Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director for education inspection policy, led a session at SSAT’s recent curriculum conference in London. Colin Logan reports on what he had to say
Since becoming Ofsted’s chief inspector in January 2017, Amanda Spielman has made clear that curriculum will be a key focus. This focus, on curriculum intent and breadth and balance, is encouraging schools to take a fresh look at their curriculum model and the principles that underpin it. We were pleased that Matthew Purves from Ofsted was able to join us at our recent curriculum event to support us in exploring this focus further.
Referring to the current Ofsted review of curriculum in schools, Matthew stressed that ‘curriculum’ referred to all the learning that goes on in schools, including what we normally refer to as ‘extra-curricular’ activities and the daily interaction between and among pupils and staff. Dylan Wiliam talks about curriculum in this way, encouraging us to see it as the ’lived daily experience’ of our pupils. Amanda Spielman has spoken about the need for a deep body of knowledge, but HMIs have been told not to have any preconceived ideas when collecting evidence for the review.
Preliminary findings from the review suggest that some school leaders lack skills in curriculum design and development. Similarly, schools involved were found to lack a common language about the curriculum. While they often spoke of developing ‘skills’, there was little consensus around what this meant. And there was remarkably little discussion of the knowledge that they wanted pupils to acquire or the sequence in which it is most effective for them to do so. It is important to remember that the curriculum is not the timetable or a list of qualifications. There is a concern that the ‘what’ of the curriculum has been lost in recent years.
Ofsted’s initial findings have identified substantial impact of this weakened curricular thinking in three areas: the narrowing of the key stage 2 curriculum; shortening of the key stage 3 curriculum without sufficient consideration of the intended impact on pupils’ learning; and curriculum design that limits the choices of low attainers. Key stage 2 tests should serve the curriculum and should not be the exclusive focus. Matthew asked whether the time used for weekly test papers in years 5 and 6 in some schools might not be better spent on encouraging wider reading.