Ofsted bids to address 'significant disquiet' over key stage 3 and 4

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
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There is “significant disquiet” over the perception that Ofsted favours a two-year key stage 4 over a three-year approach, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said.

Ofsted has denied that it has a “narrow focus” on the length of key stage 3 during inspections, although it did admit this week that the issue “is one that has clearly been challenging on some inspections”.

Speaking to the ASCL annual conference, on Saturday (March 14), general secretary Geoff Barton said Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) had “created the perception that it favours a specific curriculum model – a two-year key stage 4 – and that those who don’t toe the line are likely to be downgraded”.

He told delegates: “Now, Ofsted denies that, but the perception persists. And while to those outside education this might sound like a nerdy, technical argument, we know that this is the sort of thing that makes or breaks careers.

“School leaders who proudly and successfully run a three-year key stage 4 suddenly feel under threat.”

Mr Barton added that in “challenging schools", where they run a three-year programme to give struggling pupils the best possible chance of leaving with good GCSEs, headteachers found Ofsted’s “supposed fixation on this issue incomprehensible”.

He continued: “The great shame is that this one topic risks overshadowing the generally positive reception of the new framework.”

Mr Barton called on the inspectorate to “grasp this issue, and provide schools with greater clarity, reassurance and consistency”.

Addressing the ASCL conference later the same day, Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford, acknowledged that there had been an “enormous amount of talk” about whether schools would be punished for operating a shortened key stage 3 to allow for a longer key stage 4.

“We really don’t have a narrow focus on whether your school runs a two-year key stage 3, or a three-year key stage 3,” he said. “In fact, there is a whole spectrum of curriculum models, encompassing many other variations. Plenty of schools with a short key-stage three have achieved good or even outstanding judgements this year.

“So, we have no unspoken hurdle here that blocks schools from being judged good or better unless they have a three-year key stage 3. We will want to understand how you are providing a broad and balanced curriculum to children in those crucial first three years of secondary school. And we will guard against unnecessary narrowing if it is simply to make way for three years of teaching only to GCSE specifications.

“We will also want to see how you set every child on the best pathway for them for GCSE and beyond, which won’t always be the one that would notch up the highest Progress 8 score for the school.”

Mr Harford, however, acknowledged that this issue “is one that has clearly been challenging on some inspections” and said that the on-going training for school inspectors is focusing on the key stage 3 question. “It is something we are looking out for in quality assurance,” he added.

According to an ASCL survey of almost 800 heads, three-quarters of school leaders believe Ofsted’s new EIF – which focuses more on the quality and breadth of the curriculum and less on data from exams and tests – is an improvement on previous frameworks.

However, despite this view, dissatisfaction with inspection remains high, with nine out of 10 respondents believing the new EIF fails to fairly and consistently judge the performance of schools.


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