Ramble #5 – Deciphering OfSTED’s Phase 3 Research

A few days ago OfSTED released some research on curriculum called, “An investigation into how to assess the quality of education through curriculum intent, implementation and impact” (it can be accessed in full at PDF An investigation into how to assess the quality of education …” It provides some valuable insights into what the inspection framework from September 2019 will look like. Here’s my take on what it means for primary schools. Note that these are just my interpretations, I welcome any challenge to them.

What OfSTED say (page 3/4) – Common factors that appear related to Curriculum quality

  • Mapping subjects as individual disciplines
  • Use the curriculum to address disadvantage to provide equality and opportunity
  • Regular review
  • Curriculum as the progression model
  • Intelligent use of assessment to inform curriculum design
  • Revisiting and recalling previously learned knowledge ‘baked into’ curriculum planning
  • Distributed leadership

My take:

On point 1 – Schools that take the topic approach will need to ensure that it is clear what specific subject the students are in and how this relates back to the topic. Not making these links clear could be troublesome. This makes sense. By making sure the students are aware of what subject they are doing, they can refer back to the learning of that subject from previous years to use in their new learning.

On point 2 – Know your cohort and context well. Your curriculum should be specific to the make-up of your school and community. Find out what challenges your pupils from your community face and make sure the curriculum goes someway to rectifying this.

On point 3 – The curriculum is never a ‘finished document’. As the context of your cohort changes, so must the curriculum you offer.

On point 4 – Progress will be seen as students accessing and making their way through the curriculum. Hopefully an end of massive data collections and unreliable flightpaths. We shall see…

On point 5 – The curriculum will have to be so carefully planned that opportunities for recalling past knowledge from topics is carefully planned across the whole curriculum. This means that all teachers in a school need to have an understanding of what is being taught across all subjects in more detail than perhaps they would know now.

What OfSTED say (page 5) – When visiting schools, inspectors were asked to carry out the following tasks…

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My take:

While these activities were part of the research process, it does perhaps provide some insight into what inspectors may do when they come calling. I would predict that the majority of the above will be how OfSTEDS will collect their evidence. I’m particularly interested in point 5 – just how much detail will senior leaders be expected to know? Is it enough to know in year 4 they are doing earthquakes and volcanoes in spring 2? Or do they want to hear they they will learn the names of the different tectonic plates and the difference between a convergent and divergent plate boundary?

What OfSTED say (page 6/7) – The curriculum indicators

Here is how OfSTED will look at judging your curriculum – a giant tick list… There is reference to the ‘three I’s’ of curriculum.

Orange = Intent

Green = Implementation

Blue = Impact

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My take:

I actually quite like it. It provides a decent framework as to what a successful curriculum model could look like in delivery a fair opportunity for all pupils. Points I especially like include:

1c – Senior leaders will need an up-skilling of middle leaders ensure they have this knowledge.

2c – Reading is given high priority – quite right. Access to high-quality texts are crucial to improving outcomes for students.

2d – An understanding of the importance of mathematical fluency and the importance of it – Let’s not run before we can walk here – too quickly are we moving children onto reasoning and problem solving before key procedures are embedded into long-term memory.

7a – Assessment should not be excessive or onerous – both these terms are of course open to interpretation but I hope this will go someway in schools not just creating massive checklists that come from the curriculum that will be stuck after a topic.

While these indicators are subject agnostic, the report mentions that OfSTED would like to the use subject-specific indicators. What this would look like at the primary level I could not say, but it’s a space to watch for later. Furthermore, they mention that there could be too many curriculum indicators could cut the number in the future (more on this further down).

What OfSTED say (page 8) – The grading system


Again, a stress that this was research, not a trial inspection but how OfSTED graded the curriculum in their research will no doubt have some say in how curriculum could be graded in the future.

My take:

What’s interesting is the 5 point scale (OfSTED grading for schools use 4) and the reversal of gradings in comparison to OfSTED reports where 1 is Outstanding and 4 is special measures, here 5 is best.

What OfSTED say (page 9) – When visiting schools, we engaged with four specific groups…


The report mentions that in the primary level, 4 subjects were looked at. Either maths or English and 3 other non-core subjects.

Enter a caption

My take:

Again, perhaps a look into the crystal ball as to how the future inspection could look like. All subjects leaders could be talked to about curriculum, so make sure you know your stuff.

What OfSTED say (page 14) – On successful curriculum at primary


*Remember, the lower the number, the worse the result.

“Evidence from the visit showed that in the weaker primary schools, the main focus was on putting the plan together, but not checking the implementation of that plan effectively enough.”

Page 17/18:

“Schools with high progress or attainment scores were assessed by inspectors as having a weak curriculum offer. Even more importantly, some schools with below-average data were deemed to have a strong curriculum design.”

Page 21: Where schools were receiving 4s and 5s, curriculum leaders ensured…unknown-1-4.jpg

Page 25a: Too few leaders actually assured themselves that the planed curriculum was being implemented successfully.

Page 25b: First-hand evidence of what pupils are taught is essential.

Page 27: Evidence of the trends found in schools when comparing the intent and implementation indicators

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My take:

(Page 14) This can’t just be a new sheet of paper and then its business as usual. Senior leaders will need to ensure that curriculum implementation is at the forefront of their minds in the near future. Ideally put in the school improvement plan/school evaluation.

