Ofsted has told primary schools it is not essential that they design their own curriculums as long as it is “ambitious and coherent”.
The schools watchdog published a blog post this morning aiming to reassure primaries that inspectors will also not expect subject leaders to be specialists.
An FFT Education Datalab analysis of inspections found 84 per cent of ‘outstanding’ primary schools were downgraded during the autumn 2021 term.
By comparison, just 47 per cent of ‘outstanding’ secondary schools lost the top mark.
Primary heads told Schools Week their lower staff numbers and lack of subject specialists as a key factor in the downgrading.
‘We know primary staff wear lots of hats’
Heather Fearn and Jonathan Keay, from Ofsted’s curriculum team, said that staff in primaries – particularly smaller ones – “wear lots of hats”. It “isn’t possible or realistic to develop detailed expertise in multiple subject areas”, they added.
Simon Paramore, of Kinoulton Primary School in Nottingham, previously told Schools Week he had one subject leader for every four subjects.
However, Ofsted’s blog states “lots of schools” overcome this challenge by working with other local schools to design their curriculum.
“Schools also make use of schemes of work that are developed by subject specialists. Ofsted does not consider it necessary for schools to design their curriculums themselves . . .[it] just needs to be ambitious and coherent”, the watchdog added.
Ofsted praised primary schools which capitalised on external support to develop their curriculum during inspections last year.
Although Linaker Primary School, in Sefton, was rated ‘requires improvement’, inspectors did praise how leaders “worked with external experts to design and deliver a well-considered curriculum”.
Peppard CoE Primary School in Henley-on-Thames, was rated as ‘good’ and Ofsted found it “made good use of external support to develop a more systematic approach to teaching reading”.
Deep dives focus on ‘what matters most’
The blog also moved to reassure small primary schools inspectors are aware they may not have the capacity to provide the same resources as larger schools during visits.
As such, deep dives will focus on “what matters most for the quality of each pupil’s education: whether pupils are learning the knowledge they need”.
Inspectors will “understand” if a subject lead is not a specialist in the field but will want to discuss “what you want pupils to learn and why”.
Questions will focus on issues such as whether the subject curriculum matches the “scope and ambition” of the national curriculum and if inspectors see how content is broken down into manageable chunks which build towards “clear end points”
Inspectors will also question if the “identified chunks” are logically sequenced and if they prepare pupils for future learning.
As part of the deep dive inspectors are likely to explore how schools teach and assess the content and will usually ask to view lessons.
These lesson visits will judge the curriculum, not the teaching, Ofsted said.
Ofsted also clarified they have “no expectation” about what paperwork is provided during a deep dive as it is up to schools how they record and set curriculum expectations.
In December, the inspectorate warned schools against using ‘overcomplicated’ consultants when developing their curriculum.