‘Schools can – and should – become curriculum planners again’

The TES reports that iIf Ofsted uses its inspection evidence as wisely as its predecessors did 30 years ago, schools might stop looking to the government to be told what to do and instead at the evidence and academic research

The speech by Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, at the Festival of Education at Wellington College on 23 June this year was especially welcome in opening up an important discussion on the school curriculum.

Far too much inspection evidence has been used solely to judge the performance of individual schools, and Ms Spielman is determined that Ofsted should no longer waste this unique collection of information, but should use it to contribute to the improvement of the system as a whole by aggregating, analysing and publishing thematic inspection data.

When the national curriculum started in 1988, it coincided with the start of national testing at 7, 11 and 14. Soon afterwards, Ofsted began its regular inspections of schools and the three pillars of the centralisation of government education policy were in place. Schools quickly became more defensive, with the accountability hoops through which they were now expected to jump creating pressures to conform to a narrow curriculum and concentrate, sometimes to the exclusion of almost everything else, on what would produce good results in tests and inspections.

The roots of this centralisation can be traced to Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech, although the HMI Curriculum Matters series, published between 1984 and 1989, was a remarkable contribution to the so-called “Great Debate” on the nature and purpose of education.

The curriculum framework proposed by HMI in the paper had eight areas of learning and experience: aesthetic and creative; human and social; linguistic and literary; mathematical; moral; physical; scientific; spiritual; and technological – as exemplified subject by subject in the other 16 booklets.

As a curriculum planner and new headteacher in the 1980s, these papers were hugely influential for me at the time, and I still have them on my bookshelf. They remain as readable and stimulating today as they were when they were written. Drawing on the evidence of inspection, they carried authority and they opened up discussion, too.

It is profoundly to be hoped that the inspectorate in 2017 uses the database of inspection evidence as wisely as its predecessors did 30 years ago, stimulating school leaders and teachers to become curriculum planners again – to stop looking up to the government to be told what to do and to start looking out to the evidence from Ofsted and academic research.

Read more ‘Schools can – and should – become curriculum planners again’

What do you think? Should Ofsted rethink when it looks at its inspection evidence? Can schools return to the education of pupils being their main focus, not league tables and data? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~Tamsin

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