The chief executives of two major high-performing academy chains have criticised Ofsted’s new curriculum-focused inspections as "a middle-class framework for middle-class kids”.
The leaders of both Harris Federation and Outwood Grange Academies Trust have raised concerns that schools are being marked down for running GCSEs over three years rather than two.
They also warned that Ofsted placing more weight on curriculum than exam results would not work for disadvantaged pupils.
Sir Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation said: “It is a middle-class [inspection] framework for middle-class kids.”
Ofsted inspections under fire
The comments follow a Tes exclusive this week in which another multi-academy trust leader said that Ofsted had used a school’s focus on academic success as a stick to beat it with during an inspection under the new framework.
Michael Gosling, of Trinity Academy Trust, said staff at one of his trust’s primary schools, in a deprived area of Halifax, felt that Ofsted’s inspection framework had been “drawn up on a middle-class dinner table.”
Now leaders of both Harris and Outwood Grange, which both have a track record for turning around underperforming schools, are reported to have spoken out.
Ofsted’s new inspection framework, which was introduced in September, gives more weight to the school curriculum and less weight to exam results when assessing a school’s quality of education.
In an article in The Times today, Sir Daniel is quoted as saying that a wider curriculum for an extra year was fine for “SW1”, one of London’s richest areas, but not for disadvantaged children.
“For many of our children qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond,” he said. “They have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life. Their GCSEs are crucial. Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications.
Martyn Oliver, Outwood's chief executive, told The Times that Ofsted’s intentions in developing the new framework were good but the unintended consequence would be disadvantaged children falling further behind.
He said: “Ofsted was trying to solve the problem of exam factories and schools teaching to the test.
"However, inspectors on the ground are taking a far too simplistic a view on when GCSE teaching should begin. Many of the children in our schools need a three-year run-up.”
Their comments follow a blog by Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford, who insisted that Ofsted did not have a preferred length of key stage 3 and would not automatically mark schools down who shortened it.
However, he also warned against schools simply stretching GCSE teaching over three years.
Responding to the comments made by Harris and Outwood Grange , Mr Harford said: “A narrowed curriculum has a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged pupils, who often start school behind their peers and without the benefit of cultural experiences that other children take for granted.
"We have, therefore, been very clear that we expect to see a broad and ambitious curriculum in all the schools we inspect, and our inspectors will be particularly alert to any signs of curriculum narrowing.
“We do not have a fixed view on the length of any key stages, and schools will not be automatically marked down for a three-year GCSE programme. Our judgement will be based on whether schools offer pupils an ambitious curriculum across their whole time in secondary education.
"Since September, we’ve seen a number of schools judged 'good' or better while offering a two-year key stage 3. However, where schools are simply stretching two-year GCSE courses over three years, we will be very concerned if it means that some pupils never get the chance to study subjects like art, music or languages again.”
Tes reported on Wednesday that Trinity MAT is appealing against a "requires improvement" judgement for Akroydon Primary, in Halifax. The trust claims that Ofsted gave more weight to pupils' ability to recall history lessons than it did to the school's key stage 2 Sats results.