Connections and Refocus: The new Ofsted Framework

students and teacher

Rebecca Geoghegan responds to the launch of the Education Inspection Framework and considers

I think the word that most resonates with me is ‘connect’.  The new EIF outlines that inspections will focus on looking at the connections between all elements of education –  the curriculum, the lessons, the books, the student’ outcomes – and consider these in relation to the school’s intent.  What a welcome refocus and an opportunity for schools to consider the what, how and why of all that they do.  So much of recent educational trend has focused on data and how it can tell us what we need to know. Of course, what most of us have known all along is that the data is just the end of a very long chain of educational elements that begins with your ‘intent’.

1) What do YOUR pupils need from the curriculum in order to fulfill their potential?

In a nutshell that’s what it is all about for a school. So – quite rightly – the Ofsted focus on intent is where a school should begin.  For my academies, this has begun with a long, hard look at their current curriculum.  Most have started the process of review and discussion.  Those that are most successful are involving leaders at all levels and ensure that no idea is thrown out simply because it’s not how things are normally done.  A focus on the ‘knowledge and skills’ needed for YOUR pupils to fulfill their potential is essential at this point; the needs of a student in living in a seaside, tourist town will be different to a student living in the Yorkshire Dales.  The customisation of the curriculum should be evident and should be celebrated as a  ‘USP’ for the school.  Pupils need what is best for them not what is best for a league table or for the selective school 15 miles away. 

2)  How is the curriculum taught and assessed in order to ensure that skills and knowledge are being effectively acquired and built upon?

The implementation of the curriculum is frankly where a school ‘lives or dies’. An outstanding curriculum doesn’t necessarily lead to outstanding results, the ‘bit in the middle’ – the transmission of the curriculum and its intent – is critical in ensuring that students acquire and build upon their knowledge and skills. 

Assessing any curriculum should be both formative and summative.  It should be used to inform change – in teaching and in the curriculum – and to ascertain what knowledge and skills pupils have at a given point.  Frequency is the key question in any school.  How often should we be testing?  The more important question, I think ,is what are you testing for?  If it serves neither of the two purposes above, then is it really needed?

3)  What do pupil outcomes indicate about the quality of education?

Finally, data at the end of the line.  This refocus ensures that a school’s data is a result of all that went on before a pupil opened their envelope on that momentous day.  The connection between the intent, the curriculum, the delivery and the assessment is inextricable.  As such data needs to be seen as the end point with an understanding that ‘good or bad data’ is the result of all that have gone before.  If there have been poor choices in curriculum design, poor teaching that goes unchallenged, poor assessment systems that don’t make room for curriculum review, then pupil outcomes will be poor.  They aren’t a separate entity that can be reduced to a ‘bad year’.  They are a result of the quality of education. And rightly, Ofsted’s refocus on the connection between all of the elements of education means that leaders at all levels should understand that the choices they make about curriculum design, sets, lesson tasks, and even seating plans are connected to your answer to that first vital question:

What do YOUR pupils need from the curriculum in order to fulfill their potential?

If the choices don’t fit the answer – your school’s intent- then perhaps the next more crucial question is

Then why am I doing it?

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