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19 September 2018
By Linda Pickles

Curriculum and the new education inspection framework

In 2017, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, commissioned the inspectorate to carry out a research programme to review schools’ approaches to the curriculum. The first phase of the research was carried out during summer 2017 and was based on a range of evidence including visits to 41 schools, regional discussion groups and parental questionnaires. Outcomes from the research identified “little debate or reflection” about curriculum design and an apparent narrowing of the curriculum to meet the pressures of standardised testing at both primary and secondary phases.  

The outcomes of the phase 2 research, based on a qualitative study of 23 schools,  were announced by the Chief Inspector on 18 September 2018 during her speech at the Education Policy Institute conference.  Ofsted grouped the research findings into 3 types of approaches to curriculum design:

  • knowledge-led approach (mastery of information for different subjects),
  • knowledge-engaged approach (combination of knowledge and skills)
  • skills-led approach (focused on acquiring skills)

As would be expected, Ofsted identified strengths and weaknesses within each of the approaches but identified that the schools all recognised the importance of reviewing their curriculum and involving staff in the process. The research also identified that some schools were more confident in planning and checking progress against content rather than skills, particularly in English and mathematics. The Chief Inspector stated that ensuring pupils have a broad and balanced curriculum should not prevent success in exams.

Phase 3 of the research is currently underway and is focusing on how well school leaders are designing the curriculum to give a broad and balanced education to pupils. The outcomes of phase 3 will be shared as part of the consultation process for the new inspection framework, demonstrating that the curriculum will be a key element of future school inspections.

“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.”
Amanda Spielman
HMCI, September 2018