In previous articles, we took a look at what Ofsted’s inspections under the new Inspection Framework will look like from September 2019, and how they may assess Work Scrutinies and Lesson Visits.

In this article, we will look at how Ofsted may assess Curriculum design, based on the results of the research project that took place to help create the new Framework.

Assessment of Curriculum

The 25 indicators used in the research model will no doubt be narrowed down by the first inspections in September 2019.

They revolved around:


  • Rationale,
  • Ambition,
  • Concepts,


  • Subject leadership,
  • Subject knowledge,
  • Equitable delivery,
  • Planning the progression model,
  • Breadth and depth, and
  • Assessment.

Of the 25 quality indicators, Ofsted’s research has found that some of them were either more highly correlated with each other in models or were considered by Inspectors are more essential.

These are:


  • There is a clear and coherent rationale for the curriculum design.
  • The curriculum is at least as ambitious as the standards set by the national curriculum/external qualifications.
  • Curriculum principles include the requirements of centrally prescribed aims


  • Subject leaders have the knowledge, expertise and practical skill to design and implement a curriculum 
  • Leaders at all levels, including governors, regularly review and quality assure the subject to ensure that it is implemented sufficiently well
  • Leaders ensure that ongoing professional development/training is available for staff to ensure that curriculum requirements can be met
  • The way the curriculum is planned meets pupils’ learning needs
      • Curriculum delivery is equitable for all groups and appropriate
      • Leaders ensure that interventions are appropriately delivered to enhance pupils’ capacity to access the full curriculum
      • The curriculum has sufficient depth and coverage of knowledge in the subjects
      • There is a model of curriculum progression for every subject


  • The curriculum is successfully implemented to ensure pupils’ progression in knowledge – pupils successfully ‘learn the curriculum’. 

These quality indicators are then assessed on a 1-5 scale as follows:

  1. This aspect is absent in curriculum design.
  2. Major weaknesses evident in terms of either leadership, coverage or progression (leaders have not identified or started to remedy weaknesses).
  3. Coverage is sufficient but there are some weaknesses overall in a number of examples (identified by leaders but not yet remedying).
  4. This aspect of curriculum is embedded with minor points for development (leaders are taking action to remedy minor shortfalls).
  5. This aspect of curriculum underpins/is central to the school’s work/embedded practice/may include examples of exceptional curriculum.

Overall approaches

In schools which had higher assessments, curriculum leaders ensured that:

  • content is sequenced to ensure that components of knowledge lead to conceptual understanding
  • opportunities for pupils to practise what they knew were built into the curriculum . This way, they could deepen their understanding in a discipline.
  • the layering of knowledge and concepts were secure, so pupils could make progress in the curriculum from their starting points.

In primary schools which had lower assessments:

  • the main focus was on putting a plan together, but not checking its implementation effectively enough.
  • The content of the National Curriculum was delivered for foundation subjects, but as more of a tick-box approach for ensuring that specific content had been delivered, without careful thought as to the progress of knowledge and skill that would make this useful learning for pupils.
  • Delivered content was often poorly organised and sequenced and lacking sufficient oversight from senior leaders.

Does deprivation affect curriculum design?

With regards to deprivation (in terms of IDACI), Ofsted’s analysis indicates that:

  • having a deprived intake is not a barrier to offering a rich and broad curriculum to pupils, even if it is not reflected as clearly in attainment and progress data.
  • conversely, some schools in more affluent areas are providing a low-quality curriculum or gaming or coasting on the back of their more affluent pupil intakes.

Features of strong/weak schools for curriculum

Ofsted also gave evidence of trends found, when a school’s intent is strong/weaker, and when a school’s implementation is strong/weak:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related Links

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.

The sources include:


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