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Schools are placing pupils’ education and future social mobility at risk by becoming exam factories that fail to provide children with a decent grounding in a broad range of subjects, the head of Ofsted has warned.
iNews reports that Amanda Spielman condemned schools that focus too heavily on passing Sats and GCSEs, accusing them of offering children a ‘flimsy’ education.
She argued that there should be no tension between exam success and a good curriculum, stating: “A good curriculum should lead to good results. However, good examination results in of themselves don’t always mean that the pupil received rich and full knowledge from the curriculum.
“In the worst cases, teaching to the test, rather than teaching the full curriculum, leaves a pupil with a hollowed-out and flimsy understanding.”
Ms Spielman’s intervention is likely to anger headteachers and their staff, however, as they believe it is the government’s accountability system that pushes schools to take such measures.
Her comments come in response to the initial findings of an Ofsted review, which was commissioned by the schools’ Chief Inspector in response to what she has previously called a ‘gaming scandal’ in England’s schools.
The research found that some primary schools were setting their pupils test papers every week as early as Year 5 for assessments that would not be sat until the end of Year 6.
Ms Spielman criticised schools that focused too heavily on exam preparation. In a commentary published on Wednesday morning, she writes: “The regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend. A much better use of time is to teach and help children to read and read more.”
Similarly, the review also found secondary schools were narrowing the curriculum for students ahead of their GCSEs.
Too many schools were demanding their pupils choose their GCSE subjects a year early in an attempt to boost their GCSE results by focusing on GCSE topics for three years, rather than two.
It means a “considerable number” of pupils were only studying subjects such as history, geography or a language for two years and would likely never study the subjects again, she said.
The effects she added inevitably means the poorest students miss out on gaining crucial social capital. “It is a risk to social mobility if pupils miss out on opportunities to study subjects and gain knowledge that could be valuable in subsequent stages of education or in later life,” she said.
“Restricted subject choice for low-attaining pupils disproportionately affects pupils from low income backgrounds.” Around half of the secondary schools visited had cut Key Stage 3 to two years, while further data on 171 schools found that around a quarter were asking pupils to pick their GCSE courses after two years, at the age of 13.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, criticised her comments. “It’s hardly surprising that schools focus intensely on key stage 2 tests and GCSEs as that’s how their performance is measured, with GCSEs crucial to the life-chances of their pupils,” Mr Barton said.
“If Ofsted wants them to focus less on these assessments, we would suggest it lobbies the government for a change to the accountability system rather than criticising schools.”