Ofsted’s curriculum conversations

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

More details on Ofsted’s plans to place the curriculum at the heart of the new inspection framework are emerging after the latest update from the inspectorate’s on-going curriculum research. Pete Henshaw reports

It is possible for school inspectors to make valid judgements of a wide range of curriculum approaches, Ofsted has concluded.
The decision paves the way for judgements on the breadth and depth of a school’s curriculum to be placed at the core of school inspection from September 2019.

It comes after the results of phase three of Ofsted’s on-going two-year research project into the curriculum were published in December. This focused on how Ofsted can ensure the new framework offers effective and accurate judgements of the many different curriculum approaches to be found in schools and the report is based on a number of pilots. It concludes that it is possible to make “valid assessments of the quality of curriculum”.

The new framework is to be introduced in September and a consultation has now been published. Even before its publication, Ofsted had already set out plans for a proposed new “quality of education” judgement, marking a shift in focus away from exam results and towards curriculum breadth and quality.

In October, Ms Spielman said there would be a move away from “headline data” and a new focus on “how schools are achieving these results and whether they are offering a curriculum that is broad, rich and deep, or simply teaching to the test”.

She set out four new inspection judgements, including plans to scrap “student outcomes” as a standalone judgement, making it part of a wider “quality of education” judgement.

The other three are proposed to be personal development, behaviour & attitudes, and leadership & management.

The curriculum inspection pilots which informed the latest report used 25 indicators of curriculum quality, which had been developed after phases one and two of the research. Inspectors scored schools from one to five on each aspect.

Examples of these indicators include that “reading is prioritised to allow pupils to access the full curriculum offer”, that “subject leaders have the knowledge, expertise and practical skill to design and implement a curriculum”, and that “leaders enable curriculum expertise to develop across the school”.

These 25 indicators will not be “directly translated” into the final framework because it would become too unwieldy. They were used in the pilots simply to test whether this approach could work. However, Ofsted has said that the indicators will inform the framework’s new content.

In a commentary published alongside the research chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Inspectors, school leaders and teachers from across a broad range of schools can indeed have professional, in-depth conversations about curriculum intent and implementation

“Importantly, what we also found was that schools can produce equally strong curricula regardless of the level of deprivation in their communities, which suggests that our new approach could be fairer to schools in disadvantaged areas.

“Through the autumn term, we have been piloting inspections under the proposed new framework. These pilots have drawn heavily from our curriculum research, including the (25) indicators. This research has given us a lot of confidence that our plans to look beyond data and assess the broader quality of education are achievable and necessary.”

Last month, Ms Spielman appeared before delegates at the SSAT National Conference in Birmingham where she took part in an on-stage interview focused on the new inspection framework.

She told SSAT delegates: “It’s about helping us all to have the right conversation about education. It’s really important that this is a real conversation. We want to design inspection to make sure that it’s as constructive and valuable a process for people who go through it as possible.

“The challenge for us has been developing something with criteria broad enough,” she added, pointing to the on-going curriculum research project and pilots.”

When challenged about the quality and consistency of her own inspectors, and the added challenge that will come with judging curriculum quality, Ms Spielman acknowledge this as a key focus.

She said: “We do a lot of training. We have increased that since I came and we have had training on the missing piece (the curriculum) for over a year now. There is also a great deal of inspector monitoring both in the process itself and the report-writing stages to identify inspectors who need additional training. We really understand the importance of getting the best consistency and quality.”

With Ofsted’s consultation launched this month, there has been concern about the timetable for the new framework’s implementation and what the workload implications for schools might be (for more on the workload debate, see Workload reduction: What will 2019 bring?).

The day before at the SSAT conference during a panel debate on workload, Luke Tyrl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, told delegates that workload reduction was a priority, especially tackling the workload associated with preparation for inspection.

He emphasised Ofsted’s position that they do not need to see data presented in a particular way. He added: “We say time and time again – don’t have Mocksteds, do not do triple marking.”

For her part, Ms Spielman told SSAT delegates that the highest risk to workload was having an inspection framework that “has danced around the core of the business (that of the curriculum)”.

She added: “The aim here is not to send a giant shock through the system. I would expect the new framework to help us to see which schools are really focused on giving children the very best education.”

Further information

  • An investigation into how to assess the quality of education through curriculum intent, implementation and impact, Ofsted, December 2018: http://bit.ly/2EtzBrg
  • Commentary on curriculum research – phase 3, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted, December 2018: http://bit.ly/2EfCLOh
  • Schools prepare for January consultation over Ofsted plans, Headteacher Update, October 2018: http://bit.ly/2R6vJ1F

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