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New Ofsted EIF – 7 questions school leaders should ask when building their curriculum

With the latest Education Inspection Framework now taking root, here are the key curriculum questions for leaders to build into their plans for 2020, says Eylan Ezekiel...

  • New Ofsted EIF – 7 questions school leaders should ask when building their curriculum

The new Ofsted education inspection framework (EIF) has now had a term to settle.

Having kept a close eye on the first round of inspections and started to pinpoint some interesting patterns that schools can use to inform their work, I’ve identified some key questions that school leaders should be asking when reviewing their curriculum design.

1 | What outcomes are we trying to secure for our pupils?

While primary schools are very likely to have a clear vision statement, and school development plan, you’ll need to break this down more explicitly in terms of what you intend for pupils to learn.

Ofsted are looking for evidence that intent is clear throughout a balanced curriculum. Practice telling the story from your top-level statements, down to what this might look like in each subject, and for each age group.

Make sure you involve all staff, governors, parents/carers and, crucially, the children.

This is not about daily lesson observations, but about a shared sense of purpose in the wider learning and how it holds together.

Be ambitious for all pupils, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and consider how any end-of-stage goals can be achieved by a cohesive progression from Reception. 

2 | Is everyone on board with our curriculum?

A key feature of the new inspections is that curriculum leads/coordinators, who are often middle leaders, are spending more time with the inspectors than ever before.

Ofsted are looking at how well the school leadership team have understood and applied “values, policies and practice” to enable the intended outcomes to be achieved through each subject area.

The school leadership team includes governors and trustees who are responsible for holding the school and its leaders to account for the vision, strategy and quality of education in the school.

Plan carefully how you bring these stakeholders on the journey with you to make sure everyone is singing the same song.

3 | How confident are teachers with the content?

A key challenge in primary schools, beyond the leadership issues of bringing all staff along on the journey, is around subject knowledge. The initial Ofsted reports under the new framework have indicated a focus on teacher confidence in all subjects.

Not every school can have a science or arts graduate, a musician or linguist in their staff: especially with issues around recruitment and retention for so many schools across the country.

However, Ofsted is looking for schools to not simply be playing to their strengths. Consider how you could strengthen weaker areas through well-structured classroom resources and professional development. No teacher should be left behind!

4 | Have we thought beyond literacy and maths?

Ofsted is clear that there is no grace period for schools getting their house in order for reading, writing and maths. If the school’s teaching of any of these is not deemed ‘good’, their overall rating will not be good.

That said, a major focus of the new framework is the extended curriculum.

Subject ‘deep dives’ are testing the breadth and balance in school curricula, so expect to be asked to explain the intent, implementation and impact story for each subject.

Many inspections of the past seemed to overlook how many hours of PE children were getting in a week, but it’s fair to say that the ‘daily mile’ will not be acceptable as an alternative to a real physical education curriculum (including dance and ‘adventurous/outdoor activity’) under the new framework.

Of course, rethinking the whole primary offer is no small task. Some schools are making strategic choices about which subjects to start with, and demonstrating a phased and continuous plan to ensure they get the balance right.

While this essential work is being done, schools are also looking to make sure that staff workload and wellbeing is protected.

5 | Is our curriculum filling gaps in local opportunities?

A strength of the primary phase is the way schools harness the background of their children and families to enrich the learning.

However, the new framework is bringing welcome focus to the idea of ‘cultural capital’, and to ensuring that pupils are exposed to more than might be available, or have been expected, for that context.

Consider how inclusive and diverse the content of your curriculum is – and how you could improve it.

For example, the Stonewall LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum Guides contain practical tips and lesson ideas so that teachers can easily and confidently incorporate LGBT people and families into all subjects, spanning from maths to geography.

As another example, rural coastal schools serving largely white British communities could explore how to enrich their curriculum with a more diverse and urban experience that expands horizons.

Likewise, schools in culturally complex parts of our great cities could look to share the wealth of our countryside and historical heritage to develop a sense of shared identity.

Though these are broad examples, being able to tell a story of how your curriculum intent leads to outcomes that offer transformative experiences for your pupils’ futures would be a strong part of your quality of education evidence.

6 | Is the progress data we collect being used to improve teaching and learning?

While many are relieved that Ofsted don’t want to look at your data so rigorously, they still want to know that you are collecting information to check that the implementation of the curriculum is effective and achieving the outcomes that were intended.

Consider the range of ways to check and evidence progress: blog posts, videos, model making: for example, Y1s planning appropriate homes for gerbils before and after learning about habitats and adaptation.

Workload for staff and wellbeing for all should not be made worse by the addition of complex and weighty new arrangements that don’t have a direct and manageable impact.

Roundhay School in Leeds have recently shared some glorious examples of how to do this in a fun way with their ‘Geography Floor books’.

7 | Is your curriculum structured to make sure that pupils retain learning?

Rather than getting hung up about phrases like ‘knowledge rich’, it’s easier to ask if children are ‘experiencing’ your curriculum (passing through school, where learning and experiences happen to them), or actually retaining it (whether it be knowledge or skills).

Can you explain the choices you make about the content and the sequence in a given subject? Can you show that you revisit, reinforce and enrich learning that builds towards your intended outcomes? There are some well-tested models that you can build on and adapt to your needs.

These are early days in the implementation of the new Ofsted Inspection Framework, and the impact will take time to emerge. However, the intent is clear. Make the most of the new year energy and focus to share these questions with colleagues.

Eylan Ezekiel is senior product manager: primary extended curriculum, at Pearson. Find out more at go.pearson.com/curriculum and on Twitter at @PearsonSchools.

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