Ofsted and the curriculum: more good news?

Ofsted and the curriculum: more good news?
SSAT senior education lead Colin Logan reveals findings from phase 3 of Ofsted’s review and the implications for school leaders (part one)

The findings from phase three of Ofsted’s research provide not only useful information on the thinking that is clearly influencing the new framework but also food for thought for school leaders who are exploring ways of reviewing and renewing their curriculum right now.

Most, if not all, the findings from the first two phases should encourage schools that are committed to developing curricular and assessment frameworks that meet the needs of their students rather than relying on external, bought-in, ready-made resources.

Intent, implementation and impact

Phase three looked at potential ways of evaluating Ofsted’s ’3 I’s’ – intent, implementation and impact – as a measure of curriculum quality in schools. Conclusions from these will inform future inspection practice, based on collecting first-hand evidence rather than just school policy statements.

School visits by HMI focused on, among other things, what action schools had taken over the previous 18 months to improve curriculum delivery and the use of criteria against which to judge the overall quality of the curriculum. For this, HMI used a list of 25 ’curriculum indicators’ based on the findings from phase two of the review.  For each indicator, HMI made judgements on a 1-5 scale where 5 indicated exceptional practice and 2 major weaknesses with 1 being reserved for the complete absence of any aspect.

Finally, inspectors provided an overall judgement on curriculum quality, again on a 1-5 scale. Out of 64 schools visited, over 40% of schools were rated 4 or above, although this did reflect a marked difference between primary and secondary, where the figures were 24% and 58% respectively. A suggested explanation for this is the greater focus in primary schools on English and maths, at the expense of science and the foundation subjects. Other observations made about the weaker primary schools visited included that they tended to focus on a tick-box approach to delivery rather than on progression of knowledge and skills; and timetabling constraints sometimes led to pupils only doing science, history or geography for one term per year, thereby severely hampering progress.

In secondary schools, much less variability between core and foundation subjects was observed, although there was some evidence of weak curriculum delivery in some subjects, notably modern languages and history.

Data’s dominance dislodged

Ofsted’s previous over-reliance on data is a recurring theme right now, coming from Ofsted’s leadership as much as from anywhere else. The review notes: “…some schools with high progress or attainment scores were assessed by inspectors as having a weak curriculum offer. Even more importantly, some schools with below-average data were deemed to have a strong curriculum design in place… This suggests that by looking at the curriculum we can move beyond performance data and identify evidence on what is being taught to complement the performance data.”

Another thorn in Ofsted’s side has been the accusation that its criteria and judgements are unfair to schools in challenging circumstances. Interestingly, the research found little difference in curriculum quality in schools in the most and least deprived areas.

“This is encouraging because it suggests that having a deprived intake is not a barrier to offering a rich and broad curriculum to pupils, even if this is not reflected as clearly in attainment and progress data. Conversely, it also suggests that some schools in more affluent areas are providing a low-quality curriculum offer… or gaming or coasting on the back of more affluent pupil intakes. Furthermore, this suggests that a move away from using performance data as a large part of the basis for judgement and towards focusing on curriculum quality will allow us to reward schools in challenging circumstances much more equitably.”

If that is the case, there could be some interesting discussions to come between Ofsted and the DfE, and between school leaders and inspectors, about the respective importance of pupil outcomes (aka ’standards’) and judgements on education quality.

SSAT’s Four Pillars of Principled Curriculum Design offers a more in-depth resource to help schools review their curriculum intent, content, delivery and impact through a series of searching questions.

We’ll be looking at the other summary findings of the research in the second part of this blog.

“A move away from using performance data as a large part of the basis for judgement and towards focusing on curriculum quality will allow us to reward schools in challenging circumstances much more equitably”


Colin LoganColin Logan, Senior Education Lead, SSAT

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One thought on “Ofsted and the curriculum: more good news?

  1. David Jesson on said:

    Good to see some of the potential wider impacts of Ofsted’s new framework on (at least in secondary schools) over-reliance on data-based procedures and more on the qualities which may enhance good progress. It does seem, though, that there are competing pressures on primary schools which you touch on – and I hope your commentary will be read sympathetically by HMI individually – but more impprtantly by the ‘top brass’ !

    This more open approach will, I trust, continue to extend the commitment to ‘dialogue with’ school leaders and away from ‘ex-cathedral’ judgements.
    I’d be interested to see the data in respect of overall evaluations of secondary schools on the context of differing levels of disadvantage. Do you have a link for this?

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