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Accountability, Curriculum

Ofsted’s Curriculum Challenge

On Friday I will be part of a group from Headteachers’ Roundtable who will be meeting with Amanda Spielman HMCI and Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, Education (thanks to both in advance for their time).  Discussions will no doubt range far and wide but the curriculum will undoubtedly be part of the debate.

Amanda Spielman has been clear that there will be an increased focus on the curriculum, by Ofsted.  Focussing on the curriculum shouldn’t be an issue for schools.  There is a need to reset the balance between what we teach and how we teach it; a lot of time has been spent on the latter with too little thought given to what we have been teaching, for some time.  Both are important so we mustn’t suddenly swing too far the other way and neglect the how.  There is also a need to look at the curriculum beyond the classroom as part of the wider learning opportunities and experiences provided to children and young people.

When Ofsted focussed on delivery; delivery became king and criticisms in reports were often unhelpful and in many places simply wrong; think teacher talk.  The actions of headteachers and senior and middle leaders added fuel to the fire with more active pupil learning with loads of group work becoming the real/perceived way to gain an outstanding lesson grade.

Greater emphasis on the curriculum, as with all things Ofsted; I have reservations.  These are some notes to self to help me frame my contribution on Friday.  This is an extract from a report that is worth analysing in a bit of detail.  It’s obviously been through Ofsted’s quality assurance process and so speaks with the full authority of the inspectorate rather than just representing the views of one or two individual inspectors.

From an Ofsted Report; Summer Term 2017

Taking the first sentence there is the real potential for the curriculum, in secondary schools, to mean the E-Bacc in Ofsted terms; an independent inspectorate who are bound by the performance measures of our political masters.  Will Ofsted’s new inspection framework include a requirement for inspectors to assess entry for and point score in the E-Bacc; with negative consequences if too low and much lauding if sufficiently high?  This will have a significant impact on schools’ ability to flex their curriculum.  The second sentence is factual; it’s just a shame that RE is no longer a humanities subject according to the Department for Education’s definition.

The third sentence is the real worry; remember it has been quality assured by Ofsted, “pupils, particularly the most able pupils, may not be following courses that would enable them to apply to the most prestigious universities in the future.”  We now have a causal link created between the E-Bacc and attending a “prestigious” university.  I know of no evidence that links the E-Bacc to attending prestigious universities.  Cambridge stated they were not interested in the E-Bacc as an entry qualification; Oxford stated they’d give schools six years notice if they ever decided that the E-Bacc became an entry requirement for them.  Similarly, I know of no other university that requires the GCSE E-Bacc; it’s two or more of a student’s A-levels being from the list of facilitating subjects that matters.  It’s a side point but the bullet point appears overly negative given the final conclusions.

People very rarely read inspection schedules or frameworks but snippets from Ofsted reports relayed, exaggerated and misconstrued spread like wildfire.  The cumulative impact of this type of statement on the many different aspects of the curriculum has chaos written all over it.  Muddled thinking in reports allied with imprecise communication will add the curriculum to the problems that have been previously been associated with teaching styles and currently with marking. 

Let’s be careful what we ask for from Ofsted.  If we are going to become a World Class system; a lot less Ofsted accountability and much more teacher responsibility will be required.

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