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Busting the ‘intent’ myth

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: curriculum, education inspection framework

In our new school inspection handbook, we outline a quality of education (QE) judgement. Lots of the discussion about the QE judgement has been around what ‘intent’ means. We have even heard of courses for schools to write an ‘intent statement’ in half a day, so it’s time to bust the first myth that has arisen around ‘intent’.

Two students in a classroom, one boy and one girl, with their teacher looking upwards in anticipation

Our use of the term ‘intent’ has moved on following the curriculum research and piloting of the new framework.

Intent is about what leaders intend pupils to learn. It’s as simple as that. Intent is everything up to the point at which teaching happens. Good intent, according to our handbook, has the following features:

  • a curriculum that is ambitious for all pupils
  • a curriculum that is coherently planned and sequenced
  • a curriculum that is successfully adapted, designed and developed for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities
  • a curriculum that is broad and balanced for all pupils

All of this can be found on pages 49–50 of the section 5 school inspection handbook.

So, intent is nothing new. There’s no need to write new statements, adapt websites or restructure staffing to cover intent. Intent is not the next big thing.

Intent is all the curriculum planning that happens before a teacher teaches the knowledge that pupils need to learn the next thing in the curriculum.

In evaluating the school’s educational intent, inspectors will primarily consider the curriculum leadership provided by senior, subject and curriculum leaders.

Inspectors will talk to senior leaders to find out whether the curriculum is broad and balanced. Is it at least as ambitious as the national curriculum?

In secondary schools, we will evaluate whether the curriculum is as broad and balanced as possible, for as long as possible. We will look at whether pupils (if appropriate) are able to study a strong academic core of subjects, such as those offered by the EBacc. We will consider whether there is high academic/vocational/technical ambition for all pupils and find out if some pupils or groups of pupils are missing out.

Ofsted does not advocate any particular curriculum model. A school may choose to ensure that its curriculum incorporates a particular ethos or inculcates certain dispositions. Inspectors will be interested in these plans. But at its heart, intent is about the ‘substance of education’: what do you want pupils to know? If your school is not doing so well in reading, mathematics, geography or religious education, then how strong is the curriculum in each of these subjects? Does it contain the right knowledge in the right order? Is the curriculum providing pupils with the building blocks of what they need to know and be able to do to succeed in each subject?

So, when we’re talking about intent, we’re talking about how ambitious, coherently planned and sequenced, how broad and balanced and inclusive the curriculum is. That’s all in a school’s curriculum planning, up until the point that a teacher teaches the curriculum.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by @TeacherToolkit posted on

    If 'intent' is nothing new, why don't we drop the word and just call it curriculum 'planning'? Then we wouldn't need to bust any myths and cause unnecessary workload for schools who want to ensure they are compliant and up to speed with any inspection/framework changes ...