Ofsted inspections to draw focus away from exam results

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has released a new commentary stating that inspectors will, from now on, focus more on curriculum

Ofsted has released a new commentary – entitled What do we understand to be the real substance of education? – in which chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, admits that too much focus has been placed upon exam results.

As previously reported, schools have been accused of cheating the inspection system by removing low-achieving children from their registers in order to make test results look more impressive. Spielman has now promised that the curriculum itself will receive increased coverage in future inspections.

“Providing a more rounded picture of the curriculum is where inspection can play its part,” Spielman said in her commentary, as the aim is to remove a little of the pressure placed upon schools to focus almost entirely on testing for their reputation.

An Ofsted study of 23 ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools found that all leaders agreed on the importance of school progression through regular curriculum reviews.

Spielman added: “Ultimately, the curriculum is the yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school.

“It is, therefore, imperative that the new inspection framework has curriculum as a central focus. Yes, the current framework has curriculum tied in with leadership, in the sense that leadership should ensure that the curriculum has purpose and a clear design, but, as our research has shown, a successful curriculum is about more than just leadership.

“A well-constructed, well-taught curriculum will lead to good results because those results will be a reflection of what pupils have learned.

“Pupil attainment and qualifications will always remain important as one measure of a school’s effectiveness and of course hugely important to young people themselves.

“It is essential, therefore, that we give curriculum greater coverage in the new framework. In the long run, a renewed focus on curriculum should reverse the current incentives that come from inspection being quite so focused on outcomes.”

Spielman does warn that schools mustn’t only focus on the curriculum information that will later be tested.

“School leaders should recognise and understand that this does not mean that the curriculum should be formed from isolated chunks of knowledge, identified as necessary for passing a test. A rich web of knowledge is what provides the capacity for pupils to learn even more and develop their understanding.

“This does not preclude the importance of skill. Knowledge and skill are intrinsically linked: skill is a performance built on what a person knows. That performance might be physical or cognitive, but skills matter and they cannot be separated from knowledge. They are, if you like, the ‘know-how’ in applying the ‘known’. Knowledge and the capacity it provides to apply skills and deepen understanding are, therefore, essential ingredients of successful curriculum design.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, responded to Spielman’s piece, voicing both support and concerns.

We support in principle Ofsted’s intention to focus more on the curriculum and less on test and exam results,” he said. “Done well, it has the potential to liberate schools and teachers from the grinding pressure of preparing for SATs in primary schools and GCSEs in secondary schools, and feel empowered to concentrate more on a broad, balanced and rich curriculum.

Our concern, however, is that this does not translate into an Ofsted-prescribed curriculum, and we are reassured by the chief inspector’s commentary which recognises the importance of schools having the autonomy to choose the curriculum which most benefits their students. It is essential that the new Ofsted framework champions the distinctiveness of schools to serve the needs of their communities.

We look forward to seeing the detail of Ofsted’s proposals as they emerge and to working constructively with the inspectorate to ensure the new approach is fair, reliable and consistent.”

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