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I told you so

Hearing people say ‘I told you so’ too often can become rather tiresome, but on this occasion, I’m pleased to say that I was right and they were wrong – and even more satisfying when the ‘they’ is Ofsted. To see, in black and white, that Ofsted has manoeuvred a rather public U-turn with regard to its stance on the primary curriculum is good news for all of us, especially for primary-aged children across the country.

It’s 30 years since the introduction of the National Curriculum, a document which set out the things children should be taught to ensure each child receives the same standard of education. It’s been revised and updated over the years to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that includes focus on not just English maths and science, but on the humanities, the arts, sport, modern foreign languages and computing.

At Highgate Primary, delivering a rich curriculum has been right at the heart of our ethos. The Highgate Primary Curriculum, taught through cross curricular topics created to engage and inspire our children, has been a great success – and has gone a long way to helping the school achieve its aim of wanting to be a school where children love learning.

Our children will be able to tell you pretty much everything about the Tudor dynasty. They’ve re-enacted the Battle of Bosworth Field, visited Hampton Court and performed a class assembly on King Henry VIII. They’ve read all manner of books and will be able give a balanced view on just how terrible the Tudors were. On top of this they are fit, can paint, draw, act, sing and speak Mandarin. Secondary school teachers always comment on our children’s excellent general knowledge.

It has therefore been rather soul destroying to learn that Ofsted has very little interest in the National Curriculum. During our last inspection, the lead inspector walked past class after class where children were  all engaged in meaningful, joyful and relevant learning, only for her to put her hand to her eyes to shield her from seeing something other than English and Maths. Her mantra, ‘I haven’t come here to see (insert subject)’ was rather disturbing.

Roll on a few years, a change or two at the top, and Ofsted has had a major re-think. The reality is that national standards have plateaued, with the penny finally dropping that putting schools under intense pressure to narrow the curriculum and deliver results, isn’t delivering results.

A rich curriculum needs to be right at the heart of attempts to raise standards. It’s very difficult to write about something that you have not experienced, and very hard to draw inferences from texts that relate to a subject matter you are unfamiliar with. Mathematical word problems presented to you in a test paper are much easier to understand when you’ve experienced the context in real life. A rich curriculum is all about making important connections between subjects and helping children make sense of the world – to narrow it is completely counter-productive.

With the window for the next inspection looming, last week I brought myself up to speed with the latest edition of the Education Inspection Framework. The rather weighty document starts with the following bullet points:

  • leaders … construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners, … the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life
  • the … curriculum is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment
  • learners study the full curriculum. Providers ensure this by teaching a full range of subjects for as long as possible…

I don’t want to say I told you so, but with many schools frantically re-writing their curriculums, it’s nice to be ahead of the curve.

William