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With Ofsted's new inspection framework coming out recently, schools have had to think carefully about subject progression. As the series creators of Power English: Writing, we welcome this move. Progression is essential if children are to become the best writers they can be, and when our teaching of writing is cohesive, considered and coordinated, we can see dramatic changes in the quality of children’s writing in only a matter of weeks.
Ofsted emphasises how ‘instructional leadership’ is a key driver in effective schools and Power English: Writing offers school leaders a research-based pedagogy which can help start the process towards school improvement. It not only delivers the writing requirements of the National Curriculum but believes all children can aim for greater-depth. It embeds equality of opportunity for every pupil. With Power English: Writing, every child is seen as a writer.
Power English: Writing is a rigorous and research-based approach to teaching writing. Outstanding writing development involves clarity, world-class instruction, responsive teaching, and the opportunity for children to engage in repeated practice through daily writing which is pleasurable, purposeful and meaningful. Power English: Writing weaves all of these together so that schools can benefit from:
● the interconnected and interleaving nature of the class writing projects;
● the hundreds of writing-study and functional grammar mini-lessons which become more sophisticated as children progress through the school years;
● the detailed and practical writing development scales which move children’s writing development forward.
● the handpicked high-quality mentor texts and author videos taken from well-known published writers and from children’s literature;
● the revision and editing checklists which become more advanced over time so as to guide children towards applying more intricate and complex compositional techniques to their emerging drafts and for their finished manuscripts to be as transcriptionally accurate as possible;
● a ‘Writing For Pleasure’ pedagogy.
Furthermore, to grow a school of extraordinary writers, writing development needs to be a whole-school collaborative effort which is supported by a deep understanding that interconnection is a powerful principle of the very best teaching practice. Every one of the Power English: Writing class writing projects has been carefully considered, with each one placed where we feel it will be best taught. This includes projects across narrative, poetry, persuasive writing and non-fiction. In keeping with the principles of distributed, retrieval and repeated practice, what is learned in one project also supports and develops new learning in all other future projects. Children become aware of how what they are learning in one writing lesson, and in one writing project, will come in use not only later in the year but in future years too.
Here’s just one example of the kind of progression journey children go on. In Year 3, children learn valuable lessons in how to ‘paint with words’ during their Animals and Pets and The Natural World poetry projects. This has a direct influence on both their Fairy Tale and Fable stories written that year too.
This learning stays with children into Year 4 where they will create setting-driven and character-driven short stories. During the year, children will also participate in a sensory poetry project, which will serve to further enhance their story writing.
Moving into Year 5, all their hard work so far will come together when they write their more developed Short Stories. Yet again, these stories will come alive as children apply what they’ve learnt in their Poetry That Hides In Things, Graphic Novels and Inspired By ... writing projects.
Finally, by Year 6, children are well prepared to write multi-faceted and highly-developed Flash Fiction. However, it’s more nuanced than that. Not only do the Year 6 poetry projects contribute to children’s narrative writing, they also support their non-fiction writing too. All the things children learn within the narrative and poetry projects also have a direct impact on the quality of their Memoir writing throughout Key Stage 2.
In summary, when schools are clear about the trajectory of writing development, they give their apprentice writers the best chance to soar. In such schools, there are high expectations for all. The sky’s the limit and glass ceilings get shattered.
About the authors
Phil Ferguson and Ross Young are national and writing representatives for the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) and authors of Power English: Writing and founders of The Writing For Pleasure Centre.
They are both committed writer-teachers: teachers who write and writers who teach.Read more
This is the first of three blogs exploring the impact of Ofsted’s new inspection framework on the teaching of Geography in schools. At the GA’s 2019 conference, Iain Freeland, Her Majesty’s Inspector for Geography, told delegates that curriculum had replaced data as Ofsted’s new ‘unit of inspection’, urging geographers to go back and look again at what they teach and how they teach it.Read more
We invite Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, to write about the importance of Key Stages:
With the implementation of the new Education Inspection Framework comes a big and sometimes heated debate about the balance of Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4.
I wonder though if it is helpful to think of secondary education in terms of KS3 and a separate KS4? It feels to me like this is thinking from a previous era of curriculum thought. This thinking of a ‘break’ between key stages mitigates against an understanding of what Christine Counsell calls the curriculum as the progression model.
In her excellent blog on senior curriculum leadership, The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (B) final performance as deceiver and guide, she says “But the curriculum itself is the progression model. Its mastery is progress. That is what it is for. When it comes to progress, the burden of proof is on the curriculum. And that includes knowledge itself for it is not just a setting in which to practise skills; it is a curricular property with an agency all of its own.”
The concept of the curriculum as a progression model is also found in Ofsted’s curriculum research report – not surprising, since Counsell sat on Ofsted’s curriculum advisory group.
If we think in this way, then we free ourselves to look at the breadth and depth of the curriculum framework across the whole of secondary education and the translation of that framework into a structure and narrative within an institutional context.
There is the issue of the point of specialisation or subject choice. This is significant, because in England, we already ask pupils to specialise or choose subjects earlier than most other countries.
