Amanda Spielman commentary on Ofsted’s curriculum research
October 19, 2017
This week, the chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, published a commentary on preliminary research findings into the primary and secondary curriculum. Earlier this year, Spielman announced that curriculum design, development and implementation would be among the research priorities for Ofsted. Spielman writes that one motivation for this focus was “to know whether inspection has played a role in bending the curriculum out of shape”.
The first phase of the curriculum review included research visits to 40 schools, reviews of school inspection reports, focus group discussions across five regions with headteachers and parent questionnaires. The emerging findings point to “waning” expertise in curriculum planning in schools which has had three main consequences:
The primary curriculum is narrowing in some schools: Spielman outlines that some primary schools have set aside time for SATs preparation which has reduced overall teaching time. Primary school leaders also highlighted that workload issues related to the pace of change has deprioritised curriculum planning and the time set aside for it.
Some school leaders have “misunderstood the purpose of key stage 3”: The research findings show that some schools have reduced the length of key stage 3 to just two years, with pupils selecting their subject options for GCSE at the end of year 8. It was also found that some schools have restricted pupil’s access to certain subjects to focus on English and Maths, with the rationale of improving performance in the new style GCSEs.
In some secondary schools, the curriculum for lower attaining pupils often reduces their ability to study EBacc subjects: Spielman outlines that some leaders of schools with high levels of disadvantage view the government’s performance measures, EBacc and Progress 8 as a constraint which has allowed for less flexibility and forces pupils on to an academic track. Spielman counters this assumption and suggests that no pupil should be restricted from accessing EBacc subjects, which has been found to happen in some schools.
Spielman notes that “many school leaders are aware of concerns and are working to revitalise curriculum thinking”. She praises the work of the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) commission into ethical leadership, on which National Governance Association sits. More findings from Ofsted’s curriculum review will be published in late spring 2018.