Never mind the quality; feel the width

Curriculum change will be in the forefront this year.

Ofsted has brought the quality of curriculum to a higher prominence – discounting schools’ internal assessment data to make room for Inspectors. Their latest Inspection Framework makes much of the curriculum indicating the quality of education. Ofsted wants to see an offer that meets children’s needs, matches their interests, has a local context, provides appropriate challenge, builds internally so that each year group follows on rather than dotting about, that there is a clear purpose and that identified key learning does get into long term memory so it can be fluently recalled.

Sheffield LA uses a ‘categorisation’ system of self and peer evaluation to target inverse proportion support. The prompts we use have been rewritten for 2019 to reflect this new focus on curriculum quality.

This school has already undertaken three training activities, for school leaders, school Governors and school’s teachers, on Ofsted’s changes and our curriculum coverage.

Quality must not be confused with breadth. In the past schools have proudly trumpeted their ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum. But what Ofsted want to see is not just that teaching in all the Primary curriculum subjects takes place (though they do have a particular interest in children identifying subject  teaching and learning) but that it is sequential, purposeful, thought through and likely to equip children with essential skills for later use.

The responses to our parent survey shows how much they value the breadth and richness of what we teach and offer – music lessons every week, swimming for all, inter-school sports, extra-curricular music, special days, geography and history topics, art and performance and PE. I find it extraordinary that we manage peripatetic music lessons for a quarter of our children every week.

But, just because we ensure weekly teaching and learning in modern foreign language, for example, does not mean we are necessarily doing it well. This year we will have Spanish taught from Year 3 to Year 5 and Mandarin in Year 6. It is going to take some ingenuity to demonstrate how we are building continuity of skills with that shift, perhaps.

One of the early ‘prompts’ in the LA Categorisation form is, ‘Does the curriculum equip pupils with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in life?’ I really do not know how to answer beyond, 'we think so’. We are possibly the wrong people to ask; our Secondary School colleagues are perhaps better placed to say whether we prepare our children well for what they come to next.

Put simply, Ofsted’s change appears an attempt to stop schools narrowing their curriculum in order to focus exclusively on tested subjects, to boost test outcomes. We know we do not do this, but this is not going to be enough to gain a good outcome at the next Inspection. Teaching disjointed bits and bobs would not be enough, and so subject and Year leaders will be working this year and next to ensure that we build skills sequentially, that planning starts with end points in mind, and that the curriculum we provide is engaging and exciting for all.

Actually we want to provide quality AND width.

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