Ofsted extends curriculum grace period for a year

Schools will get an extra year to bring their curriculum into line with Ofsted’s new inspection framework, after the watchdog announced an extension to its transition period.

The new framework, which places greater weight on curriculum content and less on outcomes, came into effect last September. However Ofsted worked in a year-long transition so that a judgment is made based on where schools currently are in implementing curriculum changes, rather than expecting them to be “fully ready”.

Under the transition, schools which have a “plan” to review their curriculum and can demonstrate “genuine action” to do so are not penalised.

Now Ofsted’s national director of education Sean Harford has said the grace period will be extended for another year, meaning schools will have this protection until July 2021.

“We know that a great curriculum does not just appear perfectly formed overnight. It takes a great deal of thought, preparation and work to plan it,” Harford wrote in a blog post today.

“I’m also aware, through conversations with the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers, that some heads and senior leaders are concerned about getting their curriculum to where they want it to be by this coming September. Some schools are further along their curriculum journey than others.

“We’ve listened to those concerns. So, we’ll be extending the transition period from one to two academic years – taking us through to July 2021.”

The decision follows a fierce backlash against the new framework, which heads say penalises schools that have difficult intakes.

The dispute between leaders and the watchdog came to a head last Friday, when the Headteachers’ Roundtable think tank launched #PauseOfsted, a call for school staff to stop working as Ofsted inspectors in a bid to force the organisation to change tack.

Ofsted has stood firm in the face of criticism of its framework, refusing to stop downgrading schools that it claims are narrowing the curriculum by running a three-year key stage 4.

But Harford said Ofsted did want to give credit to “schools that are working hard to improve their curriculum”.

“The transition arrangements will only apply when it’s clear that a school is well on the way with its curriculum journey – but isn’t quite ‘there’ yet.

“This is not an amnesty for schools where teaching is weak or pupils’ outcomes (including, but not exclusively, national tests and examination results) aren’t good enough.”

But Harford said the transition arrangements would only apply to the descriptors of “what good looks like”, not to ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’ judgements.

“Essentially, these are schools that would otherwise be rated as requires improvement for the quality of education, because they aren’t as far along with their curriculum planning.”

The blog explores the circumstances in which the transition arrangements have been applied so far, and reveals the inspectorate has taken pity on schools with a narrowed key stage 3 curriculum.

“We’ve also seen schools that, by September 2019, had clearly identified how their key stage 3 curriculum was narrower in ambition than the national curriculum – but had a clear plan to show how they would broaden it,” said Harford.