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Spielman says inspectors will look ‘more closely’ at schools’ curriculums

The curriculum has been lost “as a needle in a haystack” within Ofsted inspections despite being the “real meat” of a good education, the chief inspector of Ofsted has said.

Amanda Spielman, speaking to delegates at the Festival of Education this morning, said too many schools are teaching to mark schemes, SATs and GCSEs rather than considering the actual content of lessons being delivered to pupils.

School leaders and teachers often simply consider “the curriculum” to mean what’s in their timetable or what’s in qualifications, rather than thinking about how they can deliver a truly “civic education”, including learning about ancient civilisation or hear classical music.

But the current common inspection framework “doesn’t fully yet capture this core substance of education,” she admitted.

“Rather than carrying the weight it should, the curriculum can often end up as the needle in the haystack.”

However Spielman denied that schools would now be inspected on whether they were delivering an “Ofsted-approved curriculum”, instead that inspectors would look more closely at whether they were properly thinking about their curriculum, planning it well, and delivering it effectively.

Ofsted does not want to “get into the space” of defining the curriculum, she confirmed in conversation with Schools Week editor Laura McInerney following her speech. “It’s to make sure what the school is setting out to provide and how effective it is in providing that – but not saying this is or isn’t an Ofsted-approved curriculum.”

Too often the curriculum had been reduced to a function of getting pupils into employment or higher education, she said, adding this was “rather wretched” and the country could be “ashamed” this had become the case.

“I question how much school leaders really ask what the body of knowledge is that we want to give to our young people.”

The chief inspector said she had seen SAT practice papers being started in year four, lessons where “everything is about the exam”, where teaching the mark scheme had become more important than “teaching history itself”, and where EAL pupils had not been entered for a second language because they could “tick the box” of speaking another language already.

Instead, an education should be about imparting a curriculum, including the spiritual, cultural and moral development of pupils, which created a “better civilisation” and “left the world a better place.”

The words come as Spielman is part-way through a review of the curriculum, begun this year, to see curriculum practice taking place across schools, advised by experts including Tim Oates, group director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment, and Samantha Twiselton, director of Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University.

“This is not a coded announcement of a sneaky new change. Perhaps this is a little bit of a reminder to inspectors to keep looking at the curriculum,” she added.

“And is what Ofsted looks at really making sure that the best things happen for children.”

 



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2 Comments

  1. This is a golden opportunity for the teaching profession to lead on what many teachers will have entered teaching to do. Amanda Spielman has given us the green light. Let’s grab the opportunity with both hands!

    Rather than every school and headteacher grappling with this new freedom using a blank sheet of paper, ASCL and NAHT need to mobilise their members into developing a vision for this new dawn. Pull together a consensus on what this new enlightened curriculum should look like. Publish it and allow schools to adapt it to fit their own particular circumstances.

    It should not take long for ASCL and NAHT to get the first draft out. There could be something published by September 2017. Let schools know this is going to happen along with a timeline so that potential duplication of effort is removed. Schools can then arrange their own planning schedules to review what they are delivering, such that by September 2018 the nation’s school curriculum is working in a new direction.

  2. The curriculum has become a phantom entity, yes. That will not change though for as long as schools’ effectiveness is judged by exam results. From the article- the chief inspector stated that she had seen SAT practice papers being started in year four, lessons where “everything is about the exam”, where teaching the mark scheme had become more important than “teaching history itself”.
    If it becomes a formal goal of schools to convey a curriculum to learners including the spiritual, cultural and moral development of pupils, which created a “better civilisation” and “left the world a better place.” then that is a good idea; it will not be long though before some bureaucrat in the DfE asks how they will be able to obtain data about the extent to which a given school is/is not fulfilling this expectation. Soon after that will come the distribution to schools a set of arbitrary top-down targets that like all targets will generate perverse incentives to meet the letter of the targets at the cost of meeting the spirit of them.The end result will be that the emphasis on exams that has created the atrophy of a curriculum of values will be exacerbated by an additional tier of exams. About fifteen years later, whoever is OFSTED chief inspector then will be lamenting that.