The new Ofsted Inspection Framework speaks a lot about Curriculum.

Whilst the new directed focus has been welcomed, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what this means in practice. Schools are buying in help from outside sources against Ofsted Advice and Ofsted are constantly claiming there is no “Ofsted curriculum”.

So what will inspectors be looking for in your school curriculum from September 2019 onwards?

What do they mean by a good or outstanding “quality of education”?

In this article, we hope to help answer these questions by looking at Amanda Spielman’s recent speech, the results of the Ofsted research project and the Ofsted School inspection Handbook.

Amanda Spielman

In a speech in 2019 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Amanda Spielman was discussing the Ofsted research into Curriculum and what this means moving forward.

The quality of education judgement does consider how well pupils are doing in national assessments and qualifications. But this should be the reflection of what children have learned, not the totality. When inspectors are making that judgement, they will draw on a broad range of evidence, not just performance data. And part of that evidence will be a ‘deep dive’ into particular subjects. In four or five subject areas, inspectors will have a much more intense look at what’s going on. Instead of just lesson visits or looking at books, it will start with a conversation with curriculum leaders.

What that means is, an inspector won’t just walk into the classroom and see what they see with no context.

They’ll have in mind:

  • what does the school expect to be happening here?
  • what do the leaders tell us this lesson’s place is in the sequence of lessons?

Then when we look at the work, alongside curriculum leaders, we’ll think:

  • how does that fit with where the school intends pupils to be in that sequence of learning?
  • are pupils doing that work?

A deep dive is about doing all those things and connecting them within a particular subject. That then forms part of the evidence for the overall quality of education judgement.

We hope this will encourage you to think deeply about the purpose and design of the curriculum and the essentials it should involve. We don’t have a firm curriculum in mind. I must reassure you that there won’t be a preferred Ofsted curriculum. The starting point has to be the national curriculum.

What is clear is that Ofsted are now increasingly more interested in the “why” and “how” of the curriculum – rather than the outcome.

They are looking more at how a school plans each stage of the curriculum and how the planning and learning are related.

But how will they judge this? What do they consider a strong curriculum?

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Curriculum Research

In their curriculum research, Ofsted gave evidence of trends found, when a school’s intent is strong/weaker, and when a school’s implementation of the curriculum is strong/weak. Remember, this information is only provisional, and may be different when the inspections start in September 2019. However, this may be useful in working on Ofsted’s general approach.

Strong Intent and Strong Implementation

Schools which have both strong intent and strong implementation of curriculum tend to have:

  • High levels of accountability, knowing what is implemented and learned.
  • Clear methods to check what pupils know, can do and understand so that the right work is taught/informs teaching (assessment)
  • Teacher subject knowledge is consistently strong across the school, phase, key stage, and department
  • Senior leaders check implementation
  • Leaders ensure that all groups of pupils can access the curriculum well
  • In primary schools, leaders understand all the component strands of the national curriculum: planning, designing, making and evaluating.

Strong Intent and Weak Implementation

Schools which have both strong intent and weak implementation of curriculum tend to have:

  • Leaders focus on planning and paperwork but do not check its implementation or its impact
  • Subject leaders have complete autonomy, unquestioned by the headteacher.
  • Subject leadership does not check the implementation of the curriculum and so the building blocks within units of work or schemes are not secure. This has an adverse impact on curricular implementation.
  • Accountability (knowing what is implemented and learned) is narrowly focused on Year 2 and 6 in primary schools, and key stage 4 in secondary schools.
  • There are weaknesses in other non-benchmark years, not tackled in a timely way.

Weak Intent and Strong Implementation

Schools which have both weak intent and strong implementation of curriculum are generally secondary-phase schools, and tend to have:

  • There is little strategic thought or decisions to shape the curriculum on offer beyond the teacher.
  • Weak intent by headteacher that impedes pupils’ access to curriculum/an aspect of the curriculum
  • Teachers are left to deliver a curriculum. They have complete autonomy and the impact of teaching is consistently good, but the lack of coherence gets in the way of pupils’ progression.

Weak Intent and Weak Implementation

Schools which have both weak intent and weak implementation of curriculum tend to have:

  • Accountability from the headteacher and subject leadership is poor (knowing what is implemented and learned).
  • Headteachers do not check implementation of the curriculum or delegate this task effectively.
  • There is a lack of accountability beyond English and mathematics.
  • Accountability is about qualifications in the core subjects and data rather than the curriculum that is implemented and learned.
  • Headteachers do not prioritise or know whether there are weaknesses in teacher subject knowledge.
  • Little time or emphasis is given to subject leadership to check the impact of teaching.
  • Progression across a key stage is weak.
  • Units of work do not provide depth and this impedes pupils’ conceptual understanding and subject specific knowledge over time.

The clear links here are communication, planning and evidence of a combined approach from leaders and teachers working together.

Subject knowledge is more important and the role of the classroom teacher within this.

