National Curriculum, Ofsted

‘Permissive’ national curriculum gives schools too much freedom, says Ofsted director

curriculum subjects Harford

The national curriculum has become too “permissive”, and making more subjects compulsory at key stage 4 could help “lever change and improvement”, a senior Ofsted official has said.

Sean Harford told the House of Lords youth unemployment committee yesterday that schools had responded “in a way that has been unhelpful” to decisions to stop requiring schools to teach languages and design and technology to all pupils to 16.

He said England had “one of the most permissive education systems in the world”, with “very little compulsion of subjects up to age 16”.

Although he said the national curriculum was “inherently a good thing”, Harford warned that the system was “probably on the wrong side of permissiveness in terms of how much freedom we give within that curriculum that’s been set up and done such a good job over the last 30 years”.

“If you are wanting to lever change and improvement, you need to have control over it, and of course that’s where we don’t have control. So I would suggest, and this is not an Ofsted view, this is my view, I have to say, I think some more compulsory subjects in key stage 4 might be the thing.”

Things went ‘awry’ after subjects made non-compulsory

Harford, who will retire from his role as national director of education at the watchdog in August, said things had “gone a bit awry” following the removal of design and technology and languages as compulsory subjects at key stage 4 in the early 2000s.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector and Harford’s boss, warned in 2019 that the number of design and technology GCSEs had “plummeted” by nearly two-thirds between 2003 and 2017. Research by Ofqual shows the number of entries to modern foreign language exams decreased by almost half between 2002 and 2019.

Harford said languages were removed “to try to recognise the fact that a small proportion of students at that age, mostly disadvantaged boys, couldn’t cope with it”. But “what happened of course was half the cohort were taken out”. He said D&T also declined because it was made non-compulsory, and “it’s an expensive subject to support in the school”.

“The national curriculum is inherently a good thing, I have to say. Unfortunately when you start taking the compulsion out of certain areas of it, then schools will respond in a certain way”.

EBacc ‘not the reason’ for curriculum narrowing

Harford also insisted the EBacc performance measure, which rates schools on the proportion of pupils sitting exams in five core subject areas, was “not the reason that curriculum has been narrowed”.

He pointed to pupils taking “13, 14, 15 GCSEs” in the 1990s, adding: “The number of subjects in the EBacc is half of that.”

Harford also acknowledged that Ofsted’s previous inspection framework had some impact on schools’ decision-making.

The new education inspection framework, introduced in 2019, replaced the old “quality of teaching, learning and assessment” judgment with a “quality of education” judgment, after the watchdog admitted it was too focused on outcomes.

“I think that in our previous framework, when we had a single judgment which was about outcomes, and was largely but not wholly based on test and exam results, I can see why schools would respond in a certain way,” Harford said.

Latest education roles from

Procurement Officer

Procurement Officer

RNN Group

Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment

Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment

Barnet and Southgate College

Professional Practice (TLA) Lead

Professional Practice (TLA) Lead

RNN Group

Health & Care Coordinator

Health & Care Coordinator

MidKent College

HR Assistant

HR Assistant

MidKent College

Principal, Cedar Mount Academy Bright Futures Educational Trust

Principal, Cedar Mount Academy Bright Futures Educational Trust

Satis Education

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. Join a MAT – more curriculum freedom, HMG.
    Too much curriculum freedom, OFSTED.
    Might be a bit more nuanced than that.
    But.
    Left hand – right hand.