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Teaching Issues

The 10 lessons to learn from Ofsted’s 3rd curriculum report

Subject knowledge

Clearly, curriculum planning and implementation are rightly going to be a hot agenda item for any school/subject leader over the coming few years. This has to be a good thing. It is just depressing that in our accountability mad system, we have to wait for the lever/threat of Ofsted inspections to make many schools put this at the top of their ‘to do list’.

I have just read through the phase 3 report and here are the ten main headlines.

History was criticised:

  • History curriculum planning in some schools was criticised: ‘History was also neither organised nor implemented well in a number of schools…Again, the lack of subject expertise, especially in leadership roles, contributed to these weaknesses.’

Having a deprived intake is no barrier to a high-quality curriculum and vice versa:

  •  Praise be! Unlike overall Ofsted gradings, having a deprived intake is no barrier to having a high-quality curriculum: ‘having a deprived intake is not a barrier to offering a rich and broad curriculum to pupils, even if this is not reflected as clearly in attainment and progress data.’
  • Surprise surpise, some schools in more affluent areas don’t have a great curriculum: ‘Conversely, it also suggests that some schools in more affluent areas are providing a low-quality curriculum offer to their pupils or gaming or coasting on the back of more affluent pupil intakes.’

There is a difference between curriculum intent and implementation:

  •  In schools with a strong curriculum intent, but weak implementation, subject leaders might for example, ‘not check the implementation of the curriculum and so the building blocks within units of work or schemes are not secure. This has an adverse impact on curricular implementation.’
  • In schools with a strong curriculum intent, but weak implementation, ‘Accountability (knowing what is implemented and learned) is narrowly focused on Year 2 and 6 in primary schools, and key stage 4 in secondary schools.’

Subject knowledgeSchools with the best curriculum(s) have good checking systems and teachers have good subject knowledge:

  • Whereas in schools with strong intent and strong implementation there are, ‘ clear methods to check what pupils know, can do and understand so that the right work is taught/informs teaching (assessment).’
  • In schools with strong intent and strong implementation accountability levels are high and ‘Teacher subject knowledge is consistently strong across the school, phase, key stage, and department.’
  • ‘Strong subject knowledge often resulted in a higher overall curriculum quality score, because its impact on curriculum design and pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding was particularly noticeable by inspectors.’
  • ‘The evidence bases for both primary and secondary schools showed that strong teacher subject knowledge is essential to high-quality curriculum planning. In these cases, staff were given greater control of and were directly involved in curriculum decision-making through trusting relationships with senior staff. They used their expertise to design the curriculum, rather than having the content dictated to them by leaders. Importantly, the better schools still had an accountability structure in place that ensured that leaders had oversight of their experts’ curriculum decisions.’

In schools with the weakest curricular, the focus is narrow  AND accountability is about outcome data:

  • In schools with the poorest curricula, ‘Accountability is about qualifications in the core subjects and data rather than the curriculum that is implemented and learned’ and ‘Headteachers do not prioritise or know whether there are weaknesses in teacher subject knowledge.’

So, it is well worth thinking hard about curriculum planning and also considering how to check the impact of your plan in reality. There is plenty more coming in this direction over the next year.

For more on curriculum planning, you could read blog 1,  blog 2 and/or blog 3.

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

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