Being a former primary school teacher, ‘a meeting with Ofsted’ isn’t a proposal I’d have welcomed in the past. This was different, however – I’d arranged to meet Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, in an attempt to cut through the speculation surrounding the new draft inspection framework, and was strangely looking forward to it.
Recorded for The Curriculum podcast, Spielman gave an eye-opening account of her vision, and provided some useful insights into what schools are likely to experience during inspections as of September this year.
Our discussion focused mostly on curriculum issues. Having carried out research into curriculum quality, Ofsted now wants schools to think deeply about the substance and direction of their curriculums and be ready to articulate them.
This change in focus means that internal data will no longer be the be-all and end-all. Instead, inspectors and school leaders will have ‘meaningful conversations’ about the curriculum, how well children are learning it and how this flows throughout the school. As Spielman noted, “Inspections will see richer, deeper conversations that get more to the heart of what you would want schools to be thinking about.”
She went on to explain, “It’s about the big picture. We’re looking to see if your thinking is clear, if you know where you are, what’s strong and what’s not – if you’re on the right path. It’s changing the inspection conversation, so that we put more time and attention into something that’s incredibly important to schools, and always has been.”
Spotlight on leadership
The draft framework also marks a shift away from inspectors making significant judgements based on individual teachers’ performance and one-off lessons, in favour of a greater emphasis on the vision and strategies of school leadership. More responsibility will therefore be placed on leaders for planning and implementing a broad and balanced curriculum. Spielman hopes that this, alongside dropping the demands for reams of assessment data, will relieve pressure on class teachers.
“I think that as heads and leadership teams get accustomed to this new model, they’ll realise that it puts the weight in a different place,” she said, “so perhaps there’ll be a little less pressure on teachers to have the ‘perfect Ofsted lesson.’”
Educators can be reassured that Ofsted won’t be expecting perfection at first. It’s giving schools time to get their curriculum vision together, and has recognised that for many, this may be a ‘work in progress’.
Spielman was keen to point out that curriculum design needn’t be daunting, but conceded that it can be a major task for primary schools: “In many ways [they] have the harder job, because they don’t have big management teams, they don’t have somebody who is a subject expert in all the areas they teach. Primary schools are more likely, I think, to use various kinds of outside resource and support.”
Ofsted has stressed, however, that whatever approach schools use, this curriculum work shouldn’t be seen as ‘just a quick fix’.
Consistency and impact
Spielman did admit that inspectors will have to cover a lot of ground in a relatively brief visit. So how exactly will inspectors look to gather evidence to assess the big picture in a school, assuming the new framework is implemented in its current form?
The key will be judging consistency throughout the school. Inspectors will be asking the following:
- Is there a clear curriculum intent and rationale?
- How is the curriculum intent being implemented?
- Is it effectively sequenced with clear endpoints?
- Is this evidenced in the children’s work and what they talk about?
- Does the curriculum develop knowledge and skills?
Inspectors will also want to see how well children access the curriculum, particularly through reading, so it seems highly likely that inspectors will listen to readers from different year groups.
In terms of lesson observations, Spielman says that inspectors will again take the broad view. “It’s not about ‘is this good or is this bad?’ It’s saying ‘does it all hang together?’ Are we hearing a consistent story? Can we draw together and say ‘yes – this is the picture of the school’?”
Outcomes still matter
Spielman was careful to stress that outcomes will remain important and should reflect the curriculum: “I think it’s important that the outcomes are achieved in the right way. It’s about substance, and really reflecting what the children have been taught and know.”
Ofsted ultimately wants teachers to ‘aim high’ by delivering a broad and balanced curriculum – one which sees children achieving good results as a by-product of being taught well, rather than with the aim of ticking boxes.
Ofsted’s aforementioned curriculum research found that some schools, despite being ‘stuck’ in RI due to poor test results, were nonetheless offering a rich curriculum. Spielman believes that the new framework may help those schools that find themselves in a similar situation. “The new framework really does, I think, help schools doing the job in particularly difficult circumstances to get recognition for what they’re doing – even where that hasn’t yet resulted in a significant change in the results coming out at the far end.”
She did, however, admit that on the flip side, good and outstanding schools with narrower curriculums may get a shock following their next post-September inspection. The new framework could therefore potentially act as a leveller, at least in terms of schools’ curriculum quality.
The incoming changes might initially seem a daunting prospect for some school leaders, but it’s important to recognise that there’s a positive message to take away here.
For many schools, the greater emphasis on curriculum work could make a welcome change from endless data discussions, and there’s curriculum support available for those wanting it.
Ofsted isn’t suddenly asking schools to do something radically different – it’s more looking to shift its focus and shine a light on something that should be at the heart of every school.
My own advice to school leaders and teachers would be that nobody knows your children better than you do. By creating a quality curriculum that’s right for your children, you’ll be going a long way towards creating one that’s right for Ofsted too.
5 Steps to curriculum success
1. Do a curriculum audit
What works well already? What’s having less impact? What do your stakeholders say?
2. Agree your curriculum intent
What kind of curriculum do you want for your school? What’s the rationale behind it?
3. Research curriculum blueprints that already work
Referring to existing curriculums, published or otherwise, will save months of staff time and effort – it may be that they require only minimum shaping to fit your needs.
4. Set a plan for implementing your curriculum
Ensure that knowledge and skills are well-sequenced, and that meaningful links are made across topics.
5. Tackle reading issues in school
Make this a top priority, particularly in KS1, and provide support for children who are struggling.
Caroline Pudner is a curriculum developer at Cornerstones Education; episodes of The Curriculum can be found here or downloaded via Apple Podcasts.