Spielman: 'We won't turn a blind eye to schools narrowing education'

Amanda Spielman has hit back at academy trusts that have questioned her new framework – insisting Ofsted won’t “incentivise apparent success without substance”.

The Ofsted chief inspector said they must not succumb to the “selective but wrong-headed logic” that they are helping disadvantaged pupils by “turning a blind eye to schools that are narrowing education”.

In a speech later today, Spielman will add: “Grades are hollow if they don’t reflect a proper education underneath”.

Her comments, on the launch of the Ofsted annual report, follow high-profile interventions from academy trusts claiming that the curriculum focus will favour middle-class kids and worsen outcomes for deprived pupils.

But Ofsted has hit back, warning there remains a “small but influential minority who think it’s okay to bend education out of shape in order to boost exam results and school league table positions”.

Ofsted said this is “wrong” and limiting poorer children’s options and focusing on exam results alone is “short-sighted and unjustifiable.”

Grades are hollow if they don’t reflect a proper education underneath

Spielman said inspectors had seen schools cutting back “drastically on all children’s opportunities to discover the joys of languages, art, music, drama and humanities – so that most children have to give them up at age 12 or 13, when they have barely begun to discover what these subjects have to offer”.

She said: “We must guard against restricting education excessively. Exam results are important but have to reflect real achievement. We should not incentivise apparent success without substance. This doesn’t represent a good education for any child.

“And for those who aren’t being read a different story every night, who aren’t taken to the museum at the weekend, who don’t get the chemistry set for Christmas, it is especially impoverished. These children need and deserve a proper, substantial, broad education, for as long as schools have them.”

Ofsted’s annual report states a “minority of schools continue to make decisions in their own interests”.

Inspectors found schools entering pupils for qualifications they think are “easier” and putting English-speaking pupils for “English for speakers of other languages” qualifications. A Schools Week investigation last year revealed the Harris Federation had entered hundreds of its native pupils into such exams.

Ofsted also found schools entering pupils early in subjects such as English – possibly to avoid needing to teach it to the end of year 11 – and schools that had very different GCSE results for English literature and language.

Poorer children shouldn’t get a worse choice

The report read while the issues are “complex”, it is “particularly concerning when a school has engaged in a number of these activities. This may be a sign of problems with the curriculum, or that it is not focusing on what pupils really need.”

But Spielman added: “We must not succumb to the seductive but wrong-headed logic that we are helping disadvantaged children by turning a blind eye to schools that are narrowing education, if they deliver acceptable grades at the end.

“Grades are hollow if they don’t reflect a proper education underneath. We have no idea yet who are the most talented and singular men and women who will drive this country forward in the next decades. They could be in any primary or secondary school anywhere. All of them should have the chance to develop their talents. Poorer children shouldn’t get a worse choice.”

But Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of Harris, said its pupils are passing other subjects such as drama and music “at a rate of almost twice the national average and attending the best universities”.

“This is not an example of ‘success without substance’; it is an example of disadvantaged children breaking the class ceiling.”

Spielman said Ofsted research shows a narrowed curriculum has a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged pupils.

This is not an example of ‘success without substance’; it is disadvantaged children breaking the class ceiling

She said schools in more difficult contexts have a “harder job to do”. But added the new framework “does recognise this greater challenge. It really is time that all schools had the integrity to put children first.”

However initial analysis shows that schools in deprived areas are still less likely to be rated ‘good’.