OFSTED and Professional Conversations about the Curriculum

by | Jul 19, 2022 | Uncategorized, Curriculum, Leadership

OFSTED and Professional Conversations about the Curriculum

OFSTED and Professional Conversations about the Curriculum

Here we are approaching the end of a hectic and difficult year in education. The return to normality for many is still not a reality and Covid and its continued presence casts a shadow of disorientation due to, absenteeism, mental health issues and behavioural problems for many leaders and teachers across all sectors and phases of education.

Leaders and teachers have every reason to be extremely proud of how well they have managed the many hurdles that have sprung up in their way whilst still maintaining a sense of the familiar and routine. There is still no certainty that things will be easier in September but with a few weeks rest, reflection and recuperation away from the turbulence may see us all ready to accept the challenges ahead.

OFSTED have, within this climate of uncertainty, made changes to their Inspection Handbook for Schools (EIF)and the commentary on what these changes mean clearly outline their desire that we all can look to next year to begin to pick up from where we left off when the then new Inspection Handbook for Schools was launched in September 2019.

Many schools were in the process of reviewing their curriculum in relation to its intent, rationale and ambition for learners and how this translates into positive implementation that has an impact on all pupils within the school. 2020 didn’t quite go according to plan and as a result OFSTED temporarily changed their handbook to reflect the fact that there were other priorities more pressing than curriculum changes.

However, they now want us all to renew the focus with the Quality of Education criteria having a new grade descriptor inserted into it. See below.

The curriculum may undergo necessary changes (for example, following a review by senior leaders or to take account of Covid-19) and certain aspects may be more developed than others. Where this is the case, these changes do not prevent all pupils having access to an appropriately broad and ambitious curriculum. Where adaptations to curriculum breadth are made for particular pupils, there is a clear plan for returning all pupils to studying the full curriculum.

New grade descriptor for the Quality of Education section of the EIF. Christopher Russell OFSTED Blog (July 2022): Schools, Early Years, Further Education and skills: The Education Inspection Framework (EIF)- Looking ahead to September 2022

Senior and Curriculum Leadership working in synergy

So with this in mind all school leaders need to create the evidence that sees curriculum coherence as a priority in the quest for high quality learning outcomes for all. This requires those who have a responsibility for curriculum design and implementation to be working in synergy.

Senior leadership teams define the vision, middle and subject leaders translate it and teachers within their teams or departments have the skills and knowledge to build classroom models that lead to deep learning , sequenced knowledge acquisition and increased competence in a range of skills both the core and wide skills. Ofsted say, but it is pretty universal that school leaders need to focus on:

Building strong structures and powerful substance through positive and solutions focused leadership
  • Having an accurate understanding of the curriculum that they offer – its strengths and weaknesses
  • Having the evidence that the approaches leaders are taking address any issues or challenges are leading to tangible and measurable improvements
  • Ensuring that leaders can transfer the successful work underway in one area of the curriculum to other less developed aspects
  • Creating a culture where curriculum thinking is an evolving process that reflects changing circumstances and contexts
  • Knowing their curriculum and have clarity of thinking in relation to the overarching intent and rationale that is best for the school and how this might evolve over time

Professional dialogue – creating a learning culture

There is only one really effective way to build a culture where individuals are working together in synergy and that is where there is a clear strategy for professional learning conversations to take place. These help to create a culture where it is obvious within the school and for anyone outside the school looking in that all staff know the part they play in curriculum cohesion.

It is through the power of professional dialogue that successful curriculum implementation delivers high quality outcomes across the whole organisation.

In her recent speech at the Festival of Education, Amanda Spielman re-iterated her long held belief in professional dialogue,

“I’ve spoken a great deal about the power of professional dialogue between school leaders and inspectors. That dialogue should be the engine room – sparking ideas and helping shape the school’s next steps.”

Amanda Spielman Festival of Education July 2022
Igniting a passion for learning

It is interesting that she talks about the dialogue between the school leader and the inspector which ultimately is a bit late in the process.

It is leaders and their teams that need to spark the ideas and take control of the engine room, long before OFSTED come anywhere near. Where senior leadership teams work together within a formal culture of shared professional dialogue they have at their fingertips a consistent and accurate understanding of the rationale for their curriculum, the language that articulates the ambition they have for all their learners and knowledge of how well the curriculum is being implemented within subjects and across the school.

Professional dialogue in a formal setting linked to the development of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) allows for a group of senior leaders, the middle leadership team, subject leaders or Heads of Department or other teams to work together with a formalised agenda and a clearly stated goal, time scale and resources to define priorities, actions and outcomes.

Creating strong structures by working together for a common goal

Different PLCs can work together and be able to answer their own ‘deep dive’ questions linked to any number of areas for continuous improvement such as subject specific expertise, sharing good and outstanding pedagogy, building consistent assessment approaches, sequencing the curriculum for mastery and progression, improving maths outcomes, reading across the curriculum and any number of other priorities linked to school improvement.

Where senior, middle and subject leaders learn a range of coaching skills as part of the implementation of a PLC the constancy of purpose and collective desire to succeed is powerful.

The drive for high quality continuous improvement

Becoming a high performing school or business is no accident. It is the culmination of a drive towards consistent high standards that pervade every corner. Everyone in the organisation knows what they have to do and is an essential cog in a well-oiled and highly charged engine that drives a culture of positivity and learning.

Amanda Spielman points out in her Festival of Education speech that OFSTED is an improvement agency and there is a principled policy separation of diagnosis and treatment in the education system. She says OFSTED describes what is needed for improvement and it is up to the school and its teams to make those improvements. I want to consider that statement in a different way.

Earlier in this post I gave some bullet points that OFSTED suggest school leaders focus on. One of them is knowing the strengths within the school and gaps that need to be filled to make the school even stronger. All of us with any part to play in leading in education must have at their fingertips a clear and profound knowledge of their school, their curriculum and the capacity of every member of staff to deliver high quality outcomes.

What could OFSTED possibly add to the collective voice of positive teams who are striving for excellence that is the product of highly charged and purposeful professional dialogue. Be in the driving seat and drive out of that engine room with all the power of collective team work.

Finding solutions together strengthens leadership

Amanda Spielman finished her speech with a quote from the queen. I thought I would copy her.

“Over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration, to work together.”

Queen Elizabeth 11

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