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Ofsted's Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, publishes recent research on curriculum design and the new education inspection framework


The chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, has published the second phase of Ofsted's research on curriculum design: HMCI commentary: curriculum and the new education inspection framework. The research follows on from the commentary published in October 2017 for the first phase.

The research aims, states Chris Jones, Deputy Director, Research and Evaluation Ofsted, are to 'find out what a high-quality curriculum looks like.' To this end Ofsted undertook 'in-depth conversations' with curriculum leaders in 23 schools that had identified as being particularly invested in curriculum design.

Spielman's commentary summaries the first phase of research:

"Too many teachers and leaders have not been trained to think deeply about what they want their pupils to learn and how they are going to teach it.

"We saw curriculum narrowing, especially in upper key stage 2, with lessons disproportionately focused on English and mathematics.

"Sometimes, this manifested as intensive, even obsessive, test preparation for key stage 2 sats [national curriculum tests] that in some cases started at Christmas in Year 6.

"Some secondary schools were significantly shortening key stage 3 in order to start GCSEs.

"This approach results in the range of subjects that pupils study narrowing at an early stage and means that they might drop art, history or music, for instance, at age 12 or 13.

"At the same time, the assessment objectives from GCSE specifications were being tracked back to as early as year 7, meaning many pupils spend their secondary education learning narrowed and shallow test content rather than broader and more in-depth content across a subject area."

For this second-phase, Spielman summarises and categorises the differing approaches to curriculum design: Knowledge-led approach; Knowledge-engaged approach; Skills-led curriculums. Spielman goes on to discusse their strengths and weaknesses.

Included in this commentary Spielman notes: "All leaders recognised the importance of progression, although there was variation in the progression models they explained...[some] spoke clearly about having subject-specific progression models in place that focused on progression through the content to be learned....The progression model was generally less clear for other subjects such as music, art, geography and history."

In addition, Spielman continues to advocate for a broad and balanced curriculum: "Importantly, there need be no conflict between teaching a broad, rich curriculum and achieving success in exams… In the long run, a renewed focus on curriculum should reverse the current incentives that come from inspection being quite so focused on outcomes."

Read the full report here

18 Sep 2018