Over the last few years, the pressure of the accountability framework has tempted many schools into a narrowing of their curriculum to make sure that attainment and progress in these published results are as good as they possibly can be. Inspectors have tended to exacerbate this situation by using this data to inform their judgements; prior to visiting a school as well as focusing their inspection efforts on these subjects. As education professionals this has created a dilemma, where desires to provide a broad and balanced curriculum have been eroded by the emphasis on tested subjects.
There have been some inklings for a while that the tide may be turning and now we seem to be hearing something more definitive. The Ofsted chief’s commentary on their recent research findings suggests that the next inspection framework will be far broader. She makes the point that too much weight has been placed on test and exam results, and that the new framework will place much more emphasis “on the substance of education: the curriculum”. This change of perspective is something that we were particularly interested in at Classroom Monitor as, since we began, we have always valued and provided provision to support schools in assessing subjects outside of just reading, writing and maths.
What did the research highlight regarding curriculum design?
In their research with school leaders, Ofsted identified 3, equally valid, categories of approach to the curriculum:
- Knowledge-led: Around a third of schools. Viewing the curriculum as the mastery of a body of subject-specific knowledge. Skills were generally considered to be an outcome of the curriculum, not its purpose. Often leads to a focus on in-depth understanding of fewer topic areas rather than surface-level understanding of more.
- Knowledge-engaged: Half of schools. Knowledge and skill acquisition seen as intertwined. Tendency for stronger emphasis on cross-curricular teaching.
- Skills-led: Small group of schools. Curriculum designed around skills, learning behaviours and ‘generic knowledge’. Skills for future learning-resilience, growth mindset and perseverance.
The use of progression models as an approach to curriculum development was highlighted; identifying what was expected of pupils at each stage. The research acknowledged that while many primary schools had robust progression models in place for reading, writing and maths, this was less often the case in other subjects. There are a number of assessment frameworks in Classroom Monitor covering progression in the full range of subjects. These can be used off the shelf, customised to meet your needs or you can start from scratch and build your own assessment framework directly into the system. We enable schools to assess exactly the subjects they choose in a way that fits with their school’s approach to teaching and learning.
Most schools combined, in various ways, both formative and summative assessment to track pupils’ progression through the curriculum. The data analysis tools in Classroom Monitor allow you to easily analyse both formative and summative data, together or separately, to help enhance teaching and learning. While some schools were identified as using subject-related targets determined on pupils’ entry to the school, they state that a “more useful approach” was using ongoing assessment to check pupils’ understanding and using this to inform planning for individuals as well as to impact the school’s curriculum design. Through our Curriculum Tracking tool, subject leaders and SLT can effectively analyse ongoing assessment to inform curriculum development further.
They also found that intelligent repetition of content was valued, although it may or may not be ‘baked’ in to the curriculum. This was seen more in knowledge-led curriculums but more likely to be based on assessment data in schools following a knowledge-engaged approach. The markbooks in Classroom Monitor allow you to record progression in an assessed statement- it doesn’t need to be a “got it / hasn’t got it” binary decision. This means that prior assessment can be used to inform planning for content re-visits, not just in- but across-year groups. The opportunity to record evidence also enhances this.
What does it mean for schools?
For many, this will be a welcome change of goal posts, freeing schools up to give their pupils a more rounded education. However, it is a change and as such does represent a challenge! While some schools may feel that their wider curriculum and how they assess it is suitably robust for scrutiny, there may be others who want to take the opportunity to evaluate their current approach before the new framework comes into practice next year.
There are three key questions that may be useful in this reflection.
• What are you teaching?
Identifying whether your school values a knowledge-led, knowledge-engaged or skills-led approach will help you hone your curriculum design. Look at what you are currently doing and focus efforts on developing what matters for your pupils. If you’re taking a cross-curricular approach, it can be a challenge to make sure that you are maintaining subject-specific progression. The new Classroom Monitor markbooks facilitate this, allowing you to view and assess topic-relevant statements from different subjects side by side.
• What are you assessing?
You don’t have to assess everything that you teach. Secure progression and teacher workload can be better managed by simplifying what you are assessing; furthering focusing on ‘what matters’. The key skills and knowledge need to be identified. Teachers can then track these in a focused way, helping teachers to spot and plug gaps in the learning of individuals and groups as well as helping subject leaders develop their subject area. The key thing to remember in an assessment framework is that any assessments that teachers are recording should be useful to them and their pupils. Classroom Monitor allows you to focus on what matters to you in the way you want to assess.
• How will pupil progress be demonstrated?
You will want to be able to demonstrate progress for both groups and individuals. Most schools are familiar with doing this in a ‘data’ format. You may do this via your assessment framework, for example the increase in ‘coverage’ of key knowledge and skills, or via a more simplified teacher judgement – both are acceptable and possible within Classroom Monitor. However, there are also a number of other ways to show progress that take a more individualised approach that are facilitated within the system.
It is Ofsted’s hope that their work provides “a vital contribution to the debate about curriculum”. They are also hopeful that their “research will contribute to a better way of inspecting schools”. For schools who already have a broad and balanced curriculum this should be good news that you aren’t going to be penalised for it, and maybe help you to evaluate what you are doing. For schools who feel that their curriculum has been narrowed by the emphasis on tests may feel that this gives them the opportunity that they’ve been looking for to broaden things back out. It’s our belief that Classroom Monitor is a system that can help you to achieve this.
If you would like to see first-hand how Classroom Monitor supports a broad and balanced curriculum design, you can request a demonstration with one of our assessment experts – book a time that suits you here.