Ofsted criticises 3-year GCSEs and low EBacc entry in new inspection report

Ofsted has criticised a school for running three-year GCSEs and having too few pupils taking the English Baccalaureate as the first wave of reports under the new inspection framework are published.

The framework, which came into force last month, includes an overall quality of education judgement which Ofsted has said will place emphasis on the “substance of education” rather than performance data.

Boldon School in Tyne and Wear was rated ‘good’ after its Ofsted inspection in September, including in its ‘quality of education’ judgement, having previously been rated ‘requires improvement’.

However, the report, published today, also raised concerns that pupils “do not study all parts of the key stage three national curriculum”. Under the section ‘what does the school need to do to improve’, the report flagged the school currently runs a two-year key stage three and a three-year key stage four, and warned that the rationale for making Year 9 a “transition year” was “vague”.

“In subjects such as history and geography, pupils finish key stage three and choose their GCSE options without studying all the content of the national curriculum. This denies them their entitlement to important areas of knowledge,” inspectors said, adding that the school should “review its curriculum” and ensure that next year it “fully delivers” the national curriculum for key stage three.

However the practice is widespread. A survey from the National Foundation for Educational Research in April found that over half of schools begin teaching GCSE content when pupils are still in Year 9.

Last year, the Department for Education’s own school snapshot survey found pupils in Year 9 were expected to start studying for key stage four in all subjects in 35 per cent of schools.

But government ministers and Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman have warned against narrowing curriculums, which many school leaders have put down to the pressure of performance measures like progress 8 and the English Baccalaureate.

Writing for this newspaper in January, Spielman said Ofsted planned to “tackle” narrow curriculums and teaching to the test, describing them as “perverse consequences” of a “data-heavy culture”.

Boldon School was also criticised for having “too few pupils” in Year 10 and Year 11 studying the English Baccalaureate subjects.

The report said from next year school leaders will “only enter pupils for suitable examinations” and will make sure the EBacc is “at the heart of the curriculum”. It added that plans to increase the proportion of pupils taking the EBacc need to be “fully implemented” over the next two years.

Ofsted has come under criticism for supporting the government’s target that 90 per cent of pupils should sit EBacc GCSEs by 2025. In January, Spielman insisted that Ofsted was not “dictating the curriculum” or “imposing an Ofsted model”.

Headteachers have previously warned that a shortage of modern foreign language teachers takes a school’s ability to hit the government’s targets out of their hands.

Ian Noble, headteacher of Boldon School, said the school was “absolutely delighted” to be rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, which he said “reflects the fantastic work which has been done by our staff, governors and students over the last three years”.

“Our local community are very proud of the Ofsted report and how this reflects the positive ethos of the school. We are already addressing the areas to improve and we are in a strong position to continue to move the school forward.”

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  1. OfSTED are right about this. Starting GCSEs in Y9 is common. It is a form of gaming performance tables in terms of GCSE Grade 4/5 It is massively damaging to students in terms of cognitive development, deep learning and ultimately post 16 progression especially to Academic and STEM A Levels

    However unless OfSTED penalises schools much more rigorously there will be little change. See

  2. P Ahern

    You’re right Roger, it is damaging to deliver a 2 year KS3 but it is only a response by schools to Ofsted’s pressure to perform well in the league tables. They’ve now realised they have turned schools into exam factories so they’re redressing the balance. cant fault schools for reacting to the intended and ridiculous demands of Ofsted.

  3. It’s because the syllabus was made far too large when we switched to the new 1-9 GCSEs. I start teaching the GCSE in Y9 and can barely finish it before the exams start in Y11.

  4. Our honest curriculum is based on Ofsted’s prized SUBSTANCE and INTEGRITY. Ofsted loses its own integrity and independence when pushing the Government’s half-baked EBacc requirements. The EBacc combination of subjects is simply inappropriate for many and generates disaffection and disengagement.

  5. Peter Reece

    Can the new GCSEs be taught in just 2 years? In my subject of DT the new 9 – 1 specifications are so content heavy that most of the meaningful practical work we used to do can no longer be fitted into a 3 year c