All sectors in education tend to suffer from ‘initiative overload’. Schools can take on too much – often imposed by government policymakers – and not enough time is given to properly embed a new approach, strategy or policy, before the next change comes along.
On the flipside, whilst nobody should ever advocate change for change’s sake, it’s a wise move to periodically assess and audit the work that a school does. A primary school’s curriculum might well have been broad and balanced at one time – but is it still relevant? Does it still serve the needs of pupils as well as it once did?
When a primary school constantly questions and interrogate what it does, the school is likely to continue to move forward. The dreaded accusation of ‘coasting’ is unlikely to be laid at its door.
Don’t just tick the boxes, ask why?
Too often the focus for schools is on ‘ticking the boxes’ for pupils, parents and Ofsted. Of course, school leaders cannot simply ignore the likes of the inspectorate and league tables. We can debate their worth all we want. The simple fact is that a school that drops in the league tables or receives a disappointing Ofsted report is a school in trouble. It’s a situation that many schools struggle to recover from.
However, schools can be guilty of having a tick-box mentality, without really asking the key question: Why?
Despite the importance of the inspectorate, we do not teach what we teach because of Ofsted – but primary schools should ask themselves: why do we teach our curriculum, for our pupils, in our school?
Schools should consider why they teach the topics they do in particular year groups. Statutory requirements aside, certain topics could be covered in specific years for a variety of reasons: investment in resources, enjoyment/expertise, or simply because it has always been done that way?
The new Ofsted framework is the ideal starting point for change
Although critics will say that it’s just another example of Ofsted moving the goalposts – yet again – the new framework does give schools the opportunity the take stock and question what they are doing. As Ofsted has a rethink, maybe it is also time for primary schools to revamp their curriculum too.
The Three ‘Is’
As ever, when change occurs in schools, new terminology and key words enter the education lexicon. With the new Ofsted framework, it is the three Is: Intention, Implementation and Impact.
A good way of approaching the three ‘Is’ is to think about what a school might ask itself in relation to each one. So, with Intention it might be: Why do we teach what we teach? Implementation is concerned with: How do we teach it? Finally, Impact is all about the outcomes: What progress do pupils make?
If a primary school wants to audit its curriculum, critically reflect on its practice, and instigate a revamp, the starting point should be these 3 questions. There also needs to be an understanding that the Intention should underpin everything the curriculum sets out to do.