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Introducing the lego learning system

Why Ofsted’s New Inspection Framework Shouldn’t Scare Schools

If you’re already getting curriculum right, then the prospect of having to describe what you’re doing in terms of ‘the three Is’ shouldn’t cause any loss of sleep, says David Didau...

  • Why Ofsted’s New Inspection Framework Shouldn’t Scare Schools

Most teachers will be aware that Ofsted is launching a new inspection framework this September. The big shift in focus is away from inspectors attempting to judge the quality of teaching and learning by observing lessons and towards attempting to judge the quality of education a school provides by, at least in part, interrogating the curriculum a school has in place.

In an effort to assist schools in assessing the quality of their curriculum, Ofsted has divided matters into three baskets: intent, implementation and impact.

This, perhaps predictably, has caused some school leaders to panic and insist that planning documents be rewritten taking the ‘three Is’ into account, massively adding to teachers’ workload and stress.

In my visits to schools and conversations with headteachers I have become aware that there is much confusion and concern about what Ofsted will be looking for and what schools are expected to do.

Clear expectations

Chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has laid out exactly what her expectations are: “What I want school leaders to discuss with our inspectors is what they expect pupils to know by certain points in their life, and how they know they know it.

And crucially, what the school does when it finds out they don’t!” So, how does this square with the ‘three Is’?

Well, it really shouldn’t be that complicated. The intent of the curriculum has nothing whatsoever to do with why you’ve decided to teach certain topics; neither is it about coming up with vague mission statements about getting all children to fulfil their potential and become life-long learners, or whatever.

The intent of the curriculum is the content you expect children to learn. More simply, the intent of the curriculum is the curriculum, or as Spielman puts it, “what [school leaders] expect pupils to know by certain points in their life”.

If you find that you’re teaching things that you don’t care whether students will remember or not, then you probably haven’t got this quite right.

Key questions

The implementation of the curriculum is concerned with how your intentions are realised. This is less about your pedagogical preferences than it is about the order in which children encounter the concepts and content teachers want them to learn about.

Staff members should be able to articulate whether there’s a logical connection between studying x in term 1 and y in term 2. Does what is learnt about in one year connect to what is learnt in another?

If you can explain why curriculum is taught in the way that it is, then you’ve probably got a decent handle on the implementation of your curriculum.

And the impact of the curriculum lies in whether students have learnt the things you’ve taught them – how do you know whether pupils know what you think they know? And also, as Spielman puts it, “what the school does when it finds out they don’t”.

This seems to require some sort of internal assessment; after all, how will you know whether students have learnt what you wanted them to learn unless you assess whether they have?

But, crucially, Ofsted’s deputy director for schools, Matthew Purves has said that because no one can be confident in the reliability or validity of schools’ assessment, “inspectors will not look at school’s internal progress and attainment data.”

Need to know

The good news is that there is now no external pressure for schools to produce spreadsheets, flightpaths or any other of the byzantine number systems which have proliferated in recent years.

What will matter, is whether teachers are able to say something like, “I’m pretty sure that most students have learnt what I’ve taught them because they were able to recall it independently weeks or months after we last discussed it in class.”

The bottom line is this: school leaders should be able to demonstrate what, specifically, children are supposed to learn, how they go about teaching these things, and how they know whether children have learnt what was taught. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that.

David Didau is an independent education consultant and writer. He blogs at learningspy.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter at @DavidDidau.

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