Ofsted’s new education inspection framework to value ‘broad range of subjects’

Gary Wood

Gary Wood

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Ofsted’s draft education inspection framework, due to be implemented this September, stresses that children should learn a ‘full curriculum’ in which all subjects are valued. But what does this mean for primary schools? Is it possible to cover every subject in depth? Cornerstones author and Curriculum Director, Melanie Moore, takes a closer look at Ofsted’s proposals.

Offering a ‘full curriculum’

Even before the draft education inspection framework was released this January, Ofsted warned of a widespread ‘narrowing’ of the curriculum in schools. Their research suggested that many children were being ‘taught to the test’, focusing on the core subjects to the detriment of the foundation subjects. In response, Ofsted’s draft framework stipulates that the intent of a curriculum should be to offer a ‘full curriculum‘ that provides children with the ‘knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’.

In measuring overall effectiveness, inspectors will ‘consider the school’s curriculum, which is the substance of what is taught with a specific plan of what pupils need to know in total, and in each subject’. If the current draft inspection framework and handbook are implemented, a school could receive an inadequate grading if ‘the range of subjects is narrow and does not prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in modern Britain’.

Ensuring subject progression

So, where to start? The best place to begin is to establish your curriculum intent. One of your curriculum principles should be to plan for deep subject learning by, as the draft framework suggests, ‘teaching a full range of subjects for as long as possible’.

To meet this ambition, schools will need to create clear progression maps for each curriculum subject to enable leaders to articulate the typical learning journey of a child through their school. Curriculum progression maps should detail the subject content and key concepts you want to teach, and how knowledge and skills will progress through school. You’ll also need to agree on what endpoints the curriculum builds towards in each subject and at what stage. While the national curriculum programmes of study offer an outline of what should be taught, you’ll still need to tease out and plot detailed subject knowledge and skills.

Ofsted states that leaders must ensure ‘the subject curriculum contains content which has been identified as most useful, and ensured that this content is taught in a logical progression, systematically and explicitly enough for all pupils to acquire the intended knowledge and skills’. A core part of this is deciding where to begin subjects, how long you want children to spend on them and how their learning will be consolidated.


A clear intent, of course, counts for nothing if it’s not effectively implemented. To ensure that each subject is taught well, leaders need to check that teachers have good knowledge of the subjects. Ofsted suggests that leaders should ‘provide effective support for those teaching outside their main areas of expertise’.

A well-structured reading curriculum and class discussion also play important roles in helping children develop subject knowledge and skills. As Amanda Spielman said in our recent podcast, ‘good, early reading is absolutely fundamental to a good primary curriculum’. In addition, Ofsted expects schools to encourage the use of subject-specific vocabulary.

Inspectors will also be keen to see how well children transfer their knowledge to long-term memory and understand how topics fit into the bigger picture. Lyn McNamara, Executive Principal of Probus Primary School, offers a history-based example: ‘Children can learn historical periods out of chronology, but they still need to understand where that sits within the chronology.’

Many practitioners believe that children should be able to distinguish the subjects they are learning, for example, ‘In geography, we learnt the names of the seven continents’. In fact, in some schools, inspectors have already asked children questions, such as ‘What are you learning about in history? I see you covered the Romans last year. What can you tell me about their legacy?’

Measuring the impact

 It’s vital to measure the impact of any curriculum, and that includes measuring the progress made in all subjects. Ofsted’s draft handbook states that schools should check that their intended curriculum is being learned, and to what degree. Inspectors will want to see children who ‘develop det ailed knowledge and skills across the curriculum and, as a result, achieve well’.

Schools are likely to find that inspectors do a ‘deep dive‘ into three or four subjects across the school, including reading, agreed with the headteacher in a pre-visit meeting. As the inspection handbook states, ‘Inspectors will select subjects that are relevant to the focus of the inspection and observe lessons in which this subject is being taught.’ They will then make an overall judgement by ‘triangulating observations with evidence collected through discussions with staff and pupils, and through work scrutiny’. It’s worth noting that the handbook proposes that no judgements will be made on individual teachers or lessons.

Measuring impact, of course, is an ongoing process. It will be up to you as a school to decide how frequently you measure children’s progress in each curriculum subject and, in turn, make adjustments to your curriculum intent and implementation.

What next?

Ofsted is currently piloting its draft education inspection framework with schools and considering the response to feedback received during the consultation period. The new framework will come into effect from September 2019. If you want to find out more about how Cornerstones can help with these aspects of your curriculum, then look out for our Curriculum Evolution events being held around the country this summer.

‘We have found that the curriculum for subjects like humanities, arts and technology tend to be much much weaker than the curriculum in English and mathematics. Which isn’t to say that it’s not completely understandable, but it does suggest that we need to shine a little bit more light on what’s going on there and to start talking to schools about what it is that they’re doing and how they are going about it.’ Amanda Spielman Ofsted Chief Inspector.