How do you evaluate curriculum quality?
How do you evaluate curriculum quality? This is a question that many school leaders will want answers to as this long and busy term comes to an end. Quality is an interesting word to use in the pursuit of good and outstanding outcomes and a quest for continuing whole school excellence and improvement. It is a relative term that has to be qualified to ensure that it is to high quality impact that all schools strive to achieve.
Quality can be poor, acceptable, inferior, high or luxury. In a similar way that outstanding has two meanings, quality needs to form part of an ongoing process of continuous improvement with benchmarks and clearly defined goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related.
OFSTED’s have now published their annual report for 2021/22. A significant number of schools deemed outstanding have been downgraded to a good and some even to requires improvement. Many of these schools were previously excempt from having to be inspected because of their status as outstanding.
Some outstanding schools are excelling, but others have fallen behind. most schools that did not retain an outstanding grade were also judged less than outstanding for the quality of education, and leadership and management. In some schools that did not retain an outstanding grade, the curriculum was not accessible for all pupils, in particular those with SEND.
For 71% of schools previously judged outstanding, overall effectiveness had declined. This was generally due to the quality of education which was judged less than outstanding in 89% of these schools. 93% of these schools were also judged less than outstanding for leadership and management.OFSTED Annual report 2021
The curriculum as the fulcrum for quality
Many of the schools referred to in the report, those who were previously outstanding had not been inspected for many years. Since their last inspection many things have changed and to have lost their outstanding judgement in the light of those changes is not surprising. The new curriculum that came into being in 2014 set out a whole new approach to knowledge and skills development, assessment and a different focus on age related standards and created a challenge especially for subject leaders and their teachers who were responsible for planning and teaching a much more knowledge focused English, maths and science curriculum in particular but also across all of the foundation subjects.
OFSTED’s research over the past few years reveals a shift in thinking and a new approach to what they look for in relation to inspection. Data is still a factor but talking to staff and to pupils is what they say they are focusing on. They want answers to the question, how do you evaluate the quality of education? Specifically, in relation to pedagogy, learner outcomes and the consistency of answers to the deep dive questions they ask about the curriculum. They want to know how well what is planned and delivered builds on prior learning, sequences learning over time, takes account of concepts that link knowledge within and across subjects and how teachers are developing the skills pupils need to access knowledge and deepen their learning.
OFSTED: where schools have been downgraded from outstanding to good
A look at some of the OFSTED reports from schools who have been recently inspected and who have been downgraded from outstanding to good in both primary and secondary schools echoes what I have said in the previous paragraph. Below is a list of comments cut and pasted from these reports, many of the comments are levelled at senior and subject leaders but may be the starting point in answering the question for your own quest in pursuit of answering the question, how do you evaluate the quality of education? and maybe more fundamentally, how can senior and subject leaders foster the professional conversations that will create a symbiosis in the quest for excellence and outstanding curriculum implementation.
- Subject leaders should identify the key knowledge they want pupils to know and remember, building carefully from early years to year 6
- Not all pupils in key stage 3 are accessing the full depth of the national curriculum in some subject areas
- Leaders should continue to work to develop curriculum plans so that in all subjects pupils build their knowledge logically over time
- Leaders should ensure that end points are clear so that teachers can accurately assess the knowledge, vocabulary and skills that pupils know and remember
- Teachers do not regularly and systematically check what pupils know and remember
- Leaders are not monitoring the implementation of the curriculum closely across some subjects
- Leaders should make sure that all staff understand how to order and sequence the curriculum
- Leaders must ensure that new learning builds securely on what pupils already know and that they remember the right things
- Teachers use of assessment does not consistently identify gaps in pupils’ knowledge
- Leaders should ensure that assessments are carefully aligned with the curriculum
- Leaders should ensure that the use of assessment identifies and remedies gaps in pupils’ understanding in all areas of the curriculum
- Sometimes support for pupils with SEND does not take account of their specific needs as identified in their support plans
- Leaders must ensure that all teachers address misconceptions swiftly and effectively so that all pupils understand what they are required to do
- Leaders should provide further training to staff so that all are equally confident and expert in teaching the planned curriculum
- Leaders need to ensure that a rich reading curriculum is provided consistently across the school
- Leaders should monitor the implementation of the curriculum and support teachers to identify knowledge pupils will need to successfully tackle more complex subject content
- Leaders should strengthen curriculum planning so that teachers know exactly what all pupils need to learn and understand
The above list is a snapshot from some recent OFSTED reports of schools in both the primary and secondary phases who have been downgraded from outstanding to good. They reveal that the curriculum is intrinsically linked to the quest for high quality outcomes set out within the quality of education judgement in the OFSTED handbook and also for what is included in the leadership and management judgements from the same.
The vocabulary of the curriculum
There is a vocabulary to the curriculum that if senior and subject leaders can embrace the language then they can create the professional conversations that build a collaboration of strategies that will deliver high quality pedagogy and a learning and thinking classroom.
- The quality of education
- The substance of education
- Sequencing the learning over time
- Building on prior learning
- Working towards clearly defined end points
- Knowledge rich/skills focused
- Breadth and depth for all pupils whatever their starting point
- Parity for all learners
- Formative assessment
- Conceptual learning
High quality CPD is the answer
Creating curriculum synergy is the key to answering the question that this article is focusing on, how do you evaluate curriculum quality? Senior leaders need to create, communicate and empower others to act on the vision, rationale and ambition contained in a statement of intent. Subject leaders and their teams then need to translate that vision into high quality pedagogy that leads to sequential, conceptual and deep learning in every subject, across each year group, where pupils are moving from key stage to key stage as well as creating an awareness of cross-curricular themes and the well-being and personal welfare of pupils and teachers.
In order to do this, there must be a symbiotic and deliberate strategy that ensures all staff know what it is they are trying to achieve within a very carefully crafted plan that embraces each and every one of the words and phrases that make up the vocabulary of the curriculum. Building teams who work together to achieve the depth of quality alluded to here is the essential role of the subject, faculty or departmental lead and they need to have in abundance of the skills to empower their teams to work together in synergy.
Here at Learning Cultures we have emersed ourselves in the deepest dive ever into the concept of quality in relation to curriculum. The plethora of resources, activities, research and materials that accompany our training courses and programmes will give those who are part of the quest for the highest quality outcomes all of the tools they need to cascade a vision and implementation strategies that will lead all staff to know what they need to do to take that road towards achieving and maintaining the status of outstanding. Start your journey and realise your goal for the highest quality education for all.
Our coaching courses provide for all those in a school or college a range of essential skills that will create the synergy and outstanding professional learning conversations that are the essence of high-quality strategies that make for outstanding futures. Visit our coaching courses page.