Ofsted: Schools pushing exams that risk student 'harm'

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman warns that Ofsted found curriculum narrowing in schools before the Covid-19 pandemic
1st December 2020, 10:06am
John Roberts


Ofsted: Schools pushing exams that risk student 'harm'

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman Says Some Schools Were Putting Students On Courses That Could Harm Their Future Chances

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has warned that some schools were still narrowing their curriculum to focus on exams or entering students into qualifications that could harm their future chances before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The inspectorate's annual report says it found both "curriculum narrowing" and "curriculum misalignment" in a minority of secondary schools before its inspections were halted because of the coronavirus earlier this year.

Ofsted's inspection framework, launched in September last year, places a new emphasis on curriculum and gives less weight to test and exam results when assessing a school.

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In a commentary for Ofsted's new annual report, Ms Spielman criticised the approach that a minority of schools have taken to the curriculum.

Ofsted: Schools were narrowing the curriculum

She said: "In a minority of secondary schools, our EIF ( Education Inspection Framework) inspections continued to show that not all children were receiving a full and appropriate curriculum."

She said inspectors found curriculum narrowing "where a disproportionate or premature emphasis on teaching exam specifications was limiting pupils' exposure to a broad and balanced curriculum over the course of their secondary education."

The findings follow a row over Ofsted's curriculum-focused inspections, which led to some major multi-academy trusts claiming that the watchdog had a "middle-class" framework that would not work for schools focused on academic attainment for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the report today, Ms Spielman insisted that Ofsted does not have a view on how long GCSE subjects should be taught for, but added: "We do expect all pupils to have access to a full curriculum, and not spend inordinate time preparing for GCSEs."

Ms Spielman also said inspectors found examples of curriculum misalignment "where substantial numbers of pupils were being directed or encouraged into courses (often for GCSE-equivalent qualifications) in which they were likely to earn high grades but that were unlikely to help some of them to progress in the pathways that best suited their talents and interests".

She added: "This could harm them by preventing them from taking courses that would suit them better."

Ofsted's annual report also shows that schools with stronger academic results were still more likely to be judged "good" or "outstanding".

Under the new framework, schools judged to be "outstanding" had an average Progress 8 score of 0.6, "good schools" an average score of 0, schools judged as "requires improvement" a score of -0.4, and "inadequate" schools a score of -0.7.

Ofsted said these averages are very similar to what it found under its previous framework in 2018-19.

The report adds: "We can see the same pattern in primary schools, where 'outstanding' schools have an average reading, writing and mathematics score of 82, 'good' schools 65, schools judged as 'requires improvement' 54 and 'inadequate' schools 48. This is again similar to what we found last year under the CIF [Common Inspection Framework], and demonstrates that a strong curriculum leads to strong outcomes."

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