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Ofsted’s subject curriculum groups

Sean Harford

It’s really good that people are interested in our subject curriculum groups. We’re using these groups to learn about and be better placed to engage in the ongoing debate about subject-specific curriculums in schools across England. We also want to see how the debate might relate to inspection as we head towards the education inspection framework. First off, I want to say thank you to those who we have asked so far to get this initiative off the ground in as short a time as possible. Thank you also for helping us explore how we can do this across the broad range of subjects in future. None of these people are being paid anything more than travel expenses, although there may be a biscuit and a cup of tea at some of the groups!

So far, we have created 5 working groups. We have invited group members who we feel have the subject-specific curriculum expertise to help us think through the issues at hand. Some people have expressed concern that we didn’t carry out a ‘formal recruitment’ process in setting up these groups. Given the range of subject areas we wish to ultimately consider, we felt it impractical, financially unfeasible and overly-bureaucratic to have such a formal recruitment process for each group. They are not decision-making groups. It’s up to Ofsted, as the independent inspectorate, to decide on potential next steps and how we might use the groups’ advice.

So far, groups have met for history, modern foreign languages (MFL), English, mathematics and science. We have more groups planned for the near future. The first groups (history and MFL) were small and very exploratory. The membership and work of all the groups continue to evolve. We have been adding group members as we identify the expertise we need. For example, when groups move from discussing secondary-specific issues to primary, we will add group members as necessary. We have found the practical, on-the-ground experience of teachers to be useful and so we have reflected this in the make-up of the later groups formed. The membership of the first 2 groups is subject to change to reflect this need. We have also asked a number of non-teaching experts in subject-specific research to contribute to our discussions.

Preparing for inspection in the future

Working with groups in this exploratory way forms just one way in which Ofsted is preparing for inspection in future. We are of course also considering implications of the new framework for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). This subject-specific work is currently focused on key stages 1 to 4. We are bearing in mind how the groups’ work might provide insights that could inform inspection of early years and key stage 5 in schools.

Ofsted’s work with the subject groups is specifically to enhance our knowledge and to inform both training for inspectors and inspection practice. We have selected the groups with this in mind. This project is not being carried out with the Department for Education (DfE), but colleagues in the DfE are aware of the work and we’re keeping them informed. It is natural that we would invite some of the same experts who have been involved before in other work in their subject areas.

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  1. Comment by Carmel O'Hagan posted on

    Thank you making a few clarifications. I still have some questions
    How were people invited to participate in these groups?
    What selection criteria were used?
    How did you ensure a range of expertise across subjects and phases?
    Why is the MFL group in particular so unbalanced? I would have thought a Primary HT was crucial here.
    Why is there no Full Time practising MFL teacher involved?
    Why is there a MFL Consultant with no recent and relevant classroom experience involved involved?
    How do you ensure that consultants do not use these groups to make contacts and secure future work and funding?
    Why are 4 people from the MFL TSC Review Group in a groi?
    Why are 3 people all from the University of York involved? Two of whom were on the TSC Review Group and, possibly as a result of the knowledge they had gained being part of this, secured funding for the new NC of Excellence based at York University.
    Why is there an anonymous blogger in the Maths group. Which school does he represent?
    Who covers the costs of these meetings .e.g. supply, travel, refreshments. This is not as petty as it sounds as the costs mount up. And if tax payers money is being used...
    How have you ensured a balance of gender and ethnicity?
    Many of these names seem to be prolific on Twitter or involved with ResearchED. Few people in Education know about these. Why did you not cast the net further?
    How many expert academic researchers are in these groups?

  2. Comment by Dr Helen J Williams posted on

    Whilst consultation is laudable, this doesn’t address the questions that are being asked about your selection criteria, Sean. What were they?
    Secondly- What is the purpose of these groups (which appear to have already met from what you say here?) ?
    Thirdly- Could you be clearer about the role of these groups- what for example, does this mean: “ we’re using these groups to learn about and be better placed to engage in the ongoing debate about subject specific curriculums “?
    And finally, how will the groups’ work “provide insights that could inform inspection of early years and key stage 5” when these groups are not represented on these panels?
    Thank you. Longer and somewhat clearer blog necessary I think.

  3. Comment by Ross McGill posted on

    Could someone explain how Ofsted have selected:

    1. Was there an application process?
    2. Was this public information?
    3. Was this an ad-hoc voluntary request/offer?
    4. Has diversity/gender been considered?
    5. Why only 5 subjects? The last time I checked, schools teach a vast mixture of subjects. This suggests Ofsted does have a preferred curriculum.

    Re.number 3. If so, I can also offer my time freely for the History and/or MFL groups as the numbers are low - that's if there was no application and if time is on an ad-hoc basis. And if I also meet diversity and gender selection criteria. For information, I have taught History in my career, and I've also line-managed 3 successful MFL departments in 3 challenging schools. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you - @TeacherToolkit

  4. Comment by Ralph Hedley posted on

    We must continue to look at how subjects can stand alone and the impact they have on the building of understanding in children. Whilst doing this we must look at how subjects complement and support each other and where they cross pollinate within the curriculum.
    Building always starts from the bottom, or in educational terms from the youngest, and goes upwards and onwards. Young children are sponges, but what they soak up must be of quality, delivered in an enthusiastic manner from a base of knowledge, which a well trained teacher must be open to doing.
    The present curriculum is sadly restricted by national tests. School leaders are afraid to put 'the thirst for learning, the enthusiasm of the young, the breadth of curriculum knowledge building for an individual's life ahead' in front of the figures, which they feel makes them better than others !
    The art subjects, the value of languages, the creative curriculum, the potential of children with SEND will have, of course, the thread of maths and English running through them, but should not be devalued in preference for maths and English alone.
    A removal of national tests, the measuring of the quality of a school by what it offers to all of its children year on year, the building of confident and knowledgeable children who can think for themselves and can challenge with reasoning and value all others, would be a positive step to meaningful education.

  5. Comment by Paul Hopkins posted on

    I am concerned that this process has been driven by the push for a particular approach to teaching and learning. The appointments ‘slant’ to this approach and imply that the wider consultation is looking for a particular view. There has been little transparency in the process. This slant is also shown in the research framework recently published.

  6. Comment by Ross McGill posted on

    How have people been selected to work in the curriculum groups?
    Was their an application process?

  7. Comment by Ross McGill posted on

    I will ask again: How have people been selected to work in the curriculum groups? Was there an application process?