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2019 Ofsted inspection framework: what it means for your school

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Last updated on 18 December 2018
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Demystify what a 'broad and balanced curriculum' really means, find out what an Ofsted inspector will want to see, and figure out your curriculum's intent, implementation and impact with our prompts.

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  1. 1 A sharper focus on curriculum with the 'quality of education' measure
  2. 2 What is a 'broad and balanced curriculum'?
  3. 3 What you can do now
  4. 4 Assess your curriculum using Ofsted's curriculum quality indicators
  5. 5 Intent: what are you trying to achieve with your curriculum?
  6. 6 Implementation: how is your curriculum delivered?
  7. 7 Impact: what difference is your curriculum having on pupils?
  8. 8  
  9. 9 Clearer focus on behaviour and pupil attitudes
  10. 10 Shorter notice for inspections, and 2-day section 8 ('short') inspections for good schools
  11. 11 What didn't make it this time

Don't miss a thing

We'll update this article whenever we hear something new. Click 'save for later' in the top right hand corner to be notified via email when this happens.

The 2015 Ofsted Inspection Framework and School Inspection Handbook are still in force. To stay up to date with changes to the handbooks and any murmurings about the new framework click here.

Get involved

Over the coming months, we'll be profiling schools like yours that are successfully providing a 'broad and balanced' curriculum, so you can see what it looks like in practice and exactly how to do it. Get in touch to share what you're doing with other school leaders.

A sharper focus on curriculum with the 'quality of education' measure

Ofsted is planning to combine the current 'teaching, learning and assessment' rating with the 'pupil outcomes' grade to create a new "quality of education" measure. It aims to lessen the reliance on exam results as a measure of school quality by taking into account a school's broader curriculum offering.

Ofsted does consider the curriculum when assessing a school's effectiveness under the 2015 inspection framework, but the curriculum doesn't have a standalone judgement.

The 4 proposed inspection judgements

Ofsted 2019 inspection framework
Adapted from an Ofsted presentation

What is a 'broad and balanced curriculum'?

First, what does Ofsted mean by 'curriculum'?

Ofsted found that there's no common definition for 'curriculum', and schools use the term in different ways. So it came up with a working definition, to help inspectors have the right conversations with schools about their curriculum:

A framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (intent) … translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (implementation) … [and] evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (impact).

HMCI Amanda Spielman puts this in simpler terms. A curriculum is:

The yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school.

The national curriculum is an "important benchmark", but the content, structure and how it is developed is down to school leaders to decide.

In practice, this means being clear on your answers to 3 key questions

  1. What are you trying to achieve through your curriculum? (Intent)
  2. How is your curriculum being delivered? (Implementation)
  3. What difference is your curriculum making? (Impact)

The diagram below shows how intent, implementation and impact work together to create the curriculum at school level and how this translates into the classroom. We look at intent, implementation and impact in more detail in sections 5 to 7.

Ofsted 3 I's - curriculum The Key
Adapted from a presentation given by Sean Harford at an ASCL conference in March 2018.

What does a good curriculum look like?

The current inspection handbook (2015), defines a broad and balanced curriculum (under 'leadership and management'), as one which:

provides a wide range of opportunities...subjects and courses [to help] pupils acquire knowledge, understanding and skills in all aspects of their education, including the humanities and linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technical, social, physical and artistic learning.

According to Daniel Muijs, Head of Research at Ofsted, and Ofsted's latest curriculum research, a high quality curriculum:

  • Is deliberately thought through and planned, in terms of its intent, implementation and impact
  • Is ambitious - at least as ambitious as the national curriculum
  • Clearly considers the sequence of content necessary for pupils to make progress
  • Has a clear purpose for assessment
  • Provides pupils with the transferable knowledge they need for subsequent learning 
  • Is one where all pupils have access to its content
  • Is one where subjects aren't dropped to make space for exam preparation
  • Depends on a number of factors relevant to a school's context, pupils' backgrounds and the knowledge and expertise of curriculum leaders
  • Has clear methods for reviewing and evaluating its content, checking what pupils know and can do
  • Has clear leadership (often distributed) and ownership

Important points to note

  • Be prepared to discuss your curriculum with inspectors using the 3 focal points (intent, implementation and impact), even if you're due an inspection between now and September. Inspectors will be using this working definition, but you won't be downgraded for not having your curriculum in line with the new inspection framework 
  • You aren't expected to overhaul your curriculum or devise creative or elaborate activities for the sake of it. You can use an existing model that best suits you, providing you have done so thoughtfully, with clear reason, and have adapted the curriculum where necessary. However, you do need to show that careful thought has gone into your curriculum, and that it's applied and talked about consistently across the school
  • There's no Ofsted-prescribed curriculum
  • Ofsted doesn't prefer a 'knowledge-led' curriculum
  • Curriculum is not the same thing as timetable, or what qualifications you offer
  • Curriculum encompasses, but is much more than, 'what will be on a test'
  • Your curriculum cannot be vague - it needs to be a specific plan of what pupils need to know overall, and in each subject
  • Remember - things could still change. There'll be a consultation on the above proposals in January. Stay in-the-know with the latest updates

What you can do now

It's too early to say exactly what inspectors will be asking, but you can start thinking about your curriculum right away.

