OFSTED, the Curriculum and moving towards a change of emphasis

OFSTED have this week released a commentary on the second phase of their research into curriculum design, implementation and impact. Amanda Spielman is clear in her assertion that the real substance of education is the curriculum and how it is structured so that all pupils can access it, learn through it and make progress linked to how it is delivered and assessed.
There will be, the report states, a new approach to inspection that moves away from simply focusing on outcomes linked to end of key stage data and more towards looking at what complements that data.

This, it suggests, includes evidence of:

  • a clearly defined and fit for purpose curriculum design that is linked to the school vision and purpose
  • positive leadership that includes devolved leadership to subject specialists and teachers
  • collaborative and whole school involvement
  • pedagogy that deepens subject knowledge and challenges the pupil’s ability to make connections across different subject disciplines
  • how pupils demonstrate competence in their use of skills that help them to access curriculum knowledge
  • a carefully sequenced content that builds depth and breadth of understanding over time

The research found that the sample schools used one of three approaches to planning their curriculum.

  • Knowledge – led approach -skills come from knowledge, “skills are the bi-product of knowledge”. Through the deepening of knowledge comes the ability to use associated skills. The characteristics of this approach are fewer topics that are taught in greater depth
  • Knowledge – engaged approach – “knowledge underpins the application of skills” This approach focuses on how the skills and the knowledge are integral, the pupil learns skills alongside knowledge acquisition. This involves planning which skills the pupil will use to access knowledge. Within this approach there is a greater emphasis on cross-curricular teaching, ensuring an understanding of how knowledge applies in a context
  • Skills – led approach – Skills have the higher priority in the planning process, knowledge is seen as a series of disconnected facts unless the pupil has the skills to place them in their context

There is no suggestion that one approach is better than another and schools remain free to make their own decisions as to the best model in their specific local setting. However, it is the reasons behind the choices made that will need to be clear and focused on holistic, deeper and sequential learning and not simply on how to achieve the best outcomes for the schools at times of testing or examination outcome.

Curriculum design, the report concludes, is a reflective process involving leaders, subject specialists and teachers. It suggests that there needs to be much more evidence of progression models that show how pupils will build their subject knowledge and their ability to use associated skills adeptly and competently. It is also clearly stated that curriculum and assessment are inseparable and welcome evidence that leaders in the sample schools believe that skilful formative and summative assessment strategies are integral to deep learning and are useful in identifying gaps in learning.

In conclusion:

  • No one design fits all, the National Curriculum is the benchmark, but the choice of design is up to the school and linked to the school’s context and the expertise of those involved
  •  The curriculum should be linked to the school vision and purpose. It should be the yardstick for what leaders want their pupils to know and be able to do by the end of their school life
  • The curriculum design should be clearly defined, the content should be carefully sequenced, have thoughtfully designed assessment practice and include an appropriate model of progression
  • The curriculum should have substance, depth and breadth and be more than preparation for tests and examinations
  • There should be a rich web of knowledge where skills weave opportunities for a continuum of learning that deepens understanding and allows for progression

The Learning Cultures Expert Curriculum team have developed two outstanding training opportunities that will give school and curriculum leaders an opportunity to reflect on what currently works well and how to ensure that new strategies and innovations create a curriculum design for now and the future that enriches learning and deepens knowledge and understanding. We weave our deep knowledge of curriculum design with our expertise in coaching to explore how to create a whole school, collaborative curriculum and assessment model that inspires and nurtures learning and achievement.

Re-defining the Primary Curriculum – Content, cohesion and purpose
Re-defining the Secondary Curriculum – Defining purpose, designing content and delivering impact

Formative Assessment – teacher autonomy, pupil involvement, positive collaboration

Formative Assessment is a pedagogy that should be an integral part of classroom practice. Pupil participation and focused teacher interaction should lead to deeper understanding, and an opportunity to correct mistakes and change misconceptions. Formative assessment should foster the confidence to take risks and work things out.  It should form the basis of forward planning, define the curriculum content and ensure pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. Statutory assessments do not and cannot accurately capture pupils’ achievements.

The above is echoed in a recent report launched by Pearsons and the research organisation LKMco,  Testing the Water – ‘How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’. the report is the result of a national consultation on the future of assessment and it explores some of the questions that surround the issue of assessment and its place in the accountability system we currently have in England.

The report says, ‘understanding and using assessment should be a fundamental competency for all educators’, however the findings suggest that there is a lack of training, teachers lack confidence in the process and they do not know where to go for support, help or advice.  There is an implied criticism that far too much of teachers’ time is geared to summative assessment and the tendency to teach to the test.  The pressure to produce data for reporting and accountability weighs heavily on teachers and negates their confidence in using formative assessment to support learning.  The advice from the report suggests that schools should limit the number of summative assessments and make greater use of standardised tests to benchmark how their pupils compare with others nationally.

Teachers need to have the autonomy to establish what pupils have learnt, remembered and understood and plan the unfolding of the curriculum content and skills development accordingly so that all pupils can deepen their knowledge and build the skills to access that knowledge.

The report focuses on the issue of workload associated with assessment and how this can be reduced. There are some interesting case studies and references to some research based ideas that support high quality formative assessment to reduce  workload. However, teachers need to be confident enough to trust that this will be acceptable to inspectors and those who assess their performance in school.  The report also highlights how new technologies can help to reduce the burden.

The report also asks the question ‘How can unnecessary stress about assessment be reduced?’ The advice for schools is to ensure that pupil performance in tests is not linked to the assessment of ongoing teacher performance. There should be a much closer association with ongoing formative assessment in the classroom.

In summary schools need to,

  • Increase the confidence of teachers to use formative assessment as an integral part of their pedagogy and provide the relevant training to support this
  • Mine the considerable bank of support available to the profession
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in both the core and foundation subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment is diagnostic and granular and allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched to fulfil their full potential
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication about assessment, how it is undertaken, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how developing learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum is far more likely to see them succeed in summative statutory tests than ‘teaching to the test’.  Read Alison Peacock’s piece on page 51 of the report, she says at the end, ‘If the input is right the output looks after itself’.
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves, their teachers and their peers to seek and find out more
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from the assessment of teacher performance in the classroom

Learning Cultures have a unique and highly praised reputation in providing training for teachers that will give them the materials, resources and learning to take back to school to share with others.  Formative assessment requires a high level of competence.  There needs to be a mechanism that allows for effective collaboration, moderation and a collective understanding of its efficacy and accuracy.  Join us at one of our training courses,