Small schools need more curriculum support, says Ofsted

Sean Harford, national director of education at Ofsted, says curriculum focus should trigger support for small schools

Ofsted's Sean Harford wants small schools to be given curriculum help

An Ofsted director has said he hopes small schools can get external support to develop their curriculum.

Sean Harford, the national director of education at Ofsted, said he hoped the inspectorate’s focus on curriculum would lead to more help being given to small schools.

He was addressing concerns raised at the Hallam Festival of Education over how inspectors would judge smaller schools under Ofsted's new framework.


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Ofsted’s new inspection regime will place greater emphasis on curriculum through a new quality of education grade that looks at the intent, implementation and impact of curriculum. 

Questioning Mr Harford, a headteacher said: “We are feeling twitchy in tiny small schools about anywhere we can look for some help on curriculum.  

“We think we have a great curriculum already but we want to be confident that we can talk about that.

"We are nervous that, with the inspection framework, whether you guys have thought about that enough and are your inspectors going to come in and understand us?”

'Pragmatic point' for small schools

Mr Harford acknowledged that curriculum development was more difficult in small schools.

He said: “We know there is a pragmatic point here. I have been into plenty of schools where there are three key stages in two classes. I have absolute admiration for teachers who can do that and I have seen it done brilliantly. 

“It can be done but it is harder. Where I have real sympathy is the idea of looking at subjects across the curriculum and there only being two people in the school to shoulder the burden of it.

“The inspectors will be trained for all these types of circumstances. There is no doubt about it that it is harder to do it in that circumstance. 

“What I do think, though, is that [if] this could be a catalyst for small schools getting support for planning the curriculum, then that would be a good outcome for this because I think small schools especially need that support.

"Whether that comes from a multi-academy trust, whether that comes from a local authority or whatever it is, if that is rising up as being an issue, then it’s a good one to raise because those children deserve as good a curriculum as anybody.”

Mr Harford said the issues facing small schools came through in several areas of Ofsted’s consultation on the new framework.

There was “angst” among small schools about Ofsted coming on site for two days for section 8 inspections of good schools, he added.

Ofsted has amended this proposal in its framework and will only do one-day inspections for schools with less than 150 pupils

Mr Harford also highlighted Ofsted’s plans for on-site preparation with an inspector arriving at a morning's notice, which have now been dropped, as being an issue at small schools.

He said: “The strongest response and, for me, the one I had the most empathy for, was someone who said, 'Look I am at a small school, I am a teaching head. If I get a call at 10.30 on Monday morning I can’t just drop that class in the afternoon'.”  

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