Ofsted warns schools they face greater scrutiny over 'substance' of what they teach

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman says that schools should not simply train pupils to answer exam questions

Adi Bloom

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Ofsted has warned schools that it will be tightening its focus on the curriculum.

In a speech this week, chief inspector Amanda Spielman told schools not to overlook the importance of a balanced curriculum in their efforts to achieve high exam results.

“Important as exam results are, we must not allow curriculums to be driven just by GCSEs and A levels, or by what students believe will help them get the highest grades,” she said.

“It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams. What you study matters, not just the grade points.

“So I am determined to make sure that the curriculum gets the proper attention it deserves.”

Ms Spielman revealed that Ofsted's review of the curriculum in schools and colleges had already raised "a lot of interesting questions".

The Conservative party's  manifesto for this month's general election pledged to "consider how Ofsted can give parents more information on what their children are being taught" and "ensure all children have access to an academic, knowledge-rich curriculum".

'This is about gathering evidence'

In March, Ofsted told its inspectors to crack down on schools gaming the system: seeking to improve overall results by entering pupils for inappropriate qualifications.

Later that month, the inspectorate launched its curriculum review and investigation into whether schools are gaming the system.

Initial findings will not be published in September, but Ms Spielman spoke about the review this week.

“Part of what we are looking to understand is whether the curriculum has red meat, and isn’t just sliding into narrowed exam question training," she told the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

“I have asked our inspectors to go in as observers – this is about gathering evidence, not making judgements – in colleges and schools around the country. What they have found already is raising a lot of interesting questions.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and Colleges, said that schools faced external constraints on the curriculum.

“Ofsted do live in a different world, where people don’t have to make difficult decisions about which courses can you afford to run,” he said. “Pressures on schools are significant.

"If you’re having to make budget reductions, you inevitably start narrowing the curriculum.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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