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Why Ofsted has got it absolutely right this time

PUBLISHED: 07:30 02 December 2019

Has there been too much emphasis on maths and English in schools? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Has there been too much emphasis on maths and English in schools? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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In her latest column Clare Flintoff, chief executive at ASSET Education - which runs more than a dozen primary schools across Suffolk - welcomes Ofsted's new approach.

Walk into just about any school in the country this term and you will hear people talking about 'deep dives'.

Having absolutely nothing to do with water or the sea, the term 'deep dive' is splashed across our educational plans and evaluations, has flooded our senior leadership team meetings and is well and truly rooted in the seabed of educational jargon.

A year ago a deep dive was not something that you would hear people using in a school, so what has changed? And what does it mean?

Ofsted has changed. This term has seen the introduction of a new evaluation schedule and framework. Judgement areas have changed, the criteria have changed and the focus has widened to looking at the whole curriculum offer with inspectors doing 'deep dives' into specific subjects to check young people's experience, knowledge acquisition and recall of facts in history, geography, computer science, art, etc.

Under the old framework the focus in primary schools was heavily on maths and English. Now, a deep dive into music could be on the cards, striking fear into the hearts of teachers who are not specialists and testing leaders who will need to talk about curriculum coherence, sequencing, pedagogy and how they are developing their pupils' metacognition, retention of learning and recall of knowledge.

The biggest teaching union has expressed its dismay at the workload issues that are coming to the fore as schools get to grips with what they might say to an inspector who is determined to deep dive into a subject area of their choice that the school might not see as its strength.

Parents would be completely justified in questioning what all the fuss is about. Surely schools have been teaching all of these subject areas to their children?

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Chances are that subjects other than maths and English are the ones that their children mostly talk about when asked "What have you done today?" - if the answer isn't the much more common "Nothing much".

What should primary schools have to fear - they love their art, their sport and their music, don't they?

The sad reality is that over the last few years we have become far too obsessed with results in maths and English that actually those other subjects have taken second fiddle.

The school curriculum has suffered as a result and teaching, to be honest, hasn't been as well thought out and planned as you might think.

We might have enjoyed learning about the Gunpowder Plot but were we using it to nurture an early understanding of democracy, conflict and religion that we planned to build on in our study of the Ancient Greeks two years later?

In music lessons have we been introducing composers and music that children will recognise when they hear it in the future? Will they be able to talk about their favourite artists and how their style and choice of material are linked, developing their appreciation as they get older? Curriculum coherence and a discussion about what we actually want our young people to know, and remember, has not been uppermost in our minds.

This time Ofsted have got it absolutely right - widening and enriching our curriculum, ensuring that we are building on prior learning and developing understanding.

Building a wider subject-rich vocabulary so that our young people can talk confidently and, crucially, with knowledge about their studies, is exactly what we should be doing.

It will take us a little while to get there and we will certainly be doing some practice deep dives ourselves but, as always in schools, we will do what we need to do and we will admit that on this occasion Ofsted has helped us to turn the tanker and start sailing in a better direction.

Lessons learned? Let's stick to what we know is good and right; providing a good, balanced, rounded education, whatever the latest Ofsted framework is looking for; having the confidence of our convictions, that we know what is best for our children. Easier said than done.

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