Putting Ofsted’s new framework into practice

Written by: Stephen Rollett | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With a new curriculum-focused inspection framework due to hit schools in September, specialist Stephen Rollett offers his practical advice on how we should be preparing

The consultation over the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), including the draft version of the inspection handbook comes to a close tomorrow (Friday, April 5). However, from reading these proposals, teachers can already begin to see how inspection will work from September.

While our starting point must not be to do something because “Ofsted says”, the reality is that accountability does change the way schools behave. With this in mind, what should schools do in response to Ofsted’s new quality of education judgement?

Intent, Implementation, Impact

The new quality of education judgement is framed by the three “I”s of intent, implementation and impact. The proposed EIF states: “Inspectors will consider the extent to which the school’s curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain at each stage (intent).

“They will also consider the way that the curriculum selected by the school is taught and assessed in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills (implementation).

“Finally, inspectors will consider the outcomes that pupils achieve as a result of the education they have received (impact).”

The introduction of the “I” words has added to schools’ repertoire of curriculum vocabulary and provided some sense of a common language that was missing before, according to Ofsted’s initial curriculum research. But these words have proliferated so rapidly and widely that they risk becoming management proxies for what they are really supposed to describe: ways of thinking about the curriculum.

For example, stripped of the jargon, “intent” simply means why do you teach what you do? It is the bread and butter of schools, not a bolt-on. Every teacher, department leader and senior leader should have a sense of curriculum intent. And it will most probably look different across subjects.

Resist the urge

It is tempting for senior leaders to look for uniformity when tackling such a substantial task. A whole-school pro forma or planning sheet might appeal given the drive for consistency which has underpinned the school improvement agenda for so long.

But this runs the risk of distorting the curriculum. For example, why should a curriculum map in history look the same as a curriculum map in maths? Given that mathematical knowledge is hierarchically structured and much of history is cumulative, starting from an assumption of uniformity may not be helpful. Resist the urge.

You will probably want to do some reading about curriculum thinking and design too. Much better to base your work on the best evidence we have, rather than on what intuitively feels right.

Distribute this work across your school or department so that everyone understands the why of your curriculum. That does not mean making people learn a strapline, it means bringing colleagues with you as you collectively embark on an exploration of curriculum thinking and research. Build shared understanding.

CPD

Schools will need to invest time and CPD in helping teachers to understand what effective curriculum planning looks like in their subjects. This is hinted at in the draft Ofsted handbook, which states that inspectors will have “discussions with subject specialists and leaders about the content and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers, and what is done to support them”.

It is the reference to pedagogical content knowledge which is key here, meaning the knowledge of how to teach particular subject content. Research is clear that CPD has favoured generic pedagogy too much in recent years and schools would be wise to consider how they are supporting teachers’ subject-specific curricular and pedagogical understanding. Leaders will need to empower rather than control. Teachers will need to form high-quality subject networks and partnerships.

Subjects as disciplines


Inspectors will of course want to talk about the top-level curriculum “offer” – those subjects and courses pupils study or make choices within. But inspectors’ investigation of curriculum will go beyond this and be more sharply focused on subject level than was perhaps the norm before.

Inspectors will be directed to talk to middle leaders and teachers about the actual curriculum content that the school wants pupils to know and how well they are learning it: “Discussions with curriculum and subject leaders and teachers about the programme of study that classes are following for particular subjects or topics, the intended end points towards which those pupils are working, and their view of how those pupils are progressing through the curriculum.”

This will inevitably be different across subjects. It is more or less a given that the body of factual (or substantive) knowledge differs as pupils move from English to maths to history and so on.

But it is sometimes forgotten that the very way subjects work is also different. For example, the concepts that underpin science are probably different to those of art, likely as a result of the traditions that exist within each subject being unique to that field of study.

By exploring the conceptual rules that exist in each subject, pupils experience the curriculum as a range of “disciplines”, rather than static bodies of content, topics and standalone lessons.

A conceptually driven disciplinary approach to curriculum design enables pupils to engage in the great debates of each subject. So, the task for leaders and teachers is to ensure that actions taken with regard to the curriculum respect this sense of subjects as disciplines. Make this a focus for some of your reading.

Redefining progress

All of this has implications for how schools think about “progress” too. It is clear from the draft handbook that Ofsted is proposing not to look at schools’ internal data. Without getting into the debate about the validity and reliability of schools’ own data, this proposal is interesting because it hints at a new type of conversation that inspectors are seeking to have with schools – one which is much more rooted in the curriculum.

Rather than talking in the abstract about a particular grading system, flight path or level, inspectors will want to know exactly what the curriculum is intended to teach, at whole school and subject level.

In this way, progress is no longer defined by inspectors as points on a chart but in terms of curriculum content. It is the careful and deliberate sequencing of this content over time and pupils’ growing mastery of it that inspectors will want to see. Ofsted’s proposals state: “Teachers create an environment that allows pupils to focus on learning.

The textbooks and other teaching materials teachers select – in a way that does not create unnecessary workload for staff – reflect the school’s ambitious intentions for the course of study and clearly support the intent of a coherently planned curriculum, sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment.”

In the long term

It is encouraging that Ofsted is looking to phase in its new approach by giving schools more credit in the first year (at least) for their plans to improve the curriculum, rather than inspectors expecting to see a finished product ready for September 2019.

In fact, any sense of developing a finished curriculum is probably misleading – the best curriculum practice is that which is continually refined, renewed and improved.

It is the ability of schools to develop and share this expertise which will determine how well they are able to meet the curriculum challenge Ofsted has set in its new framework.

Ultimately, it is pupils who stand to gain from schools’ curriculum success. More than anything this is why you should make it a priority.

  • Stephen Rollett is curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders.

Further information & resources

  • Consultation – Education Inspection Framework 2019: Inspecting the substance of education, Ofsted, January 2019 (consultation closes April 5, 2019): http://bit.ly/2MrflYh
  • Education Inspection Framework: Overview of research, Ofsted, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2Vgzt2z
  • ASCL is holding briefings on the new inspection framework in Leeds and London in May: www.ascl.org.uk


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