data: Mr Humphries reassured delegates that judgements “will never be based on historic data”. However, he said that inspectors will still look at the quality of teaching over time and the progress for pupils currently in the school. “Over time is not disappearing,” he added.
  • The 10th National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference will take place on September 28 at the NEC in Birmingham. Details will be available from June via

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