(Page 17/18) The headline of the report. All those teachers who have worked exceptionally hard in difficult contexts only to be told your results are not good enough may see sun-lit uplands. This of course has massive repercussions – those schools that have been poorly served by the current inspection process will get the recognition they deserve. Hopefully this puts an end to the narrowing of curriculum during SAT years.

(Page 21) Some useful advice for subject coordinators and curriculum leads.

(Page 22b) The way book-looks and monitoring of the curriculum and its implementation will need to be reviewed. I foresee an issue where senior leaders will want to see planning to ensure what has been planned has been taught but unions are reluctant for this to happen.

(Page 27) More evidence from OfSTED about what a good curriculum looks like – nothing too surprising here. Perhaps in regards to the last point, subject leaders will need to see more than a finished product. In DT, just showing what you have made won’t be enough. All the planning, designing and evaluating will have to be evidenced. This would be the same for the working scientifically objectives too.

What OfSTED say (page 30) – Most important curriculum indicators

“We can infer that indicators 2a (Curriculum is ambitious), 3b and 4a(subject knowledge), 5b (curriculum planning) 5c, (equitable delivery) and 6b (progression model)appear to be very important in determining the school’s overall banding score…” – Taken from statistic analysis of the curriculum indicators.

“In terms of importance, coherent rationale, knowledge of curriculum concepts (how curriculum is organised – not a direct quote from the report) and curriculum is ambitious were the most prominent intent indicators…” – Verbal feedback from HMI.

My take:

While all the indicators are important, if OfSTED see these as being the most important is evaluating a school’s curriculum. Then senior leaders will focus on these more. From a primary point of view, subject knowledge is an interesting one. I believe for too long it has been assumed that teachers have the required knowledge needed to teach certain aspects effectively (I include myself in that). I hope that schools will look at interesting and innovative ways that they can support staff at primary level increase their own subject knowledge of specific areas. This could be working with local secondary schools, using staff meetings as ‘seminars’ and teaming up with other primary schools in the area to share best practise – indeed, the issue of subject knowledge at the primary level appears later in the report.

What OfSTED say (page 34) – Key stage 2 narrowing – too many primary schools in the sample had an imbalanced curriculum offer

Everyone should just read this section in its entirety.


My take:

Note contrast between schools scoring level 4 and 5 where subjects are seen as individual disciplines when comperes to the topic approach in the 3rd paragraph – this does seem to somewhat go against what ofsted have said about not having  a preferred curriculum style.

It is also interesting to note, in the final paragraph, that progression was based solely on writing criteria. There is room for extended writing across other subjects but that input for that genre should be put in the English lesson. The knowledge should come from the other subject. I agree that it should be used as a means to assess the historical knowledge a pupil has, not as a means to only assess writing. It can, and should be used to assess both.

What OfSTED say (page 35) – Curriculum equity – … an issue in schools where English or mathematics catch-up for some pupils…meant they missed out on other curriculum opportunities.

My take:

There better be a damned good reason why you take the same pupils out of the same non-core lesson so they miss out on those experiences for the sake of booster sessions.

What OfSTED say (page 36/37) – Subject knowledgeunknown


My take:

As mentioned above, I think the issue of subject knowledge in the primary sector has been kicked into the long grass and there has just been an assumption that teachers know it. If your school is not a member of the historical or geographical society, then join up now. I hope that the second quote will mean that senior leaders will provide valuable planning time – say two inset days – for staff to plan collaboratively across key stages to draw on the wealth of experiences that staff may have and look to support staff who are not as secure in their subject knowledge. Where schools were seen as having a poor score on their curriculum, leaders did not prioritise subject specific professional development. While budgets are tight, if you have been proactive and found a subject specific course you like for the head to turn around and say no, well nothing seems to give senior leaders a change of heart like the phrase, ‘It’s what OfSTED wants.’

What OfSTED say (page 37) – Curriculum planning


My take:

Painting a Roman shield and creating a Celtic house aren’t exactly using much subject specific knowledge. One thing I do remember from university is ‘Objective first, activity second.’ We need to move from ‘doing’ the Romans to ‘Learning’ about the Romans. That’s not to say I’m a killjoy and there are no rooms for such activities. They should be done at the end of a topic when a child has good body of domain-specific knowledge that they can then begin to think critically about it. So a class may consider carefully the length of their shields to ensure some uniformity so they can successfully perform the ‘tortoise’ manoeuvre, protecting their neighbour as they come under attack from Boudicca’s Celtic army or barbarians. If one falls, they all fall.

What OfSTED say (page 38) – Transitions

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My take:

A good way for schools to work together to help transition would be for subject leaders from primary schools to meet subject leaders/head of year 7 of common secondary schools  that pupils go to and discuss with them what the year 7 curriculum looks like at those schools to see if there can be some matching up with what happens at the end of year 6. I do not think that this should dominate how you plan your curriculum for year 6 but identifying links that can match up will definitely help the transition process.

I hope this has helped in someway in understanding what might happen in September 2019. The whole report is actually an interesting read and I’m sure some will think I have missed out some important information. If is has gone some way in providing some clarity – it has for me – then great.

3 thoughts on “Ramble #5 – Deciphering OfSTED’s Phase 3 Research

  1. Really helpful and readable – thank you. Have put off reading the full report but this has made me want to go and have a proper look.


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