Ofsted announces school curriculum investigation amid gaming ‘scandal’

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman is set to announce a major investigation into whether schools are delivering a broad curriculum amid a gaming “scandal”.

Spielman will tell Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference delegates later today a conflict has emerged between a head’s desire to give pupils the right education, and to improve their league table position.

She will say: “We know that there are some schools that are narrowing the curriculum, using qualifications inappropriately, and moving out pupils who would drag down results.

“That is nothing short of a scandal. Childhood isn’t deferrable; young people get one opportunity to learn in school; and we owe it to them make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep.”

That is nothing short of a scandal.

The move follows extensive investigations into gaming by Schools Week – including revealing how some school leaders were being urged to enter vulnerable pupils into a qualification that could be “taught in three days”, but was worth the equivalent of a GCSE.

The government announced last month that the qualification in question, the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification, will now be removed from league tables.

Ofsted told its inspectors earlier this month to crack down on schools found to be gaming the system – which included entering whole cohorts of pupils into subjects with over-lapping content.

A year-long investigation by Schools Week last year also found that schools shifting large numbers of pupils to alternative qualifications were taking a gamble with their whole school results.

The investigation was based on an extensive study by Ofqual, chaired by Spielman at the time, that found the only school-led factor linked to swings in GCSE pass rates was the stability of a school’s exam entry profile.

Spielman will make it clear during her key note speech later today that she does not believe the curriculum has received enough attention during inspections in recent years.

Chris Russell Sean Harford Ofsted
READ MORE: Ofsted inspectors urged to crack down on schools ‘off-rolling’ pupils

“There is more to a good education than league tables. Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

“So I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.”

The watchdog will investigate how maintained schools translate the national curriculum into effective classroom teaching, and how academies design their own curriculum.

The study will include looking at examples of the most successful curricula – across early years, primary, secondary, sixth and FE colleges – Ofsted has said.

Spielman’s curriculum experience to date includes her work as a senior advisor to the Ark Schools academy chain, known to favour a more traditional curriculum.

That includes the Mathematics Mastery approach, which involves whole-class teaching, taking pupils of all abilities through calculations in detail, and is supported by the use of high-quality textbooks.

The Ofsted study will also consider what can be done to tackle issues such as schools “curriculum narrowing”, and promoting social mobility.

Inspectors will carry out fieldwork over the coming months, with a final report published later this year.

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  1. This is a very pleasing development. My only sadness is that the profession itself has not been insisting more loudly that the curriculum should come before league tables.

    OFSTED has been rewarding headteachers who indulge in gaming, and headteachers have been paying £thousands to learn the tricks. To save Amanda Spielman’s inspectors a lot of effort in identifying the gaming, it has already been done for them, and published.

    Inspectors only need become a member of the PiXL Club and all the gaming tricks are laid bare.

    If headteachers want to redirect their subscriptions, perhaps they could set up the “Better Real Education Club”

  2. This is important for transparency and indeed parental choice but hopefully this move will not be seen as an attack on the schools that are yet to be good. I also hope that this fieldwork will also explore those that have avoided inspection for some time and the practice of off-rolling which does not promote social mobility and has an impact on those that are most vulnerable.

    Prior to and including 2014/15 it was possible to obtain the grades by subject for each school which could be used to identify such ‘gaming’. This data has not appeared for 2015/16 and is not a statutory requirement for being displayed on the websites of individual schools which means that unless there is a proactive approach to ensuring that there is a consistent view across all schools then this approach may well act as a mechanism to enhance social mobility challenges for the children within the most vulnerable schools.

  3. These remarks are mind-boggling. Yes, it’s “nothing short of a scandal” when schools – typically academies – “move out pupils who would drag down results”. Where those pupils are going? Schools that are genuinely committed to inclusive education are taking them – and then Ofsted is downrating those schools because they “fail” to show enough improvement among the most challenging students! As a direct consequence, those schools are forced to academise. Will Amanda Spielman acknowledge Ofsted’s own responsibility for exacerbating the serious problem she identifies? Will Ofsted stop punishing schools for doing what she rightly says is their duty?