To illustrate the dangers of Ofsted’s new approach to the curriculum, let us take an example – fictitious, a little flippant, but cautionary. It is an extreme case, illustrating that some schools’ curricula may fully meet Ofsted’s criteria while not being worthwhile.
The curriculum in question has been designed, implemented and evaluated by the Gradgrind All-Through Academy. As an academy, it does not have to meet the requirements of the national curriculum but its curriculum has to be “broad and balanced” (whatever that means). Beyond that, it is legally free to devise its own curriculum.
It is, of course, subject to national testing in English and mathematics at the end of key stage 2 and in GCSE but that provides no problem, given that its priorities include reading and writing and mathematical fluency and confidence in numeracy.
How will Ofsted judge curriculum?
Imagine inspectors judging the quality of the Gradgrind curriculum against a sample of Ofsted’s criteria (in italics below). It has:
- A clear rationale: to fit its pupils into the station in life that God has called them to.
- Agreed aims: including providing a fact-saturated curriculum as preparation for working life.
- Breadth: all subjects of the national curriculum but no frills whatsoever.
- Balance: a balance between the rudiments of English and facts related to working life.
- Understanding of key concepts related to curriculum design: such as progression in knowledge from simple to complex definitions and progress in memorisation and regurgitation.
- Curriculum coverage: all pupils will access the relevant facts and definitions, irrespective of their level of understanding.
- Ambition: at least as ambitious as the standards achieved by paupers nationwide.
- Reading and writing: the priority but only to minimal agreed levels of literacy set by schools minister Nick Gibb.
- Mathematical fluency and confidence in numeracy/ ciphering: but only to minimal agreed levels set by Nick Gibb.
- Teacher leaders have clear roles and responsibilities to carry out their role in curriculum design, drill and delivery.
- Teacher leaders have the knowledge, expertise and practical skills to design and implement a drill – and a fact-based curriculum which is “world-class” in its mastery of obscure notions, hard words and definitions.
- The academy’s leaders ensure that ongoing training on how to pontificate, enunciate, reprimand and terrorise is available for all staff to ensure that the requirements of the Gradgrind curriculum can be met.
When judged against the Ofsted criteria, the Gradgrind all-through curriculum would surely have to be judged “good”, perhaps even “outstanding”.
But here’s the rub: is it a good curriculum?
Colin Richards is a former staff inspector for the school curriculum at HM Inspectorate of Schools