James Marriott: Welcome to the Primary Knowledge Podcast brought to you by Cornerstones Education. I’m James Marriott, and today we are asking what we know about curriculum inspection. I’m joined by Simon Hickton, the founder of Cornerstones. Hi, Simon.
Simon Hickton: Hi.
James: And also, Rachael Ashforth, who is a curriculum adviser. Thank you for joining us.
Rachael Ashforth: Hello, thank you.
James: Now our aim today is to explore what Ofsted are looking for, sharing some feedback from schools, and looking at a bit of advice and a few tips for preparation as well. So, first question I’ll come to you first on this one, Simon. What is the main focus of inspection in relation to the curriculum?
Simon: Simply, the what, where and why? Why schools have chosen to develop their curriculum in the way that they’ve developed it to ensure that their children are learning what they feel they need to learn. And very much so now, focusing on right from EYFS to year six. And I found that fascinating listening to schools, how more and more said they’ve gone right into EYFS to say, how is this building and laying the foundations for the subjects further up school in year one, year two, three, four, five and six, and that progression all the way through. Also, there’s the reading, phonics, a huge focus on that, and early reading, maths. And then more and more, we’re hearing that schools, rightly so, are getting skilled at then steering the inspection towards the subjects where they may feel really confident in or able to say, “well, we know this is an area for development and we’re doing this.” So, science and the foundation subjects, it tends to be more steered by the school.
Rachael: I would definitely agree with that as well. There’s definitely been more of a shift over the last few years and really focusing on those foundations subjects and making sure that they’re being taught really in depth rather than just scratching the surface of them. So, a lot of schools have reported back to us that’s generally where the focus has been as well.
James: So obviously between you, you’re talking to head teachers and to leaders all the time. What feedback have you received from schools who’ve already experienced inspection under this new framework?
Rachael: Well, definitely as I said there, in terms of a subject focus, they’re wanting to make sure that the curriculum is really well sequenced and that there’s very clear progression all the way through. As Simon said earlier, from EYFS right through to year six and really a massive emphasis on knowledge, what are the children learning? What are they taking away from the lessons that have been taught to them? And how can you evidence that?
Simon: It’s definitely all about that quality of provision. We’re pleased at so many schools have told us how Maestro helped them to articulate their curriculum, because that’s what it’s about. I’ll go back to that what, where and why. Can they articulate why they’re doing what they’re doing? And then the Ofsted inspectors are able to see that in action. Are they able to see the impact of that? What’s very interesting for me is that we’re talking to more and more schools now who have an outstanding grading or historically have had an outstanding grading, who are now being about to be Ofsted-ed or have just been Ofsted-ed. We’re getting schools that have been Ofsted-ed and have had quite a traumatic experience and it’s not been the greatest of experiences for them and they’ve been coming to us and saying “we need this now, we realise we need this”. Rachael talked about that sequenced curriculum, they need to know the what, where and why. And we’re also very pleased with those schools that have been outstanding and have managed to maintain that outstanding grade by… They’ve been with Cornerstones for a long time and they’ve really made the curriculum bespoke to their school. And then they were able to articulate that and show how good they were when Ofsted came in and how well things were sequenced, how the learning progressed, right the way through, in a broad and balanced curriculum. Those schools that have got away from that narrow curriculum to that broad and balanced curriculum.
Rachael: That’s essential just to add to that as well, Simon. I was speaking to a school not so long ago, and they were saying one of the biggest shifts that they had still using Cornerstones was shifting to more of a subject focus. So they could still have cross curricula or a thematic approach, but making very explicit references to “this is the subject that we’re learning”. So, this is a geography lesson. This is a history lesson. And then fitting that into that sequence and that topic that we’re perhaps studying,
Simon: We’ve evolved like that as a company as well. Big believers in that thematic approach, but that need for that very clear subject progression all the way through, whether through mini projects or just being able to look at a project and say, well,” how does this fit by a subject rather than just the pedagogical stages?” We do it with a flick of a button now, we can just see in the subject and see the sequence and that sort of way as well. So, it’s that evolution to make sure that, like you said, you can articulate curriculum, show it and then, in action, it works.
