HMCI commentary: curriculum and the new education inspection framework
The clipboard brigade make several points, all of which deserve a big tick. I thought you might like a digest, shamelessly condensed and filtered through my own prejudices. They say:
- Education is the vast, accumulated wealth of human knowledge, and what we choose to pass on to the next generation. A ‘curriculum gives a school purpose’. Hurrah!
- That curriculum is the heart of education. It requires the pursuit of real, deep knowledge and understanding of subjects.
- In too many schools, the curriculum is just a combination of the exam board specification, the timetable and the exam results. Not enough schools really think about what they want children to learn. This leads to a narrow range of subjects being taught and too much ‘teaching to the test’.
- Inspections have placed too much weight on exam results.
- The 2019 inspection framework will emphasise ‘the curriculum as the substance of education’. Inspectors will look at a school’s ‘curriculum intent’.
- They’d like to see schools focusing on subjects and subject vocabulary.
- They’d like to be sure that ‘disadvantaged pupils are not put onto a stripped-back curriculum’.
- They observed that expert teachers in the schools they visited ‘lived and breathed their curriculum’ and that good subject teachers are likely to stay in schools where subjects are valued.
- A well-constructed, well-taught curriculum will lead to good results because those results will be a reflection of what pupils have learned.
- Parents need to know the substance of what their children are learning throughout their time spent in school.
Three-year key stage fours originated at a time of intense exam pressure. Lots of schools did it to give more time to GCSEs and therefore improve results. This is part of the reason for the current panic about schools just focusing on English, maths, science, history, geography and languages, because that’s what’s been valued in national education talk in recent years. Therefore, lots of schools just do a quick rotation of arts subjects in year 7 and 8 and then don’t offer them much at KS4 so they can tick the ‘EBacc’ box of the subjects above.
Tallis doesn’t do that. We have a very broad curriculum at key stage three with six hours a week of dance, drama, music, art and DT and a very large range of options in KS4. Choosing options early means that our children – who do one more option than many other schools, in any case – have the chance over three years to get into deep subject content, absorb it and make it their own. When I arrived at Tallis six years ago, I was very sceptical about choosing options in year 8 but was quickly converted. That’s not to say that we couldn’t improve the way we do it, of course. So, when the moment comes and we have to defend ourselves, we’ll have a few thoughts to offer inspectors about the what and the why, and how our choices enable us to keep a broad curriculum for everyone. Hurrah again!
It’s good news for everyone that Ofsted have made this commitment to the curriculum. I’m not just saying that because it’s Ofsted, but because it’s right. Schools are where society looks after its young, and the curriculum is what society thinks they should know. A broad, common curriculum which enables young people to think and reflect also means that the democracy speaks a common language. It builds up our communal life. That’s why good comprehensive schools with a wide curriculum are every bit as important to the health of the nation as the NHS. A nation educated together across the whole range of human experience should be well-equipped to understand and change the world for the better. Hold on a minute, that sounds familiar…..
Speaking of which: Black History Month. We’ve had dancing, eating, talking, films and workshops. We’ve had two mini carnivals with mass dancing and Caribbean Come Dine with Me. It’s been a joy. During the lower school carnival I was having our performance review with our Local Authority School Improvement Partner. I had to keep making excuses to sneak looks out of the window to see the children dancing to Sir’s music. They sent me up a plateful of outrageously good food but it didn’t make up for not being outside in the sun. A new colleague said ‘some schools would worry about losing control’ but we don’t. Our systems are good, our community strong and we love to dance, sing, cook and make things. We’re confident to do it because we value it, we do it all the time, and when we go back to class we know each other well enough to settle back down.
What are schools for? Being able to celebrate diversity and inclusivity with laughter and exuberance. That’s not a test you can teach to.