Clear methods of assessment are needed to check what pupils know, can do and understand so that the right work is taught/informs teaching. A clear and guided approach to allow every student to achieve their potential. Data is not being used as the overall arbitor but is still required and is essential for monitoring purposes.

Although Ofsted will not look at internal data, they will ask you how you are using it.

The other key aspect is accountability. Ofsted wants to see that the whole school is aware of how the curriculum was created at all levels and understands how each part is as important as the last.

Quality of Education

With this in mind – how will Ofsted judge “Quality of Education”?

The criteria below is taken from the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook – Pages 49-51. It constantly mentions ‘planning’, ‘clear understanding shown by pupils” and the need for an “inclusive” curriculum.

Outstanding (1)

◼ The school meets all the criteria for a good quality of education securely and consistently.

◼ The quality of education provided is exceptional.

In addition, the following apply.

◼ The school’s curriculum intent and implementation are embedded securely and consistently across the school. It is evident from what teachers do that they have a firm and common understanding of the school’s curriculum intent and what it means for their practice. Across all parts of the school, series of lessons contribute well to delivering the curriculum intent.

◼ The work given to pupils, over time and across the school, consistently matches the aims of the curriculum. It is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment.

◼ Pupils’ work across the curriculum is consistently of a high quality.

◼ Pupils consistently achieve highly, particularly the most disadvantaged. Pupils with SEND achieve exceptionally well.

Good (2)


◼ Leaders adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils and including pupils with SEND, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. This is either the national curriculum or a curriculum of comparable breadth and ambition. [If this is not yet fully the case, it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about.]

◼ The school’s curriculum is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment. [If this is not yet fully the case, it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about.]

◼ The curriculum is successfully adapted, designed or developed to be ambitious and meet the needs of pupils with SEND, developing their knowledge, skills and abilities to apply what they know and can do with increasing fluency and independence. [If this is not yet fully the case, it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about.]

◼ Pupils study the full curriculum; it is not narrowed. In primary schools, a broad range of subjects (exemplified by the national curriculum) is taught in key stage 2 throughout each and all of Years 3 to 6. In secondary schools, the school teaches a broad range of subjects (exemplified by the national curriculum) throughout Years 7 to 9. [If this is not yet fully the case, it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about.] The school’s aim is to have the EBacc at the heart of its curriculum, in line with the DfE’s ambition, 78 and good progress has been made towards this ambition.

◼ Reading is prioritised to allow pupils to access the full curriculum offer.

◼ A rigorous and sequential approach to the reading curriculum develops pupils’ fluency, confidence and enjoyment in reading. At all stages, reading attainment is assessed and gaps are addressed quickly and effectively for all pupils. Reading books connect closely to the phonics knowledge pupils are taught when they are learning to read.

◼ The sharp focus on ensuring that younger children gain phonics knowledge and language comprehension necessary to read, and the skills to communicate, gives them the foundations for future learning.

◼ Teachers ensure that their own speaking, listening, writing and reading of English support pupils in developing their language and vocabulary well.


◼ Pupils develop detailed knowledge and skills across the curriculum and, as a result, achieve well. This is reflected in results from national tests and examinations that meet government expectations, or in the qualifications obtained.

◼ Pupils are ready for the next stage of education, employment or training. They have the knowledge and skills they need and, where relevant, they gain qualifications that allow them to go on to destinations that meet their interests and aspirations and the intention of their course of study. Pupils with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.

◼ Pupils’ work across the curriculum is of good quality.

◼ Pupils read widely and often, with fluency and comprehension appropriate to their age. They are able to apply mathematical knowledge, concepts and procedures appropriately for their age.

Requires improvement (3)

◼ The quality of education provided by the school is not good.

Inadequate (4)

The quality of education is likely to be inadequate if any one of the following applies.

◼ The school’s curriculum has little or no structure or coherence, and leaders have not appropriately considered sequencing. Pupils experience a jumbled, disconnected series of lessons that do not build their knowledge, skills or understanding.

◼ The pupils’ experiences in lessons contribute weakly to their learning of the intended curriculum.

◼ The range of subjects is narrow and does not prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in modern Britain.

◼ Pupils cannot communicate, read, write or apply mathematics sufficiently well for their age and are therefore unable to succeed in the next year or stage of education, or in training or employment. (This does not apply for some pupils with SEND.)

◼ The progress that disadvantaged pupils make is consistently well below that of other pupils nationally and shows little or no improvement.

◼ Pupils with SEND do not benefit from a good-quality education. Expectations of them are low, and their needs are not accurately identified, assessed or met.

◼ Pupils have not attained the qualifications appropriate for them to progress to their next stages of education, training or employment.

So to summarise…

A good or outstanding school must show a sequenced curriculum that is clearly embedded across all parts and subjects. It must be accessible to all and enable all pupils to achieve.

Its all about the Intent and Implementation.

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Sources for this article

The sources for this article have been taken from Ofsted’s documents under the Open Government Licence. It contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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