Ofsted has said its new curriculum-focused inspection framework will not be “raising the bar” for schools.
Findings from inspection trials, published by the watchdog today, show that almost half of primary schools looked at by the regulator scored poorly for the quality of their curriculum.
However, chief inspector Amanda Spielman sad the inspectorate had no intention of downgrading a vast number of schools.
“Despite the fact that relatively few schools scored highly across the board on these measures, particularly at primary, it is worth reiterating our commitment to keeping the overall proportions of schools achieving each grade roughly the same between the old framework and the new framework," she said.
"We are not ‘raising the bar’. That means explicitly that we will not be ‘downgrading’ vast numbers of primary or secondary schools.”
Her message will be welcomed by those school leaders who have long been worried about the implications of the new inspections. But the introduction of a new Ofsted framework that deliberately sets out not to raise the bar represents a big break from the past and could play less well with a wider audience.
Ms Spielman said that her new framework was designed in recognition of the fact that “curriculum thinking has been deprioritised in the system for too long, including by Ofsted”.
“We do not expect to see this change overnight," she said. "The new framework represents a process of evolution rather than revolution.
"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.”
The comments echo those previously made by Chris Jones, deputy director of research and evaluations at Ofsted. Speaking at an event in London last month, he said the inspectorate was "mindful of the fact that some schools are slightly further behind on their curriculum than others".
Ofsted is launching a new inspection framework in September next year and will begin its consultation in January. It is placing more emphasis on the depth and breadth of education a school provides by creating a new quality-of-education judgement, which will replace the scores Ofsted currently gives schools for both pupil attainment and teaching and learning.
The new framework will place more emphasis on curriculum and give less weight to exam results.