Ofsted’s blog: Changes to the 16-19 curriculum

21st October 2016 at 14:01

Steve Tucker, HMI and national lead for curriculum quality for further education and skills, on the year ahead


All the further education and skills inspectors’ teams meet at the start of each academic year and this autumn was no different. This was our time to reflect on the outcomes of inspections from the previous 12 months and look ahead to the schedule of inspections in the coming year.

Colleges and training providers are facing many challenges and at this year’s conference one of these challenges became a recurring theme: the rapid evolution of the curriculum in the 16-19 study programmes.

As inspectors we always consider how the curriculum is being managed in the best interests of learners. So, during an inspection, we may need to explore how the design of the curriculum and assessment policy has been decided in the light of the new A-levels.

The new A-levels have had professionals in the sector raising some big questions:


  • Can A-level syllabi be covered fully if co-taught with AS levels?
  • When is the best time for learners to decide which subjects they continue to A-level?
  • Should all learners take AS levels; do they add value to those learners taking the subject through to A-level?
  • How should learners be assessed/have their progress monitored differently for linear A-levels?
  • What additional training have teachers needed as a result of the changes?


Colleges and schools need to consider each of these questions carefully in order to ensure the curriculum they offer provides the best opportunity for each student. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, so we will be looking to see that students’ best interests are at the heart of the new A-level curriculum.

Once in place there will be a greater emphasis on progress and destinations, along with a consistent measure of retention across schools, colleges and training providers.

Following changes to vocational courses we are seeing more assessment tasks set by the awarding organisations. This caused some debate when we discussed the inspection of assessment. We’re looking forward to talking with those in the sector during our inspections, surveys and through our regional networks – to understand how you’re changing your curriculum, teaching and assessment methods to prepare your learners for the new qualifications.

We were all very encouraged by the commitment seen during the previous year to implementing the English and mathematics requirements of the 16-19 study programmes. It’s not been unusual to hear stories of more than 1,500 entries for GCSEs in English and mathematics and we take off our hats to colleges that have managed such logistical challenges. And we all agreed that we’re evaluating the progress learners make in acquiring English and mathematical skills, not just their achievement in qualifications.

Finally, it was a real pleasure to have David Hughes from the Association of Colleges and Mark Dawe from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers feeding back their members’ reflections on inspection. We are now looking forward to talking to colleges and training providers to see the impact of the changing curriculum landscape and hope to see learners achieving to their full potential.