Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/2020: a summary for primary schools


02nd December 2020

Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/2020: a summary for primary schools

This week, Ofsted published its annual report after a monumentally challenging year for our sector.  Whatever your opinion about the inspectorate and its role over the next few months, the report highlights some key issues. In this short blog, we highlight the main curriculum and assessment takeaways for primary schools, to reaffirm your current – and inform future – work.

Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/2020: a summary for primary schools

Overall curriculum quality 

  • Curriculum was the key driver of the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) released last September. Inspections have, they say, shown the importance of a rich and well-sequenced curriculum that leads to good results, taught by well-trained and well-supported teachers and their early years counterparts. In weaker providers, we often see a focus on tests or qualifications, which can lead to narrowing of the curriculum.’ 
  • An outstanding curriculum should be ‘richwell planned and coherentwell-sequenced; and comprehensive. Ofsted stresses that these different elements of curriculum design are ‘strongly related’. 
  • In schools previously referred to as ‘stuck’ by Ofsted, those that improved did so through planning an ambitious curriculum for all, focusing on phonics in primary schools and supporting staff to be experts in their subjects.’ 
  • Quality teaching is key to the success of curriculum design, delivery and impact.  
  • Many children have experienced significant losses in learning this year. However, Ofsted mention that in the outstanding schools they have visited, ‘pupils know more and remember more, and this is reflected in their attainment.’ 
  • Narrowing the curriculum, while tempting currently, is not advisable. The report states that primary schools judged as requires improvement sometimes focused extensively on teaching reading, writing and mathematics at the expense of other subjects in the curriculum, even for pupils who had the capability to tackle a wide range of subjects.’ Curriculum narrowing disproportionally affects those from disadvantaged backgrounds and ‘limits pupils’ ability to thrive in secondary school.’ 
  • In state-funded special schoolsOfsted also found that the most effective schools have an ambitious curriculum that prepares pupils well for the future. The best special schools attend to both content and sequencing of the curriculum in all subjects. 

Subject deep dives 

  • Since 2019, Ofsted haundertaken over 11,000 deep dives in state-funded schools.  These focus on specific subjects and Ofsted plan to publish ‘subject reviews’ for all 14 national curriculum subjects over the next two years. 
  • Ofsted halooked at the evidence from a sample of deep dives as well as their inspection reports to conclude the strengths and weaknesses of curriculums in general. 
  • To support the quality of subject teaching, Ofsted again stressed that ‘subject knowledge among teachers is critical’.  

Language, communication and reading 

  • Ofsted found that talking is at ‘the heart of a successful early years curriculum and that teachers ‘help children talk about what they are doing and learning throughout the day, in each area of learning.  
  • Inspectors found that good early years settings support reading by building a foundation of language and communication: ‘outstanding providers are exceptionally skilful in developing children’s communication and language, for example through skilful questioning and animated storytelling’.  
  • Ofsted continues its mission to put the teaching of reading as a school’s top priority. The report highlights the importance of early reading in particular: ‘If we want to ensure that our children flourish, we need to help them make the best possible start. It should be the first priority of every primary school to make every child a proficient reader. Reading is not only the key to the curriculum and an essential life skill it is also a protective factor: poor reading leads to later low attainment across subjects and to poor behaviour and self-control.   
  • Phonics plays a key roleand Ofsted recognises the hard work that schools have done to embed phonic teaching.  The report also advises that ‘it is extremely important that reading books closely match pupils’ phonics knowledge’. 
  • Ofsted note that most schools inspected this year, including those judged to be good or outstanding, ‘had recently reviewed their curriculum for early reading’
  • For confident readers, Ofsted found that teachers in outstanding schools were using ‘their deep knowledge of children’s literature’ to guide independent book choices.  


  • The report reaffirms Ofsted’s insistence that assessment is ‘not an aim in itself, but is linked to the curriculum progression model’.  
  • strong curriculum is ‘underpinned by clear central aims and accountability, but also recognises that individual subjects require different approaches to sequencing and assessing content, and therefore avoids a one-size-fits-all approach.’ 
  • In terms of ongoing assessment, it advises that teachers deliver lessons that ‘build on prior learning and are underpinned by formative assessment in order to discover and address misconceptions and adapt lessons as they go.’ 

Covid disruption and remote learning  

  • Welfare is Ofsted’s priority, and this has been ‘underlined’ by the crisis. Ofsted found that ‘there has been no lowering of the standards’ in the early years care. They will continue to carry out regulatory work, including monitoring and visiting settings of high concern 
  • Ofsted says that there has been a varied approach to home and blended learning during the pandemic. It remarked that some parts of the curriculum do not lend themselves to remote learning. This includes many areas of early years provision.’ 
  • Even where schools made good provision, ‘few children did as much schoolwork as they would have done at school’ for reasons such as lack of ‘hardware, connectivity or quiet space to work’ or they struggled without teacher support. 
  • Ofsted advised that ‘isome cases, the use of non-digital resources (such as high-quality textbooks) would have made it quicker, easier and cheaper to establish a well-structured programme of remote learning.’ 
  • As yet, Ofsted ‘do not yet have reliable evidence on ‘learning loss’ from the pandemic’ but it’s ‘likely that losses have been significant and will be reflected in widening attainment gaps.’ Worryingly it ‘looks certain that learning loss will affect children and young people unequally.’ 
  • Assessment of Year 7 writing suggests the picture is worse than just ‘no progress since the first national lockdown’ and that we ‘cannot yet say how long it will take to retrieve lost ground. 

Feedback from leaders during Ofsted’s autumn visits 

Ofsted visited schools during the autumn to find out about their provision, and the challenges they were facing during the pandemic. Here are some of the main points that leaders made: 

  • ‘Children were happy to be back at school and to see their friends, but were sometimes suffering from poor physical health. 
  • They were making some adaptations to their curriculum, based on practical considerations or as a result of pupils having lost learning while not at school, or often both. 
  • They were ‘ambitious to return their schools to their usual, full curriculum as soon as possible and were focusing on ‘gaps they have identified in what children know and can do.’ 
  • They discussed the many challenges they were facing in keeping their schools safe and open.
  • There were concernabout ‘the lack of visibility of vulnerable children’ during the pandemic and that in normal times, ‘around 20% of notifications to local authorities about children come from schools and early years settings.’ 

Overall Ofsted ratings  

  • The proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has increased from 87% to 88% this year. 
  • Of the inspected Early Years Registered (EYR) providers, 96% were judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection. This is unchanged since last year and a marked increase from 85% in 2015, the start of the CIF (Condition Improvement Fund). 


Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/2020 in full 

Curriculum 2022 – a fully sequenced curriculum for primary schools

Assessment in primary schools, 2021 onwards 

Deep Dives in inspection 

Curriculum Magazine: Inspection special edition 

Blended learning in primary schools: does it really work? Podcast 


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