Hallelujah! Why I love the new OFSTED Framework

In her latest post Zoe Enser (@GreeboRunner) discusses her love of curriculum and her excitement that this love is finally being shared by OFSTED.

From the very beginning of my career I have been very lucky. My wonderful Head of Department, and ex-English Teacher, Susan Walker at Passmores School, involved me in the curriculum design in English right from day one of my training period. Not just me though, all of us in the team, and from our rich discussions about progression, great literary works and reviewing learning, a real interest was born.

She continued to encouraged me when I stepped into the role of Second in English, allowing me to explore the possibilities the curriculum gave us and, as a result, my passion continued.

Fast forward two years and I was about to go through my first OFSTED as a subject leader. Plastering an enthusiastic smile on my face and with my curriculum folder, filled with overviews, schemes of learning and rationale, clutched firmly in my hand I strode into the office. . . only to stride out 30 minutes later with my folder untouched and without the word curriculum ever crossing my lips.

15 years later and I have been through numerous OFSTED visits, external reviews and department scrutinises and only once has anyone asked me about my curriculum. Only actually they just wanted the documents sent. And they didn’t talk to me about them after. Or give me any feedback. I have definitely got the impression the people really didn’t want to talk about the curriculum with me.

Of course, being a tenacious sort, I haven’t let that really deter me and I continued to explore curriculum development with my teams over these years, continuing to consider how the wonderful texts could be used to deliver the best English curriculum for my student. But often I would meet staff who just simply didn’t share the same passion for what they were teaching, they didn’t want to think about why something was on the curriculum they just wanted to be told it was there. Worst still, were those who insisted that curriculum is what is ‘on the timetable’ or in the exam syllabus and is not what is being learnt day in day out through our subjects.

I am very lucky that in my school I have had the freedom to explore what I think the students need on the curriculum and the trust is placed in me to select the things I think they really needed to learn. The teams around me have often shared this passion too. But sometimes it can be difficult to keep that momentum going when it feels that something is on your agenda and nobody else’s.

After all this doom and gloom though, imagine my excitement when I heard the first mutterings about the new OFSTED framework and the curriculum. I have always watched OFSTED developments with a weary interest; like many I too have been burnt in the past. But now the Curriculum, I was told, was to be at the heart of what they would be looking at. Curriculum was where they were going to explore challenge and progression. Curriculum was what really mattered in terms of education, especially for disadvantaged students, a significant group in all of the contexts I had worked in and a group I worried were getting a raw deal in our current education system. I heard a wonderful quote from Marc Rowland at the Durrington ResearchEd conference in April, who said that our disadvantaged students are the ‘canaries in the coalmines’. When we don’t get things right in terms of teaching and learning or behaviour these can be the ones who ‘get it’ first. This is building on the work of Christine Counsell and Mary Myatt, and the concept of education being a ‘social justice’ issue is at the heart of what we need to do. Curriculum shouldn’t be narrowed because of background or gender, something picked up in another excellent session by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts authors of ‘Boy’s Don’t Try’ at the Durrington Conference, and it most certainly should not be watered down to make it more palatable.

Curriculum is our opportunity to introduce students to new concepts which are going to challenge them to consider things which they may not have yet had the opportunity to encounter. Curriculum is a way to open doorways for all students in a range of possible alternatives.

This renewed focus on Curriculum is also significant in a world heavy with accountability. I am always happy to explore why I have decided that mythology and the texts of ancient Greece are on my curriculum for Year 7 and have people question what the benefits or challenges may be. I am happy to examine how the teaching of sonnet form or iambic pentameter, or simply the meaning of ‘verb’, can be used to underpin key aspects of learning and are important knowledge for our students.

I am less happy to be asked ‘why has so and so in your Year 8 got 4 marks out of 8 on Question 2 on Paper 1?’ or ‘what are you going to do to ensure that Year 9 are getting one more mark on Question 5?’ Assessment has sadly taken over curriculum for some and it is this which can lead to the narrowing of curriculum into a set of exam hoops. It can also lead to a significant drop in morale for teachers who feel their expertise has been reduced to nothing more than a drill sergeant, barking students over a set of disconnected hurdles towards an unknown destination.

Daniel Muijs who was the keynote speaking at Durrington this year spoke about OFSTED’s role in accountability. They had been developed as a second accountability measure to accompany the exam system. External outcomes provided part of the narrative of the education provision in a school; OFSTED were there to explore everything else in the narrative which this data couldn’t show. Sadly, for many, this has not always been the case and the data has been known to superseded everything. Tracking sheets instead of learning, projected grades instead of looking intensively at gaps in knowledge. Of course, this all has a place, we need at points to have an understanding of the direction our students may be travelling in, but it can sometimes feel that is the driving force, not just a part of the puzzle. The tail had started wagging the dog and the curriculum seemed to have become the flea hanging on to the tip of its nose for dear life.

So that’s why I am so exciting about the new framework. I’m ridiculously excited. Disproportionately excited and this is probably an indicator that I should get out more. However, it would seem that it is placing that which I truly value, and believe can be truly transformative in terms of education at the centre of our discussions. During his keynote Daniel also talked about how OFSTED has historically had ‘unintended consequences’, many of which we can cite as having a negative effect as with data. But this is one ‘unintended consequence’ that I welcome. Already I hear people talking about their curriculum and not about question 1 on Paper 2 or the 8-mark question on structure. Already I hear people considering what they might introduce in Year 7 as a seed which will grow as the students’ progress through the curriculum (for a more detailed explanation of this do read Mark Enser’s wonderful analogy on bread making in the curriculum).

My curriculum folder may be electronic these days. My lessons may be more about a sequence of learning which could stretch on for weeks or months. But finally, I can see that it has pride of place within our education system and, perhaps controversially, I have OFSTED to thank for that.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching: The Essential Guide to Effective and Efficient Teaching is available for pre-order now!

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