James: Ok, what do we know that in terms of specific questions that are being asked by inspectors?
Simon: Again, the specific questions are all based around that what, where and why, and it’s knowing your curriculum subjects. And Rachael has lots of chats with subject leaders as I do myself, and I’m sure she’ll give some ideas about what questions they’re asked and how they’ve got to show what they do in their subjects, then together as the whole curriculum.
Rachael: Definitely. Subject leaders are really being analysed in terms of curriculum knowledge now, so it’s been really clear on what’s the intent for your subject area? What are you planning to teach at the beginning of the year? And then, in real time, how is that actually progressing through your curriculum? Can you show what’s actually been taught? Is there evidence? Can you speak to the children? Are they able to impart that knowledge that they’ve been learning all the way through from EYFS right through to year six? And that’s really important for subject leaders. It’s very difficult. It’s very challenging. But using what you’ve got available at your school to really help you to articulate your particular subject area, I think that’s really crucial at the moment.
Simon: You’re also now getting the classic questions that are coming up, like “how do you know how the concept of… is developed through your curriculum?” And the classic ones are climate, conflict, empire, and it’s being able to show that through your curriculum. Some are even more specific where they sort of ask, “where is the great fire of London taught” and “what do you do to build up to that?” And then where does that go? Or, you get some crazy ones. And we actually had a school that was asked, “Well, where do you teach about woolly mammoths?” Which took us by surprise, and it was interesting when we popped onto Maestro and just typed that in to the Curriculum Pro area and it came up it. It let us know where it’s in there within our curriculums. So, we were quite pleased like that. We quite like now and again being sent a curveball.
James: I like that. So obviously the prospect of an inspection is quite a daunting one, I’d be interested to get what your tips are really for preparing for an inspection.
Rachael: Absolutely. And I think it’s very much reiterating what we’ve already said. It’s the what, the where, and the why of your curriculum. I think subject leaders need to be really, really well prepared. As I mentioned earlier, ensuring that they know exactly what’s going to be covered, what’s being planned at the beginning, but then also what’s actually being delivered and showing that all the way through the school, making sure it’s really clear, clearly sequenced, really clear on progression, being able to walk into, for example, a classroom key stage two, they might be covering a similar programme of study, but how does that look different in year three versus year six? Thinking about those outcomes? What do you want the children to actually know in that lesson and just being really, really well prepared with your particular subject in mind?
Simon: Agree with that. Totally. Inspectors don’t want to look at, I’ve mentioned previously about, don’t want to look at data, et cetera. They don’t really want to look in depth at the intent. What they want to look at is the evidence of impact. They will be talking to children, and we could argue about what does that really tell them. But they want to talk to children. They want to see what they’ve learned, how they know that, where that’s come from, where it’s going. They also want to make sure that they look at work in books so they can see the proper impact of the curriculum that’s in place, and they’re not bothered about the printed sheets. It’s no good being there armed with a folder saying, “look, this is what we intend to do”. They will find that out by looking at the impact and talking to leaders and children and looking at evidence within books. So, it is about making sure that you understand your subject, you know how your curriculum is sequenced, and it’s also about guiding the inspectors to show them what you want them to see. Schools make sure that their timetables are right for that time of year and to showcase their school in the best possible light. We all know some schools are continually developing curriculum, and some subjects will be well developed, although they know they need to be developed. So yeah, you have honest conversations, but show them ones that are well developed or the ones where you are starting to see that impact because you are developing them because it is a continuum, always developing, always striving to get better.
Rachael: And just to finish on that one as well, it’s just to say be confident in your subject. You are the subject leader expert, making sure that you showcase that. And like Simon said, if you guide them through what you know is really fantastic in your curriculum, you can’t really go wrong. And in the Ofsted framework, it actually says for the inspector, that they are looking for all available evidence to see what it’s like for a learner in your school. They want to see good quality learning, good quality teaching and the evidence to back that up.
James: Brill. Well, Rachael, Simon, thank you very much for joining us. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. We have picked some extra resources and content which we think you’ll find useful. Just head to the show notes for this episode to find those links, and there’s a lot more information and you can find all our other episodes at cornerstoneseducation.co.uk. Thanks for listening and see you next time.
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