Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman: importance of a broad curriculum

15 November 2017

On 11 October Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector for Ofsted, gave a speech on the key findings of their recent curriculum research. This first phase was to investigate how much the new common inspection framework, due to be in place by September 2019, should change to look more closely at curriculum.

Read the full text of the speech here.

The curriculum research has raised some key issues, not least that often schools assume the curriculum is the same as the timetable.

Issues with curriculum development that have been identified so far are a lack of clarity around the language we use, e.g. what skills, progression and enrichment mean. Spielman also flagged up that some teachers have a weak theoretical understanding of curriculum and primary school leaders in particular find it difficult to recruit teachers who can design a curriculum.

The research also identified the narrowing of the primary curriculum as a problem because of a focus on tests, and Spielman raised the issue of inspection ‘bending the curriculum out of shape’ saying:

‘Good examination results in and 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.’

Two year Key Stage 3

Spielman also used her speech to highlight the potential damage done by a two year Key Stage 3. Ten of the 23 secondary schools visited for the Ofsted survey were reducing Key Stage 3 to just a 2-year period of study and the desk research looking at school websites showed that in a quarter of the 171 schools surveyed GCSE options were being chosen at the end of Year 8.

The risk of a short Key Stage 3 is that, as Spielman said: ‘for most children, the end of key stage 3 is the last time they will take art, music, drama or design and technology’.

Spielman questioned the rationale of a three year Key Stage 4 pointing out:

‘The GCSE tests are designed to cover 2 years’ worth of content. It is hard to see how taking longer than 2 years could expose pupils to more knowledge and not more test preparation.’

The CLA is very concerned about the number of children who are not able to choose art subject GCSEs because of option blocks designed to increase take up of EBacc subjects. A shortened Key Stage 3 compounds this problem, stopping children studying any arts subjects past the age of 13.

Balance for low attaining pupils

Speilman highlighted the issue of access to a broad curriculum for low attaining pupils. Their research has shown that due to a focus on English and Maths, other national curriculum subjects, such as arts and some EBacc subjects like modern foreign languages, are often restricted.

In a few schools Ofsted visited some lower-attaining pupils from the age of 12 had no opportunity to study languages or some arts subjects.

Research report

Ofsted have completed phase one of their review of the curriculum. Phase two of the study will continue until the end of the Spring term 2018 with findings published late spring.

Sean Harford’s blog details more on the findings.

Ofsted’s 2017-2022 strategy published

At the end of September Ofsted published their three-year strategy which the above review links to. They also published a one-page summary version

Key in the new strategy is the underlying recognition that Ofsted is one of the actors in the landscape that influence schools, their use of the word ‘force’ in their guiding principles aims to denote this. I don’t understand this sentence!  They recognise Ofsted has a clear responsibility to make sure they support balance within schools, so that testing and inspection do not distort children’s education.


One Reply to "Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman: importance of a broad curriculum"

  1. A 3 year KS3 is a must for children’s physical and mental development. They need to experience a broad curriculum that does not cut creative subjects by making them samplers without depth. Selecting option choices, based on limited engagement in some subjects, too early can only be damaging to a child’s creative and mental growth. Sacred cows in the curriculum are given far too much time at the expense of real educational experience. The impact of the EBACC and STEM combined with a target driven culture is also undermining the curriculum balance.
    Add to this prescriptive teaching pedagogy and the demise of creativity results in the fun being sucked out of the classroom.
    Return trust in our teachers and let them off the leash!

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