Assessing the quality of education – a focus on purpose and impact of curriculum content

OFSTED have now published the third and final stage of their research into how the curriculum is planned and implemented and the impact this has on outcomes for pupils and schools. There is a lot on methodology and how the findings of the research have been recorded, who took part and how the sample cohort was chosen. There is within the text a desire to extend to all schools a message that the research is thorough and fair. They want to provide evidence that will lead to a much more accurate way to judge to what extent schools are reflecting on and assessing how their curriculum delivers education to a high quality that is carefully defined using a set of clearly crafted criteria.

Where schools displayed strong curricular thinking and who aimed to raise standards through the curriculum the report suggests some common factors:-

  • the importance of subjects as individual disciplines
  • using the curriculum to address disadvantage and provide equality of opportunity
  • regular curriculum review
  • using the curriculum as the progression model
  • intelligent use of assessment to inform curriculum design
  • retrieval of core knowledge woven through the curriculum
  • distributed curriculum leadership

The focus on this third piece of research is to look at how these aspects of curriculum quality apply across a broader range of schools and might form the basis for assessing how schools implement their curriculum plan effectively.  It is clearly stated here that OFSTED do not have an approved curriculum model and will recognise a range of different approaches. The research confirms for OFSTED that it can make valid assessments of the quality of the curriculum and that they were able to see difference in curriculum quality between schools and also between subject departments within schools.  One interesting conclusion from the research suggests that schools can produce equally strong curricula regardless of the level of deprivation in their communities and there is a suggestion that this new framework may be fairer to schools in disadvantaged areas.

The research findings result in 25  key indicators for quality of curriculum. Too many to translate into the new inspection handbook but useful to use as a starting point for planning some of the strategic and operational decisions that will need to be made if schools want to reflect on and re-define their curriculum to ensure it meets the proposed new criteria ‘quality of education’ that will deliver exceptional learning, is consistent and cohesive and is rich as well as broad and balanced.

The draft Education Inspection Framework will be available for consultation in January.  Teachers, subject and phase leaders, managers, leaders and support teams should all take time to make representations and ensure that the changes are those that are driven by educators.  The research is welcome, it shows that OFSTED are carefully considering a less pernicious and less data driven approach to inspection.  There are, however, many questions that will need further clarification.  We need as a profession to start the review of our curriculum intent, ensure consistent and cohesive quality implementation and decide on what we want to see in terms of impact for pupils, staff and the whole school in the context of a national perspective. This should inform the kinds of questions and comments we can make to ensure that the final framework supports all those stakeholders that want the best for pupils across all sectors, all schools and all regions.

We are conducting our own on-going research and our two curriculum events below continue to be highly regarded for their practical content, the resources that curriculum leaders can use with their teams and the deep expertise of the team who deliver these events.