Can One-Day School Inspections Evaluate Curriculum?

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Curriculum Workload


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Can school inspections steer focus away from data, towards a broad curriculum?

It is very reassuring to see that Ofsted is reforming its framework for September 2019. From reading my Twitter timeline, you could be forgiven for thinking that I am against the abolishment of all school inspection. This is not the case. I do think we need an inspection system; I do think schools should be held to account, but I do not believe it can thrive in its current form.

This is probably why we are seeing year after year of Ofsted reform – all organisations need to adapt to changing needs and dialogue. I have not yet been able to attend one of the regional updates from Ofsted. However, I am keeping a close update on publications; social media dialogue and email communications and will be interested to see how the formal consultation evolves. (On curriculum, I hope for a much more rigorous piece of research to be conducted – beyond the small sample of 41 early years schools for Bold Beginnings and the 23 secondary schools.)

Do not get carried away!

I hope that on the day of a school inspection, you will not become the teacher (see photograph) in this blog post header. Running around the department; collecting every scheme of work, ready for a one-to-one interview with an inspector; or countless ‘folders of evidence’ to be dropped off into the inspectors’ meeting room. Please don’t do that.

Ofsted will refuse to look at data …

A comment from James Pembroke said: “[Ofsted] will literally refuse to look at tracking data because “it could be made up” and because of the distorting effect of high stakes, erodes the primary purpose of the data. Wow! This is radical and a “game changer”.

Sean Harford replied: “If pupils attain within a well-sequenced, well-constructed curriculum, they are making progress.”

Attainment or Progress?

Hard to argue with, but again the issue is with progress. Achievement and attainment are two very different outcomes. How this looks in my subject compared to yours will also be very different? Is a grade B (6) in my subject, the same standard as a 6 in your subject? Both entirely different subject domains of knowledge, the answer is more likely to be ‘yes’ – they are different.

“The unevenness of progress in relation to different areas of knowledge in many different subjects supports the idea that discrete measures of attainment on specific assessments are the only really meaningful concept we’ve got” writes Matthew Benyohai.

Tom Sherrington highlights: “It’s important that teachers and leaders understand the underlying concepts. In order to motivate and challenge all students, it makes good sense to try to distinguish between attainment and progress. This allows us to give value to students making strides with their learning regardless of their starting point… The idea of progress only works if we’re clear about what it means – and only if we give it the weight the concept can sustain.”

With Ofsted’s shift away from tracking data (let’s wait and see …) towards curriculum, how will we be able to ascertain progress from within a curriculum from a one-day school inspection? And without the use of predictions or data? Perhaps it could be true … Ofsted is moving away from high-stakes accountability.

The issue remains: How do we ensure inspector consistency? Ask me about the curriculum in design technology and I’ll have a fairly good idea about what is expected and the quality. If I were a school inspector and I was placed into a modern foreign languages classroom, let’s be honest, I am going to struggle to decipher if the curriculum is being taught well and the students are receiving a good ‘quality of education’.

Ofsted’s last ‘hoorah!’

A very well-respected head teacher told me privately after attending an Ofsted regional event:

“I’m confident they are trying to improve, but the judgements they are going to have to make are even more open to interpretation. Unless there is an imposed national curriculum that it is agreed we all must follow, Ofsted will remain a process open to human mistakes. Ultimately, a strong head teacher that can argue a strong case will win-over an inspector, so the new framework is no different to now! The splitting of behaviour from personal development is progress. The strength of argument against this type of measurement is getting far too much for them, but I do believe this is Ofsted’s last hoorah.”

In terms of judgement, Harford claims “Our curriculum research, which we will publish more on in due course, shows that this isn’t as ‘value-laden’ as you might think… There’s a lot more to ‘quality of education’ than just curriculum plans. That’s why we visit.” How this aligns with the Department for Education’s desire to continue with league tables; EBacc and Progress 8 scores, I have no idea.

