Ofsted says narrow curriculum is risk to quality of education

27 November 2018

On 31 October Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector wrote to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to set out what Ofsted considers to be major risks to the quality of education and school effectiveness. 

Spielman identified these as ‘funding, the narrowing of the curriculum in schools, education structures, unregistered provision and off-rolling.’

Spielman pointed out that current evidence, based on school inspections shows no decline in standards, despite a decline in funding, but her caveat was that:

‘The current inspection framework is not designed to capture the effects of curriculum narrowing for schools that continue to meet statutory curriculum requirements. This is one of the reasons why we propose to change our framework.’

She went on to talk about a decline in the quality of education due to a narrowing of the curriculum, which of course we see in the decline of teacher numbers and time spent teaching arts subjects in schools and the knock-on effects on children’s access to the arts.

‘Where we do have clearer evidence of a decline in the quality of education are in the narrowing of the curriculum in schools and an endemic pattern of prioritising data and performance results, ahead of the real substance of education.’

Spielman also specifically highlighted access to the arts when talking about research which Ofsted had conducted on the curriculum:

‘In secondary schools, we found many examples of key stage 3 being narrowed to just two years. That means that pupils drop design and technology, art, music or languages after just two years of secondary study, often in very limited time each week.’

Shortened key stage 3

Our members have been reporting this issue of a shortened key stage 3: students who do not take arts GCSEs do not study them past age 13 or 14, and arts subjects are often on a carousel. Thus, children only experience an arts subject less than once a week, or perhaps just for one term a year. This makes progression and further study at GCSE level very difficult, as pupils do not have the base knowledge to embark on level 2 study.

To combat the problem of a narrowed curriculum Ofsted is proposing to change its inspection framework to include a judgement on ‘quality of education’.

Decline in FE funding

Spielman also used the letter to highlight the decline in funding for Further Education and Skills (FES):

‘I have expressed my concerns before, based on our inspection evidence, that the real-term cuts to FES funding are affecting the sustainability and quality of FES provision. My strong view is that the government should use the forthcoming spending review to increase the base rate for 16 to 18 funding.’


Read the full letter.


Image Credit: Leeds Museums and Galleries, Abbey House. Credit: Sarah Zagni. 

5 Replies to "Ofsted says narrow curriculum is risk to quality of education"

  1. Absolutely true – my daughter has had to change schools and travel a long distance for sixth form as her school no longer offered any performing arts at A level nor photography nor any languages. All due to funding cuts which they said meant no subject viable if fewer than 15 -20 students. The sixth form offer therefore became impossibly narrow.

  2. Narrowing the curriculum is so obviously detrimental to a good,well rounded education that it is amazing that any minister could be allowed to implement it. Have this government any idea that we are nowi in the 21st century and that students need as wide an education as possible to succeed inthe modern world.
    Gone are the days when a limited and exclusive set of subjects would suffice.

  3. Up until last summer I was a secondary school teacher for 26yrs, 20yrs as a Head of Art, and a County AST for 10yrs. I have seen the curriculum squashed and expectations of success constantly being compared against data and statistics, along with the grinding down of teachers through constant observations and performance management.
    Some of this has to be blamed on OFSTED with the constant changes to the curriculum and expectations of learning and teaching and emphasis on English and Maths, along with grading of teachers performances.
    I resigned my post having been a highly successful artist and Head of Art, I was frustrated and tired and saddened by the state of teaching, the lack of support and growing behaviour problems trending across many schools. Teaching is in crisis and many younger teachers will fall sooner rather than later.
    Having worked in a very difficult school I still continued to maintain good grades, but GCSE art and photography were used as a dumping area for subjects not wanting to teach some students, and often creative high level students were encouraged not to take the arts.
    What’s needed is better funding and more importantly removing the stigma that the arts aren’t academic, there is a snobbery in the state system and in the country as a whole, it makes a mockery of the fact that our country depends on the vast amounts of money produced from the creative sector.

  4. The article above is talking about KS3 not 6th form but annoying that’s schools no longer seem to have 6th form anymore. My daughter’s school now expects children to chose their options for year 10/11 a few weeks into year 8 instead of in year 9 and they only do art and music every two weeks (languages every week though) which I find startling as they offer both courses in years10/11.
    My daughter will have had a years education and have literally just turned 12 when she is asked to choose her two subjects she wants to study to GCSE level…ridiculous on so many levels!

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