Harris Federation schools to ditch three-year GCSEs

One of the country’s largest academy trusts has told its schools to ditch three-year GCSEs by next September, despite warning the change will have “budgetary implications for any school”.

Harris Federation has instructed its 27 secondary and all-through schools to make the change amid growing concerns that Ofsted will mark down schools that have an extended GCSE curriculum.

The decision again shows how Ofsted’s focus can influence and shape the behaviour of schools.

Education Uncovered reported today that minutes from a Harris board meeting on July 10 reveal its chief executive, Dan Moynihan, warning that Ofsted “want schools to have a three-year curriculum for key stage three and two years for GCSE and if this is not implemented, the academy will automatically be downgraded.”

Although he warned that some headteachers had struggled to do this because of “budget restraints”, a spokesperson for Harris clarified that all schools in the country – not just Harris schools –  will find that “changing lengths of key stages has budgetary implications”, including changes to staffing and refurbishing specialist rooms.

The spokesperson did not respond to a query on how much Harris expected the transition to cost.

The Harris schools where moving to a three-year key stage three was “straightforward for our academies to achieve quickly” have already made the switch.

In cases where using Ofsted’s transitional year would be helpful for schools to avoid “unnecessary changes to staffing, costs and upheaval”, they would be expected to have it place for September 2020.

Schools Week has reported on multiple cases of schools moving away from the two-year key stage three as Ofsted continues its crackdown on curriculum. Impington Village College in Cambridge also alleged inspectors said it could not be ‘outstanding’ while it had a three-year GCSE period.

The Harris spokesperson added they “stand by the decision not to rush ahead as clearly it would not be in the best interests of students to change a curriculum without having in place the appropriate qualified teachers, teaching spaces and resources to deliver it to a high standard”.

Ofsted has previously said it has no rule banning schools with three-year GCSEs from being ‘outstanding’.

One of the secondary schools rated ‘outstanding’ under the new Ofsted framework, Castleford Academy in West Yorkshire, has a shortened key stage 3. However it is more like a 2.5-year GCSE period as the school uses year 9 as a “gateway year” where GCSE options were not taught until the Easter term.