Throughout September and October, I’m devoting my weekly SecEd column to the subject of curriculum design. By way of a teaser, here are my thoughts on what Ofsted is likely to focus on when it publishes its new Common Inspection Framework in 2019…
In his Ofsted blog, Sean Harford said that in 10 out of the 23 secondary schools inspectors visited as part of their consultation on the curriculum, school leaders admitted to “reducing key stage 3 to just 2 years”. Whilst this might work for subjects where concepts are revisited at deeper levels (such as English and maths), “it doesn’t work for all subjects, especially those that pupils drop before GCSE.”
Amanda Spielman, in her speech at the Festival of Education, bemoaned this increasing “cannibalisation” of Key Stage 3 into Key Stage 4: “Preparing for GCSEs so early,” Spielman said, “gives young people less time to study a range of subjects in depth and more time just practising the tests themselves.” We have, she said, “a full and coherent national curriculum and [it is] a huge waste not to use it properly.”
All children should study a broad and rich curriculum, she said, and yet “curtailing key stage 3 means prematurely cutting this off for children who may never have an opportunity to study some of these subjects again.”
In short, Spielman said that schools had “a tendency to mistake badges and stickers for learning itself… [and put their own interests] ahead of the interests of the children in them.”
“We should be ashamed,” she said, “that we have let such behaviour persist for so long.”
In light of such strong language from the chief inspector, we can be confident that the 2019 Common Inspection Framework will seek to put an end to this behaviour and encourage schools – with the carrot and stick of inspection – to develop broader, more balanced curriculums that better prepare pupils for the future.
As schools prepare for this change, they may find it helpful to refer to the current inspection framework for some useful insights into what Ofsted regards as an effective curriculum…
Currently, the quality of the curriculum is inspected under leadership and management and there are three paragraphs worth considering here. Inspectors are told to evaluate:
1. The design, implementation and evaluation of the curriculum, ensuring breadth and balance and its impact on pupils’ outcomes and their personal, development, behaviour and welfare.
2. How well the school supports the formal curriculum with extra-curricular opportunities for pupils to extend their knowledge and understanding, and to improve their skills in a range of artistic, creative and sporting activities.
3. How well the school prepares pupils positively for life in modern Britain and promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
When designing and delivering our curriculum, we might infer from this the following:
• We should consider the curriculum in its widest sense – it takes place in and between lessons, in subjects and in extra-curricular activities, and it develops pupils’ skills in a range of areas including in the arts and sport, and – although important – it is not solely concerned with the pursuit of academic outcomes.
• We should ensure our curriculum prepares pupils, not only for the next stage of their education and training, but also for their lives as active citizens and for success in the world of work, developing employability skills and work-ready behaviours, and educating pupils on their career options.
• We should think carefully about how, once we’ve designed the curriculum, we will implement and evaluate it in order to ensure it delivers its stated aims and continues to be relevant.
History repeating itself
In trying to predict what Ofsted will focus on in their 2019 CIF, I think it worthwhile exploring recent inspection evidence because this might prove useful when considering what Ofsted regards as the strengths and weaknesses of the school curriculum…
Evaluations of inspection reports show that Ofsted regards the following – which I have paraphrased – as strengths:
• Leaders review the curriculum regularly and check the impact on outcomes for all pupils, then remodel it to help all pupils perform well
• Leaders are attuned to research findings, as well as reforms to national curriculum and qualifications, and use this to inform how their local curriculum is developed to improve outcomes and pupils’ personal development
• CEIAG is integral to the curriculum and pupils’ progression, and the curriculum helps pupils to experience and learn about their options for their future
• There is a recognition that challenge is for all not just the most able pupils.
Conversely, Ofsted regard the following – which I have again paraphrased – as weaknesses:
• Coordination of numeracy and literacy across the curriculum is poor and, as such, pupils struggle to read and access learning
• Support from middle leaders to develop pedagogy is poor – notably in mixed ability classes in Key Stage 3
• Pupils in Key Stage 3 repeat work from primary school which leaves them bored and frustrated by the lack of challenge
• There is a lack of understanding and coherence in assessment, and a lack of oversight
• Expectations of pupils are low
• The timetable is fragmented and poorly planned, leading to a lack of coherence across the curriculum
• Leaders are slow to tackle issues as a result of teacher vacancies and lack innovation to sustain a good curriculum despite teacher shortages.
In my 6-part series for SecEd magazine I will explore what I believe to be the central tenets of an effective curriculum and I will share my advice on how to design such a curriculum and then, crucially, deliver it in your classroom.
Meantime, as a further teaser, in my next post I will try to define what is meant by a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum.
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