Three-year GCSEs? No ‘outstanding’ for you


Inspectors allegedly told school leaders that awarding an ‘outstanding’ rating was out of the question because they ran three-year GCSEs.

The findings question Ofsted’s insistence it has no “preferred curriculum” or stance on the length of a schools’ key stage 3 and 4.

It is making judgments about things it really doesn’t need to

More than half of schools now run lengthened key stage 4, dropping a year from key stage 3 to cater for the new, tougher GCSEs.

The inspectorate has insisted it has no rule barring schools with three-year GCSEs from achieving ‘outstanding’.

But Ryan Kelsall, head of Impington Village College, in Cambridgeshire, claimed inspectors would not convert a section 8 visit into a full inspection to be upgraded to ‘outstanding’ because it ran three-year GCSEs.

During an inspection in November, Kelsall claims the inspector asked him if it was a “genuine two-year key stage 3” and warned there was “no way you could possibly teach the national curriculum then.

“When we got to the final meeting, his response was ‘you know what it says in the handbook. It says the curriculum needs to be broad at key stage 3 and because you do your options at the end of year 8 I don’t think it’s broad enough’. That was the end of the discussion.”

The academy, which retained its ‘good’ rating, is an international baccalaureate world school with all pupils studying six subjects until the end of year 13.

Kelsall said the school has an intensive enrichment programme with 70 per cent of pupils taking the English baccalaureate. He claimed Ofsted’s inspection dashboard shows Impington is also in the top 20 per cent of schools for every category.

The inspectorate pledged its new framework would focus more on curriculum and less on outcomes.

But Kelsall said: “It asks some significant questions about what the role of Ofsted is and whether it’s its position to make those kind of ideological or curriculum-based decisions.

“It is making judgments about things it really doesn’t need to.”

Bramhall High School in Stockport was rated ‘requires improvement’ after an inspection on September 25.

Lynne Fox, its head, told Schools Week the lead inspector referred to the school’s two-year key stage 3 curriculum as “the elephant in the room” during a telephone conversation the day before the inspection.

She claimed the inspector repeatedly – and incorrectly – said the school could not be “legally compliant” as a maintained school with that curriculum.

The school, which has now been rated ‘requires improvement’ three times since October 2014, had a positive monitoring visit in April 2018.

Fox said Bramhall was due for inspection during the summer – when it would have been judged under the old framework – but Ofsted delayed the visit until September.

She claimed the lead inspector told her the “argument would have been whether [the school] was ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’” under the old framework.

Bramhall’s inspection dashboard also shows it is in the top 20 per cent of schools nationally for attainment and progress.

Fox said Ofsted’s view on the curriculum was “so biased that the inspector would just not see beyond it.

“We’ve ended up with a really damaging judgment that will be here probably for two or three years.”

The school and 300 parents have complained to Ofsted about the report, published on November 5.

Three secondaries have been rated ‘outstanding’ under Ofsted’s new framework. One of those, Castleford Academy in West Yorkshire, has a shortened key stage 3.

But Daniella Cook, Castleford’s associate head, said the school used year 9 as a “gateway year” where GCSE options were not taught until the Easter term. It “thoroughly checks” all elements of the national curriculum were covered by the end of year 8.

Dan Townsend, head of history at a secondary school in London, was supportive of Ofsted. He understood difficulties for schools whose students struggled with the new GCSEs “but the erosion of key stage 3 should not have been the answer. Instead schools should have ensured ample hours were provisioned at key stage 4.”

A spokesperson for Ofsted said it had “no view about whether key stage 3 should last for two or three years, and this is not a determining or limiting criterion within the handbook”.

But they added research showed that a “narrowed curriculum” could limit pupils’ choices and have a “disproportionately negative effect” on disadvantaged pupils.

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  1. Amy Kirkland

    Bramhall high school has been told the same. Requires improvement despite being one of the highest performing schools in the area. A result purely based on their 3 Yr GCSE. Ofsted basically proving themselves unfit for purpose again.

  2. Liam Collins

    No preferred curriculum at all…apart from the imposition of a length of KS3…but apart from that…oh no wait I forgot the instance that schools enter all their children into the mythical “EBacc” …thank goodness there is no preferred curriculum…

  3. No history or geography after year 8 for some pupils, eh? For maintained schools that would, one assumes, break the law since the National Curriculum requires enough Key Stage 3 time to deliver… erm… Key Stage 3.

    Of course, the Conservative and Liberal Coalition’s new academies are free to deliver their own curricula: the geography of Mars and the Moon, the history of immigration, computing and STEM, whatever they like?

    But maintained schools are not.

    The article above is not about a maintained school, of course. But imagine, carefully, the consequences of curtailing an education in history and/or geography early. Or, indeed, breaking the law on delivering full and proper Religious Education through to 18.

    A generation reliant on TV history and hearsay and family/local choices on what happened in the past.

    Imagine the potential! No need to examine James VI of Scotland being *given* the Crown of England in 1603 by a dying Elizabeth I.

    No need to understand the proximity of Germany, Brussels, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain – compared to America. Or compare the cost of flights. Or the carbon implications of travel out to America the Commonwealth: the desperate escape route of English protestants escaping mainland Europe.

    No need to learn about the Mayflower. Or the scramble for Africa. Or Captain Cook.

    Captain Cook?

    Anyway. What matters it. Our President, Donald Trump, will sort out Ofsted. We just need to wait for the FBI to catch Jeremy Corbyn and for Boris to be elected President Trump’s Prime Minister.

    Then they can both visit the Queen.

  4. If a school does not provide the NC, it must still provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Exactly what an inpsector said to a HT and why is something we can’t know, as we weren’t there. The biggest casualty is languages, where a school can have children disapplied, then drop them without ever having a chance to learn. I also agree with Ben’s points above on history and geography. The issue is much less how long the GCSE course takes, than about pupils dropping subjects that are vital to their understanding of the world.