SSAT 2016: Numeracy and literacy focus narrowed the curriculum, says Sean Harford

Science and modern languages are going to get a good look-in too, says Sean Harford.

Ofsted will increasingly check that science and modern languages are not being pushed out of the curriculum because of a historical focus on numeracy and literacy – with the inspection body “putting its hands up” to playing a role in that focus, said Sean Harford (pictured), the watchdog’s national director of education.

The curriculum had “narrowed” over the past few years because of a drive for standards in maths and reading, with Ofsted now looking for an emphasis on broader curriculums if schools were to gain higher inspection judgments, he told the SSAT delegates.

And a recent report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) proved Osted was “not just driven by data” because it said the inspections body should have downgraded hundreds more schools over the past nine years if academic performance alone was taken into account.

Speaking at a workshop session on Friday, the former teacher and senior leader said: “We hold our hands up here. Primary schools have mostly in the past decade focused on numeracy and literacy, and we’ve seen huge gains.

There is a bit of an issue … the focus on those two subjects has narrowed the curriculum

“But there is a bit of an issue … the focus on those two subjects has narrowed the curriculum and as a result the provision of things such as science in particular, and foreign languages more latterly because it’s come in as a compulsory element in key stage 2, has suffered.

“So that’s something we’ll look at by saying, ‘OK, the school is doing well in the basics of maths and English, but is that at the expense of the broader curriculum?’ That’s a key feature of our inspection as well.”

Harford also dismissed the EPI report for “effectively criticising Ofsted for not using data enough” following long-standing accusations that the inspections body is too driven by grades and attendance measures.

The report, released on November 22, said that according to value-added progress data, only half as many primary and secondary schools with low levels of disadvantage should be rated as “outstanding”, and twice as many with higher levels of disadvantage should be “outstanding”.

“Of course we look at national exams tests, assessment and attendance data before we come in – but anyone who read the EPI report last week in which we were effectively criticised for not using data hard enough […] will know that to say that we’re entirely data-driven cannot be right.

“When you go back into a school, of course there will be flags on things like data, but actually going into a school there’s no point in inspecting if you just go on the data. And I think our inspection outcomes show it’s a professional process not just driven by data.”

Instead, Ofsted had been right to bring in the “shorter inspection methodology” in which schools on a good judgment are inspected for one day every three years – rather than a full inspection every seven years – with any proposed change in judgment prompting the further, and more expensive, full inspection. The changes came into force September last year.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

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


  1. What is all this meddling with the school curriculum actually achieving?
    We used to talk about having a balanced curriculum and tried to achieve that.
    Then we went overboard on literacy and numeracy. We had CPD in how to teach literacy in maths lessons for God’s sake!
    This meant we forgot science and languages in primary schools.
    In secondary schools we have driven out music, art, and technology. Will we be asking for their return when we have no musicians, artists, or technologists?
    We forced manic marking on teachers. Now we are told not to.
    We had 3 part lessons enforced on all teachers for every lesson. We had children writing down lesson objectives every lesson.
    We had learning styles enforced, CPDed, and inspected. Now we must not have learning styles.
    We are told teachers must be researchers. (Why not just have teachers as teachers?)
    We were to be like Finland. Now we must be like Singapore!
    We have turned the curriculum into an every changing grey porridge of the latest fad.
    As Donald Trump might have said, “Let’s stop all this until we can work out what the hell is happening!”