  • Assess your curriculum using Ofsted's quality indicators (see next section). Use our guidance for how to review your curriculum, including a downloadable template for conducting a full curriculum audit
  • Show you're making curriculum development and design a priority. Survey your staff to see how confident they feel in these skills 
  • Have a plan: how is curriculum development work going to be shared out between different members of staff? How long will it take?
  • Use our prompts below (sections 5 to 7) to help you think about and discuss your curriculum's intent, implementation and impact. Make sure you involve all members of staff early so that everyone is talking about your curriculum consistently by the time an inspection rolls around
  • Read more about how to integrate your curriculum with your financial planning to maximise your resources

Assess your curriculum using Ofsted's curriculum quality indicators

As part of their curriculum research, Ofsted inspectors used 25 indicators to assess the quality of a school’s curriculum. This does not mean that inspectors will use these indicators during inspections going forward, but you can use them as a starting point when thinking about your own curriculum and to identify room for improvement.

How to use the indicators

Go through each indicator and give it a grade according to the criteria described in the document.

Intent: what are you trying to achieve with your curriculum?

Use these prompts when thinking about your curriculum's intent, to get a flavour for the kinds of things inspectors might ask you.

  • What are the objectives for your curriculum? What do you want pupils to be able to know and do by the time they leave? 
  • Why is it shaped the way it is? What values have guided your decisions about the curriculum you have in place? How does your curriculum reflect your school's context?
  • To what extent have you made these objectives clear? Does everybody know them?
  • How does your curriculum reflect national policy (for example, British values, or PSHE)?
  • How does it cater for disadvantaged and minority groups? Make sure these pupils aren't 'shut out' of pursuing subjects they wish to study because of too sharp a focus on exam results

Check out some examples of 'curriculum intent' statements from other schools.

Actions to take

  • Look at who's in your school and shape your curriculum to the needs of your intake. For example, if you have lots of pupils with EAL: how does the entire curriculum support their learning of English? If your pupils arrive with above average standards of attainment, how does the curriculum make sure they continue to attain at a high standard?
  • Involve your parents, pupils, staff and governors. What would they like to see in the curriculum? 
  • Make sure you aren't just 'talking the talk' and that you're clear about how your curriculum plan is being implemented, and what impact it's having. Senior leaders and teachers alike should know the rationale behind your curriculum, and how what they're doing relates to it
  • Give subject and/or middle leaders the time and support to develop schemes of work that match your curriculum intent, make the most of their expertise, and build good progression from pupils' starting points, whatever these may be. This will save time later and reduce the burden of planning on teachers

Implementation: how is your curriculum delivered?

Use these prompts when thinking about your curriculum's implementation, to get a flavour for the kinds of things inspectors might ask you.

  • What do your objectives look like in practice? 
    • How does the current curriculum match the intention?
    • What subjects are you teaching?
    • What's the content of those subjects?
    • How do those subjects join together? What cross-curricular links are there (in particular in the development of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum)? How are you developing progression as pupils move through the school?
    • Is the curriculum for each subject designed, over time, to maximise the likelihood that children will remember and connect the steps they've been taught?
    • How is the curriculum being differentiated for different ability groups?
    • Are subjects staffed appropriately? Are staff trained? Are subjects adequately resourced in terms of time and other resources?

For teachers 

  • Why are they teaching this particular lesson/topic?
  • How are their teaching methods delivering on the objectives for this subject?
  • How does this lesson/topic fit into previous schemes of work?
  • How does this lesson/topic further pupils' learning?
  • How well do resources match the curriculum and schemes of work?
  • To what extent do teachers use homework to prepare for new topics and/or to consolidate classwork? How do they encourage broader reading, enquiry and thinking outside of contact time?

Actions to take

Remember that there's no magic formula for the perfect curriculum - you should always have sound justification for why you are or aren't doing something, and how this relates to your curriculum intent. Use the following as suggestions for how you might provide a broad and balanced curriculum.

