Leading CEOs: New Ofsted inspections favour middle-class kids

The heads of two of the country’s most successful academy trusts have slammed Ofsted’s new regime – claiming “it is a middle-class framework for middle-class kids”.

Speaking in the Times, Harris chief executive Sir Dan Moynihan and Outwood Grange Academies Trust boss Martyn Oliver claimed the new curriculum focus will “damage outcomes for disadvantaged children”.

The major intervention comes after several Schools Week investigations revealing how schools were rapped for shortening key stage 3. It’s led to scores of schools abandoning three-year GCSEsincluding Harris.

Both trusts specialise in turning around schools in some of the country’s poorest areas. And both leaders criticised Ofsted’s new focus, saying many children – especially the most disadvantaged – need three years to complete their GCSEs.

It is the SW1 approach to education and in a few years’ time will have damaged the outcomes for disadvantaged children

Moynihan told The Times: “It is a middle-class framework for middle-class kids.”

“For many of our children qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond. They have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life. Their GCSEs are crucial. Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications.

“The pendulum has swung too far. It is the SW1 approach to education and in a few years’ time will have damaged the outcomes for disadvantaged children.”

His comments come after Harris Academy St John’s Wood, formerly the Quintin Kynaston academy and in special measures when Harris took over in 2017, was rated ‘good’.

The report stated that there were year 9 pupils who do not study history, geography, art or music, adding: “Leaders, governors and trust directors have not ensured that all pupils in Year 9 receive their entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum that is at least as ambitious as the national curriculum.”

Ofsted claimed this week it has “no preferred length” of key stage three, claiming “it’s not the years … it’s the mileage” that inspectors will look at.

But Moynihan said the St John’s Wood report showed the school was “excellent in every way… but the report makes clear inspectors took issue with the three-year programme for GCSE.”

Martyn Oliver, chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, added: “Ofsted was trying to solve the problem of exam factories and schools teaching to the test.

“However inspectors on the ground are taking a far too simplistic a view on when GCSE teaching should begin. Many of the children in our schools need a three-year run up.

“They don’t have books at home and space for homework. All that has to happen in school time and disproportionately their life chances come from qualifications.”

Harford told the Times that a “narrowed curriculum has a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged pupils, who often start school behind their peers and without the benefit of cultural experiences that other children take for granted.

“We have therefore been very clear that we expect to see a broad and ambitious curriculum in all the schools we inspect, and our inspectors will be particularly alert to any signs of curriculum narrowing.”

In September, the Harris trust received its first ever Ofsted rating below ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

Inspectors flagged how pupils at Harris Academy Orpington were entered into “inappropriate” qualifications and the number of students leaving its roll was “too high”.

Schools Week had earlier revealed how the trust was entering hundreds of native English speakers in Year 11 into a qualification intended for pupils with English as a second language.

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  1. Dr Debbie Hawker

    I entirely agree that many children need a three-year run up to GCSEs, especially children with additional needs.

    Moreover, as a clinical psychologist I am very concerned at the mental health impact of expecting all schools to run a two year Key Stage 4 whether or not this is appropriate for their pupils. This appears to be increasing stress symptoms (and depression, anxiety and self-harm) among pupils who would be better having a three year Key Stage 4. Stress symptoms among teachers are also apparent when they are forced to change to a two year Key Stage 4 despite believing that this is not helpful for their particular pupils. This needs urgent attention.

  2. It would be far better to move towards graduation at 18 via multiple routes. This would allow pupils, disadvantaged or not, to build a portfolio of qualifications and evidence of participation in extra-curricula activities and work experience. There would then be no need for pupils to drop subjects after year 8 to embark on a narrowed curriculum.

  3. If it is true that ‘For many of our children qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond’, then it is a terrible indictment of their learning journey at school.

    The new Ofsted framework explains that schools need to create a rich curriculum that “… is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment …”

    Our experience is that embedding encounters with local employers within curriculum learning not only motivates pupils by answering questions about ‘what’s the point’, but it also contributes to their future aspirations. We are currently working with a consortium in dozens on primary schools in Derby, showing how that can start young – equipping them to make a well-informed choice about future education, training and employment.

    Employers continue to ask for young people who can articulate and demonstrate employability skills – alongside good qualifications. We must get beyond the exam factory mindset and equip each child to discover what makes them remarkable and unique. And that’s more than a pocket full of GCSEs.

    • Mark Watson

      I think you’re being unfair at quoting the first half of that statement but not the second. I.e. the children he’s referring to “have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life.”

      Without speaking for him, it seems that what Dan Moynihan was trying to do was emphasise that without such benefits (typically far more available to “middle-class children”) the importance of the exam result increases. I can’t see how that can be disputed.

      Of course helping children become people “who can articulate and demonstrate employability skills” is important, indeed vital, in today’s climate. Equally that can’t be disputed. Doesn’t conflict with what he’s saying though …

      • The statutory duty of each school is to enable each child to make an informed choice about their life beyond school. That inevitably means addressing the imbalance when some children don’t have family help. To suggest that qualifications are all some children have to show for their time at school indicates a lack of awareness about what employers (and admission tutors) are looking for. Bringing curriculum learning to life can both contribute to aspirations and help them see the point of academic success. It’s not one or the other.

        (The case studies in the web link show how this can be done – and have most impact where children struggle to see the point of school)

        • Mark Watson

          Not being snide, but genuinely interested if you could point out the relevant extract from legislation that imposes a duty on schools “to enable each child to make an informed choice about their life beyond school”.

          • Mark Watson

            I think it’s really important to be clear on this. People bandy around the term “statutory duty” far too loosely. Something being a statutory duty is a very important thing, with very specific consequences. Essentially if someone doesn’t comply with what is a statutory obligation on them then they are breaking the law.

            So looking at the guide for careers education, it is clear that it says there is a statutory duty to “ensure that pupils are provided with independent careers guidance from year 8 to year 13”, to “ensure that there is an opportunity for a range of education and training providers to access all pupils in year 8 to year 13 for the purpose of informing them about approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships”. There are also various obligations to publish.

            It’s a very dangerous and slippery slope if people were to use their own subjective views to decide what something may or may not “imply” and then to impose that as a legal obligation.

          • Mark Watson

            And just to be clear, I’m not disagreeing with the principle. Enabling each child to make an informed choice about their life beyond school is undeniably important, vital indeed.