Schools will need to show they have “designed” their curriculum and whether it helps pupils to be upwardly socially mobile, says Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education.
He said Ofsted would increasingly look for evidence of “strategic decision-making” in a school’s curriculum, something that was likely to form part of a new common inspection framework in September 2019.
Leaders would need to “know what their curriculum is and what the intent is” and be able to “articulate that really clearly” to inspectors, including showing how it was having a practical impact in the classroom.
Ofsted was also researching the link between different kinds of curricula and “social mobility”, and would use any findings when inspecting schools, he said.
“We’re going to see if there is a linkage between the curriculum that young people study in different schools and their destinations afterwards.”
A major challenge was that most schools were “ambiguous” about what they meant by “curriculum” and other terms that claimed to describe it, such as “skills-based” or “enriching”.
Most schools were ambiguous about what they meant by curriculum and other terms that claimed to describe it
Ofsted currently required schools to offer a “broad and balanced” curriculum, but Harford said many schools failed to understand the term.
“They aren’t clear about when a narrow, imbalanced curriculum becomes a broad one.
“It’s really interesting how much stumbling there is on this, and how much diversity of opinion.”
Ofsted’s working definition of “curriculum” is: “A framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent); for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (implementation) and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact and achievement).”
The findings are from an initial analysis of about 40 visits to primary and secondary schools in the summer term. More visits will follow.
Harford said schools were often unclear about what a “theme-based” approach was – “whether it is people not doing subjects, people grouping subjects together, or grouping skills, or people doing them in an integrated way”.
Likewise, when schools described a “skills-based” curriculum, teachers described everything from self-control to reading skills to leadership.
Harford said that all curricula should have a clear structure, with teachers able to show they had been planned and were having an impact.
In particular leaders should be ambitious about key stage 3 because the curriculum was often too geared towards the exam years.
For instance, the “brouhaha” about former education secretary Michael Gove’s requirement to teach more British authors at GCSE “amazed” him, because international authors could be taught before then.
“Schools should be having a great time in those years.”
His words follow Key Stage 3: The Wasted Years, an Ofsted report that found a weakness in teaching and progress in those years because of “a lack of priority given to key stage 3 by many secondary school leaders”.