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Feedback from schools inspected since September 2019 indicates that Ofsted inspectors are spending less time with senior leaders, and more talking to middle leaders about curriculum intent and implementation. John Pearce offers three activities to ensure middle leaders are confident and prepared.

Schools inspected under the new Ofsted framework have been sharing their experiences. Overall it seems inspectors are spending much less time with senior leaders, instead focusing their attention on department heads and other middle leaders, and what happens in classrooms.

This is exactly what Ofsted said it would do,  ie deep dives into the curriculum, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It does mean, however, that middle leaders and teachers need to be prepared to talk confidently and in depth about curriculum intent, implementation and impact.

Three practical exercises

So, what can senior teams, alongside governors, do to ensure the whole school is ready for this focus on curriculum intent and impact?

Here are three simple activities. Each can be a desk-top exercise or discussion, critically thinking through the task. If needed, groups can go into further detail with action research and deep dives.

The activities are not intended to be onerous. Each is about building a cycle of evaluation into day to day practice. It’s about looking at what you do with a view to doing it better.

  1. Intent.

Start by reviewing what is written, said and published about your school’s vision for the curriculum. Look at your aims statement, prospectus, website, presentations at parents’ evenings. Are you consistent? Do you need to tighten your aims, or precis them, if only to remind stakeholders of purpose?

Is the language clear and straight forward, or over-complex? Does it work for all audiences? How do you know?

Are all staff on board with your curriculum aims and vision? I have written about Vision Walks – a powerful way to double check and update the school vision.

Key question: How many leaders, teachers, pupils and parents/carers can verbalise our curriculum intent succinctly?

  1. Implementation and impact.

A great way to link intent through to impact is to undertake a tracking exercise. Take an aim from your vision and track it from “where we plan to teach it/encourage it” through, “looking at an example in action” to asking, “how are we measuring impact” and, “have we made progress?”

Key question: Are we doing what we say we are doing and is it effective?

The example tracking exercise I’ve included here is from The Evaluation of Pastoral Care, Clemmett and Pearce, Blackwells, 1986 and demonstrates an old truth: “If you stand still long enough you’ll eventually become an innovator”.

I designed it to measure what the 1975 DES Assessment and Performance Unit argued were, “areas in the affective domain which are difficult, if not impossible, to assess”. It allows for both quantitative, raw data and qualitative measures and works equally well for traditional curriculum content in STEM areas. So, it’s timely for the new Ofsted framework!

  1. Combining Intent, implementation and impact.

It’s important to link all this thinking together strategically, in a cycle of improvement. In my mind, the best way to do this is to use a tool like iAbacus.

It was my involvement in school improvement and curriculum research from 1974 to 2014 led me to create the iAbacus model of improvement. It encourages individuals, teams and leaders to evaluate against detailed criteria, in order to plan strategically.

It starts with the professional teacher or leader’s view, and only then introduces criteria, evidence and data. Why? Because we want front colleagues to be professional developers.

This explanation of the iAbacus model explains how itworks and how it fits the intent-implementation-impact cycle.

Key question: How do we self-evaluate and plan strategically? Does it happen at all levels in school?

Finally

Regardless of whether the school is due an inspection, it is always a good idea for governing bodies and leadership teams to take time to reflect, analyse, and evaluate, and if needed, refocus.

I believe it was never Ofsted’s intent for schools to radically alter what they do in response to the new framework. Rather it’s about focussing inspection on the elements that really matter in giving our children the best chance of success.

John Pearce was previously a teacher and senior leader, then Deputy Chief Inspector in Nottinghamshire. After several executive and interim headships in special measures schools, he was appointed an NCTL Leadership Consultant and Lead Facilitator. He is now a chair of governors. He created iAbacus with Dan O’Brien in 2012.