Curriculum planning

A critical alarm bell which is ringing for me will be how the curriculum is to be evaluated in schools. I predict a significant workload increase for teachers; every scheme of work will be updated from September 2019 to suit ‘buzz words’ published from Ofsted reports and those quoted at conferences. We have curriculum maps already available from examination boards, which of course we need to adapt for our own context, but why reinvent the wheel? Especially as the work has already been done.

Ofsted Curriculum Sean Harford

In terms of teacher-workload and what Ofsted is looking at, as Harford says, “Well-sequenced, well-constructed curriculum, [to understand if students] are making progress.” Be careful what you do with the national curriculum and examination board specifications.

I predict middle leaders across the country having several, A4 lever arch folders, with every scheme of work printed out in laminated wallets! It’s simply not necessary. My advice? Take your curriculum plans from whoever and whatever source you believe works best for your students. Adapt the content, but don’t reinvent the wheel. Hand these to the inspectors and say: “This is the curriculum we are teaching.”

Save yourself time …

Do not leave the ‘curriculum conversation’ with inspectors open to interpretation –  because of what you include or exclude into your own ‘scheme of work’ template or ‘knowledge organiser’, may or may not be “well-structured or well-sequenced”. If so, this small detail may go against you, because as ever, the process is open to interpretation. Again, save yourself some precious time and print off specifications that you teach into a lever-arch folder or save them online.

“If pupils attain within a well-sequenced, well-constructed curriculum, they are making progress.”

How do we how do we do this without grades? Well, maybe we all need to move towards making this happen, including me. As head teacher Clare Sealy concludes, “The verb ‘measured’ is problematic. We need to be able to describe progress without resorting to numbers.”

Perhaps we can gauge quality with “curriculum” as a focus in future school inspections, but for me, this will only be achieved when Ofsted reform is truly radical and removes all the subjective decisions (human errors) on grading.

Take a look at Mary Myatt’s book: The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence.

6 thoughts on “Can One-Day School Inspections Evaluate Curriculum?

  1. OFSTED used to have subject specialist inspectors and publish triennial reports and case studies. This resulted from focussed subject visits to over 200 schools and colleges, these were invaluable. This all disappeared under the current regime at DFE. So, bring it all back and then we would have genuine reference points for what good practice is for all of us and all of them. The last OFSTED report on Art and Design education in schools was 2012. Tragic. Even teachers don’t always know what the deep broad rich curriculum is! How would they? The DFE also took down documents which were exempification of standards for visual arts. We now have some art lessons planned from Pinterest images. Arghhhhhhhhh.

    1. Of all the 9 Ofsted inspections I experienced, the Design Technology focused one I had in 2003 was the most helpful. It allowed me to focus on my subject area as a team leader. It also allowed us to build up a relationship over a week and have a good look at where help was needed.

  2. Those were great days. We had two whole week Art ones, incredibly helpful.
    Pre- Gove there were still specialist two day inspections (that’s how we had the subject triennial reports) and they were great signposts to good practice. After a three year hiatus, we now have a lead inspector for Performing and Visual Arts apparently. No public announcement. She’s an ex English teacher. I’ve yet to meet her. No idea about the credentials!

  3. We had a visit as part of the pilot programme for the new scheme a few weeks ago. The visit focussed on the new Quality of Provision strand and it was fascinating. I was part of a meeting as a non-core subject (oh how times have changed for Science) and not a single question regarding data!

    He was more interested in how the curriculum was designed for the needs of the student and was keen to see examples of students to show it in action. The new ‘buzz words’ seem to be Intent, Implementation and Impact – the last one worries me a little, but we shall see.

    1. Yes, intent, implementation and impact. Basically, are you doing/have done what you say you wanted to do … and we will verify this with pupils in conversations and in books – which will always be my biggest concern. E.g. “I hope you don’t speak with Ross – he missed last lesson!”

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