Primary schools

✔ Prioritise phonics and the transition into early reading in key stage 1, and encourage older children to read widely and deeply

✔ Feed language, writing and maths skills throughout all subjects

✖ Don't focus too heavily on English and maths at KS2, to the detriment of the wider curriculum

✖ Don't spend a disproportionate amount of time on SATs preparation, such as mock tests and booster classes

Secondary schools 

✔ Invest time in making KS3 a strong foundation for KS4, to avoid interventions and catching up in year 11. Make sure that schemes of work provide a solid foundation for the demands at GCSE

✔ If you have shortened KS3, make sure you have sound justification for doing so. Are pupils getting long enough to develop depth and breadth of learning before being narrowed into GCSE subjects? Take a look at some pros and cons of a condensed KS3

✔ Make sure that pupils aren't unnecessarily restricted from taking whatever subjects they like and that there's a wide range of options available, particularly for disadvantaged groups and pupils with low attainment

✔ Dedicate substantial timetable slots beyond the 'core' subjects

✔ Think about how you can structure the timetable to allow for a wider range of subjects and extra-curricular opportunities. For example, Manchester Communication Academy have a simple, block timetabling system that makes sure their pupils experience a variety of subjects, without negatively impacting on school finances or pupil outcomes

✔ Pitch year 7 work at the correct level. Don't underestimate the quality of work being done in primaries. Contact local primaries, or your main feeder schools, to make sure you know what work they're doing and how you can build on this in year 7

✔ Encourage the take-up of core EBacc subjects at GCSE, such as the humanities and languages, alongside the arts and creative subjects

✖ Don't push pupils into less rigorous qualifications to boost league table positions

✖ Don't spend a disproportionate amount of time on test or exam preparation at the expense of teaching

All phases

✔ Offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities, visits, trips and visitors to complement and broaden the curriculum, but make sure that these are purposeful and link with what is being taught in class. Ofsted representatives have said that what have been traditionally thought of as 'extra-curricular' activities are considered part of the curriculum

✔ Think about offering specialist focus weeks, or project days, where all pupils come off-timetable, to provide broader provision in non-core areas such as technology, science or the humanities

✔ Encourage reading for pleasure at all ages

Impact: what difference is your curriculum having on pupils?

Use these prompts when thinking about your curriculum's impact, to get a flavour for the kinds of things inspectors might ask you.

  • How well are children learning the content outlined in the curriculum? How do you know?
  • How well are pupils prepared for their next stage of education or working life? Where do they go?
  • What are the types of both formative and summative assessment used? What impact do they have on the curriculum? Do they dictate the curriculum?
  • How do you know your curriculum is having an effect across all pupils, including those who are disadvantaged or have low attainment? 

For teachers

  • How well are key subject knowledge and skills consolidated before moving onto the next topic? How do teachers know? 
  • How do teachers know pupils remember what they've been taught?
  • How well developed are pupils' learning habits and learning skills? How do teachers know?
  • How do teachers use evidence of pupils' learning to feed into their planning and adaptation of the curriculum, both collectively and individually?

How will you be accountable?

Inspectors will try to triangulate evidence about your curriculum from various sources, such as:

  • Answers to questions about your curriculum's intent, implementation and impact from senior leaders, subject leaders and teachers
  • Work scrutiny
  • Lesson observations, to some extent
  • Conversations with pupils

Actions to take

  • Think about 'outcomes' more broadly than exam results:
    • For secondary schools, this might mean progression and leavers' destinations
    • For primaries, this might mean instilling a love of reading, developing learning skills, or making sure they're well-prepared for secondary. The range of activities pupils do prepares them for the future, but won't necessarily show in results
  • Use a range of both qualitative and quantitative data to show how you know pupils are learning. Ofsted will look at performance data, but they'll also look at:
    • The quality of work in pupils' books, to see how pupils are progressing and the kinds of tasks they're doing
    • Outcomes of conversations with pupils and teachers 
    • How the wider curriculum framework is supporting teachers to deliver lessons
    • How you use data and how this informs your curriculum design, rather than looking at the data itself


Clearer focus on behaviour and pupil attitudes

The new framework will feature a judgement that focuses specifically on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils. Ofsted "expects heads" to have "strong policies that support staff in tackling poor behaviour". 

Download our model behaviour policy and see examples from other schools.

Shorter notice for inspections, and 2-day section 8 ('short') inspections for good schools

What didn't make it this time

More frequent observations for 'Outstanding' schools?

Ofsted is actively lobbying the DfE to include 'outstanding' schools in the normal cycle of routine inspections, according to reports from the BBCThe Guardian and TES. 'Outstanding' schools (except special schools, pupil referral units and maintained nursery schools) are currently exempt.

A new framework for MATs?

HMCI Amanda Spielman is particularly committed to expanding Ofsted inspections into MATs, and the Ofsted 5-year strategy indicates an intention to "better scrutinise education, training and care structures, including at the multi-academy trust (MAT) level". 


Professor Daniel Muijs is Head of Research at Ofsted.

Professor Samantha Twiselton is the Director of Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University.

Tim Oates CBE is Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment.

The first image is adapted from an Ofsted presentation.

The second image is adapted from a presentation given by Sean Harford, Ofsted's National Director, Education, at an ASCL conference in March 2018.

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