Ofsted has published new research today exploring how it will assess the curriculum in its new inspection regime.
The regulator is set to launch a new inspection framework next year that places greater emphasis on curriculum, and which will not give credit to schools that focus on securing exam passes at the expense of a broader education.
The inspectorate has visited 64 schools to look at how it could inspect the intent, implementation and impact of a school curriculum.
Here are five things Ofsted has said about its findings today.
1. Inspection of curriculum ‘could be fairer’ for deprived schools
Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said research shows that schools can produce equally strong curricula regardless of the level of deprivation in their communities.
She added: “This suggests that our new approach could be fairer to schools in disadvantaged areas.”
Ofsted found no clear link between the deprivation levels of a school’s community and a school’s curriculum quality. There were slightly more schools in the top three bands for the quality of their curriculum that were situated in the most deprived communities (69 per cent) than there were in the least deprived areas (62 per cent).
Ms Spielman said: “This is encouraging, as we move towards the new inspection framework. It suggests that a move away from using performance data as such a large part of the basis for judgement and towards using overall quality of education will allow us to reward schools in challenging circumstances that are raising standards through strong curricula, much more equitably.”
2. How Ofsted could inspect curriculum
For its research, the inspectorate created 25 indicators against which it measured schools. These fit into the three tests that Ofsted will look at: intent, implementation and impact. However, the regulator said it would not use all 25 in its new inspections.
On intent, inspectors asked if there was a “clear and coherent rationale for curriculum design” and whether it was shared and understood across the school.
On implementation, inspectors checked whether subject leaders had clear responsibilities on curriculum design and delivery, and whether they had the knowledge, expertise and practical skill to implement a curriculum. They also asked whether leaders enabled curriculum expertise to develop in a school.
Inspectors also asked whether there was a model of curriculum progress across every subject, and whether there was any mismatch between the intended curriculum and what was delivered.
On impact, Ofsted asked whether pupils learned the curriculum and whether it provided parity for all pupils.
The full 25 criteria Ofsted used for this research can be found here.
3. Half of outstanding schools did not have an outstanding curriculum
For this research, Ofsted placed schools into five bands for the quality of their curriculum. The three schools that were placed in the highest band were all judged to be outstanding.
However, Ofsted also found that half of the outstanding schools it visited did not score highly for their curriculum. Seven of these schools were placed in band three and two were said to have scored poorly – being placed in band two.
Overall, the number of schools with a stronger curriculum corresponded with the overall Ofsted grade, with outstanding schools doing better than good schools, which in turn did better than schools requiring improvement.
There were four schools that required improvement that scored strongly on curriculum.
Ofsted also pointed out that some of the outstanding schools in question had not been inspected in more than a decade.
4.Talking a good game will not be enough
Ofsted says it has been able to identify a difference between a school’s intent and its implementation on curriculum delivery.
Ms Spielman said this should dispel the suggestion that inspectors will be won over by schools that "talk a good game", but do not put their intent into practice.
She said inspectors were able to see a difference in quality between the intent and the implementation of a school’s curriculum.
She added: “This reinforces the conclusion above that intent and implementation can indeed be distinct. She said most of the schools that scored well for intent, but not so well for implementation, were primaries.
Ms Spielman added: “It is not hard to see primaries, particularly small ones, being less able to put their plans into action. It is difficult in many areas to recruit the right teachers.
"In small primaries, it is asking a lot of teachers to think about and teach the curriculum right across the range of subjects and even across year groups. Inspectors will of course consider these challenges when making their judgements.”
5. Ofsted is not looking to downgrade vast numbers of schools
Ms Spielman has said that the inspectorate is not looking to downgrade vast numbers of schools when it launches its new framework next year.
Despite about half of primary schools scoring poorly for the quality of their curriculum, Ofsted said that it is not looking to raise the bar in what it expects of schools when the new inspection framework comes into effect.
Ms Spielman said: “To set the benchmark too high would serve neither the sector nor pupils well. Instead, we will better recognise those schools in challenging circumstances that focus on delivering a rich and ambitious curriculum.
"At the same time, when we see schools excessively narrowing and gaming performance data, we will reflect that in their judgements.”
6. Primary schools scored poorly
Less than a quarter of primary schools visited by Ofsted scored highly for the quality of their curriculum. And almost half of the 33 primary schools Ofsted looked at scored poorly. This contrasted with secondary schools, where 16 out of the 29 scored highly for the quality of their curriculum.
7. Primary schools do core subjects better than others – because of Sats
Ofsted’s research found that the curriculum for English, maths and science was stronger than for other foundation subjects.
It looked at 48 English, maths and science departments in primary school. Of these, only one English department, and two maths and science departments scored poorly. This contrasted with humanities, where almost half of the 30 departments scored poorly.
Ofsted said: “It is a truism that what gets measured gets done. English and mathematics are what are measured in primary schools. It is hardly surprising, then, that they get the most lesson time and most curricular attention from leaders.”