Will OfSTED Dictate The Curriculum Agenda?

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Banana Tree


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What will the school inspection revolution ask schools do next?

OfSTED appear to be more interested in the curriculum because the breadth and balance of experience has become narrow and schools are increasingly focused on ‘teaching to the test’. You couldn’t make this up! Now, anyone and everyone has a vested interest in curriculum matter.

How Many Bananas?

There are few things that irritate me more than our beloved school inspection service, advising schools on what and what not to do. Judge a school by ‘how many bananas they grow?’ and every school will plant and cultivate bananas; whether your school is based near a leafy primary by the seaside; a new school in the Chiltern Hills; or a large 2,000+ pupil population based in the depths of Birmingham. Every school will grow bananas – some will taste sweet; some will taste sour. And sometimes sour-tasting food is good, right?

Curriculum Autonomy?

We need a common standard and this was the Department for Education’s purpose when they introduced the national curriculum. Bizarrely, moving to academy status granted you freedom from offering the national curriculum; freedom to do things ‘your way’, yet the introduction of league tables, the English Baccalaureate (and the unrealistic goal of 90% compliance by 2025 – even without enough science and language teachers in the profession) is another ludicrous assumption that schools can veer off-piste. Amanda Spielman’s discovery of what’s ‘actually going on’ in schools is refreshing and equally alarming. On the 18th September, she said:

“… Too many teachers and leaders have not been trained to think deeply about what they want their pupils to learn and how they are going to teach it…” in which Spielman cites the word “knowledge” no-less than 55 times.

Curriculum Research

I made a Freedom of Information request to OfSTED to learn how curriculum research has conducted so far in the 23,000 schools across England. I asked:

“Twenty-three schools were purposively selected for phase 2 of the curriculum study” which took place between “January and March 2018”. These schools were judged good or outstanding at their last full inspection and were understood to be ‘particularly invested in curriculum design’. Schools meeting these criteria were identified through published inspection reports, recent media stories and our advisory curriculum panel. Please could you share:

  1. the names of the 23 schools – not the Bold Beginning schools from phase one (41 schools)
  2. And, what metrics have you used to determine how well schools were “particularly invested in curriculum design.”

Seven days later, I received a reply. Could this be the quickest freedom of information reply yet?

Research Methodology

1. On the 23 schools, OfSTED said: “In this case, we acknowledge that the names of the schools were not available at the time you submitted your request; however, they have since been published alongside the research notes that accompany the commentary.”

The original article referenced by the DfE has since moved to another hyperlink. Published an article on a webpage and it’s easy enough to edit the content and move the details … The 23 schools were later published at the foot of Spielman’s speech.

2. On the metrics used, OfSTED writes:

“In relation to the second point of your request, it may be useful for me to explain that; this was a qualitative study and no fixed set of metrics were used. The purpose was to understand the commonalities and differences between schools ‘particularly invested in curriculum design’… “

Any requires improvement schools considered?

“This has helped to further our thinking on what useful indicators of curriculum quality might look like, something we did not quite establish from the phase 1 work (hence the different design and approach to phase 2).”

Those poor primary schools who now need to embrace bold beginnings! No “useful indicators” were used …

OfSTED grading leads the way…

“Ofsted did not strive for a statistically representative sample and reporting on a national picture was not the intention of the study. Instead, we designed a purposive sample where the selection employed the use of key informants. This is an appropriate sampling strategy in qualitative work when there is limited information to go on.

For instance, there is no population-level data available for curriculum approaches. The only other variable included in the selection criteria was that the schools should have a good or outstanding judgement at their last inspection. This was included on the basis that we deemed it unlikely schools requiring improvement would be particularly invested in curriculum design.”

Those poor, hard-working colleagues who have chosen to work in requires improvement schools. It appears unlikely that you have no invested interest in what, how and why you are teaching.

With a little bias …

“In total, around 60 schools were identified as meeting the selection criteria. We carried out further validation checks through the curriculum information on each schools website and through details in their latest inspection report to ensure, as far as possible, that the schools selected for visits were engaged and invested in curriculum design. The validation process also allowed us to balance the sample by ensuring that a range of school types, local contexts and curriculum approaches could be included, although a London regional bias does feature in the sample.”

Last week, I spoke with year 10 students and out of a long-term interest, I asked them what they were studying. My heart sank in a beat: “English, maths, science, history and Spanish,” said one student, followed by “BTEC sport”. The next recited the same subjects, followed by “Food Technology” and so the conversations repeated. After the usual bog-standard curriculum diet, I had to wait each time to discover what made each student unique.

In an organisation which is said to pride itself in speaking without fear or favour, Spielman concludes, “the national curriculum provides us with an important benchmark, but beyond it, the content and structure of knowledge and how this is delivered is something for school leaders to decide on… there need be no conflict between teaching a broad, rich curriculum and achieving success in exams.”

A curriculum led by school leaders or a top-down mechanism for measuring it? I’ve only met a few head teachers who are brave enough to be curriculum creative, but despite this vision, the system can still swallow you up! Bring on the next batch of bananas, with a dose of knowledge …

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