The troubling rise of 'curriculum intent statements'

Schools already appear to be engaging in depressing box-ticking exercises ahead of September's new Ofsted framework

Paperwork in a box-ticking exercise for new Ofsted framework

I just searched Google for “curriculum intent statement” and it’s a truly depressing affair. It was inevitable really, but it’s still pretty concerning to see it there in black and white. 

No doubt, many readers will blame Ofsted for this. After all, it is they who have said that they’re looking for curriculum intent when they visit schools, and we’re now well used to having to pre-empt most Ofsted questions by adding another unread page to our websites. 

But have these leaders really taken the time to consider what the intent of their curriculum is, or have they just decided to write something to tick the box? I rather fear the latter.


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Perhaps the more depressing result in the search is the half-day course on writing a curriculum intent statement to suit Ofsted. Are we really stuck in the days where school leaders do things “for Ofsted” before thinking about the needs of their pupils? 

At what point do we take responsibility ourselves for what we do in schools? Nothing in the new Ofsted framework requires schools to write such a statement. Nothing in the framework even suggests that it would be helpful. And everything I see of such statements suggests that they’re pretty hopeless at setting out anything of any value.

List of platitudes

Rather like school mission statements (are any schools anywhere not aiming high, or trying to realise potential?), they end up reading like a list of platitudes. Is it really any surprise that a primary school considers the intent of its curriculum to be to create lifelong learners, or to make a positive contribution to society? But so what?

The education inspection framework document sets out just four bullet points relating to intent. Why do schools feel the need to write a statement – sometimes over several paragraphs, or even pages – to set out how they meet those few aims? When they do, it seems that many of the statements fail to do it.

The first bullet point in the framework explains that inspectors will look at how ambitious the curriculum a school sets is, and how it provides learners with the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. You simply can’t demonstrate that in a single statement. It needs inspectors to look at what you’ve actually planned to cover in your school curriculum. Some of that will already be evident from the curriculum outline that we are required to publish, but the rest needs someone in school looking at reality.

Waffle for inspectors

The same is true of the other bullet points. Any headteacher can write a statement saying that their curriculum is carefully sequenced or that pupils study the full curriculum, but the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating. Inspectors will, understandably, overlook any such bluff in a statement and want to see the reality of what happens in school. Or worse, they’ll use a poorly written or ill-thought-through statement to judge a school against its own expectations. Nobody wants to be found wanting in such circumstances.

The schools that have written such statements for every subject have only created more waffle for inspectors to gloss over. Will every teacher read and take on board each of those different intent statements and use them to guide their planning and teaching? Or will they just sit on the website in the hope that it keeps Ofsted happy?

What a waste of valuable time that could have been spent on the real work of ensuring that we design and create the best curriculum for the needs of the children in our schools. And then when Ofsted come and ask us the question, we could just show them the answer.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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