Ofsted row: MAT says 3-year GCSEs broaden curriculum

Director of high-profile Inspiration Trust says longer GCSEs allow schools to promote EBacc alongside other courses

A MAT director has said running a three year GCSE allows a broader curriculum in key stage four.

A director at a high-profile multi-academy trust has said that running three-year GCSEs allows schools to broaden the curriculum, amid concerns that Ofsted’s new framework is prompting schools to drop them.

Claire Heald, director of standards at the Inspiration Trust said that running a three-year key stage 4 meant that schools could promote the English Baccalaureate for the majority of pupils without having to significantly reduce other subjects.

Her comments follow criticism of the new Ofsted framework from the chief executives of  both the Harris Federation and Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT), already supported by Inspiration.


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Sir Daniel Moynihan from Harris and Martyn Oliver from OGAT raised concerns that schools are being marked down for running GCSEs over three years rather than two. 

They described Ofsted’s new inspection framework as “middle class” and said that the inspectorate's decision to place more weight on the curriculum than exam results would not work for disadvantaged pupils.

Ofsted has said that it does not have a preferred length of key stage 3 and will not be automatically marking schools down for shortening it. 

However, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, also warned against schools simply extending GCSE teaching over three years as it meant pupils might not study subjects such as art, music or languages again.

Ms Heald, who is the executive principal of Jane Austen College in Norwich, has said that running three-year GCSEs allowed it to broaden the subjects available to pupils.

She also said that some pupils needed longer in core subjects if they had “lower starting points” in secondary school.

Writing in a blog on the Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign site, she said: “We made the decision to offer a two year KS3, in no small part because it supports curriculum breadth at KS4, something we felt was really important, particularly when it comes to the arts (an area of specialism).

“As a school we have also committed to offering the English Baccalaureate for the majority of pupils because we feel it’s important for social mobility. Without a three-year KS4 we would have needed to reduce the options subjects available to pupils significantly.”

“You can imagine the scenario – a lovely broad KS3 curriculum but then no option for pupils to continue with art, music, drama or another subject a young person may be passionate about. Or at least not without sacrificing performance in core subjects.”

Ms Heald’s blog says that the length of KS3 has become an inspection focus for Ofsted and said  it appeared that some schools “have felt forced to change their curriculum in direct response.” 

But she warned against knee-jerk reactions to the new Ofsted framework.

Ofsted has been approached for a comment.

Earlier this month, Tes revealed unhappiness among teachers that Ofsted’s framework had been “drawn up on a middle-class dinner table” after a MAT leader claimed the inspectorate had used a primary school’s success at Sats as a “stick to beat us with”.

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