There are different views on this within the sector. Some leaders believe that it is more helpful to pupils to create stronger, deeper disciplinary knowledge earlier on. Others believe that it is important to retain curriculum breadth for as along as possible as pupils experience a wider curriculum that prepares them well for the next stage of learning. In this argument, pupils’ increased maturity and knowledge help them to make well-reasoned decisions about their future studies and provides a framework for thinking about the world and how it could be different.
I think whatever leaders decide, there are some principles that we need to hold dear – and for me, these principles do not include the protection of an arcane notion of key stages. Rather, I think the principles may actually be those articulated in the curriculum research:
- The curriculum is ambitious
- Subject disciplines are understood as unique and disciplinary knowledge is carefully sequenced
- The curriculum in each subject area is understood as the progression model
- There is equitable delivery and impact
It will never be good enough to simply teach to the test. As Counsell says: “Teaching to the test can mean different things across subjects. At its most extreme, it could mean teaching the [GCSE] specification content for five years. Or it could just mean not taking seriously any content taught beyond the specification. Most commonly, it means structuring learning around the surface features of the test, rather than the layers of knowledge or the smaller component skills that sit underneath successful performance.”
The mindset of teaching to the qualification reverses the proper order of things. Curriculum does not follow from qualifications. Curriculum comes first. Then teaching. Then assessment which provides the feedback loop. And finally qualifications.
Of course qualifications are important as the evaluation of what knowledge and skills pupils have gained against such expectations. And because they are for most pupils the stepping stones to further study. But qualifications are the logical culmination of the curriculum progression model.
Written by Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts.Read more
It’s been a busy start to 2020 for Ofsted, with more updates and media coverage than an Ofsted-nerd like myself can keep up with - so I thought it might be useful to pull together some of what’s been going on.
Ofsted have no preference on the duration of KS3 (right?)
Firstly, we have Sean Harford’s piece on the role and purpose of KS3 and whether or not Ofsted has a set view on how long KS3 should last. Sean writes at length to try and debunk what he considers to be a myth around the Ofsted framework - ‘there is no preferred length of KS3’ and the length of KS3 ‘is not a limiting judgement in our handbook’. As has been the case since the inception and launch of the new framework, Sean asserts how a major focus of the EIF is around monitoring whether students have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects to a meaningful level of depth and that this can be achieved in a variety of ways. This all sounds crystal clear to me - so carry on as you are, three-year-KS4 schools, right?
The gap between what Ofsted say and what Ofsted do
But wait… against this assertion, we have the actual statistics showing a strong correlation between a shortened KS3 and a rating that is less-than-Good. In our own analysis of the first wave of inspections, we found: of schools offering a 2 year KS3 and 3 year KS4 (38% of the sample), 88% were judged as Requiring Improvement for quality of education and for their overall rating. And the reverse applies – of the schools offering a full, 3-year KS3 and a 2-year KS4 (40% of the sample), 76% were judged as Good. The narrative of many of the reports of RI schools singled out the narrowness of KS3 as a specific area needing to be addressed. This apparent bias hasn’t gone unnoticed by schools who, just like us, have been keeping a hawkish eye out for the results of the first inspections to form a view of what the framework means for them.
So throw out your curriculum plans, 3-year-KS4 schools - right?
Alas, it is not quite so simple. There are some schools (not many, but still some) that are shortening KS3 but still being rated Good or Outstanding. Sean Harford outlines some of these in his article and I’ve certainly come across them when looking across the latest Ofsted reports. They tend not to be starting GCSE early simply to ensure they are getting through the specification content in time or leaving enough time for a substantial revision period. Instead they tend to: use the time to offer more breadth and/or depth - this might be in terms of allowing students to study a greater range of GCSE subjects or to go beyond the content in the GCSE specificationhave some sort of transition approach in Year 9, where they subtly introduce GCSE skills and task types support the core curriculum with brilliant extra-curricular provision - think debating societies, choirs, coding clubs and the like - delivered by teachers for the love of the subject rather than any link to an assessed outcome.
The MAT backlash
Influential MAT leaders have also waded into the debate. Sir Dan Moynihan and Martyn Oliver - leaders of Harris and Outwood Grange Trusts respectively - have laid into the new framework, criticising its bias towards a three year KS3 as detrimental to the outcomes of the most disadvantaged students in our society. The Harris CEO went as far as labelling the framework as ‘a middle class framework for middle-class kids’ and how for ‘many of our children, qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond. They have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life. Their GCSEs are crucial. Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications.’ Dame Rachel de Souza - leader of Inspiration Trust - added her support to this to further ramp the pressure up on the inspectorate.
Against this there are strong voices in support of the new framework - most recently Sir Jon Coles, Chief Executive of the United Learning Trust, who feels that Ofsted’s challenge of the three-year key stage 4 is long overdue. Picking up on Sir Dan Moynihan’s characterisation of the EIF as a ‘middle-class framework’, Sir Jon states that the 3-year KS4 should be challenged ‘not in the interests of the middle classes, but most importantly for the poor and the dispossessed.’ He goes on, comparing our system to other jurisdictions and noting that ‘No similar country allows young people to opt out as early as we do from learning about the nature of our planet, how human, social and political structures came to be as they are, or how to communicate in another language.’
Such is the discontent amongst leaders of some of the country’s largest Trusts that we now have the prospect of the Minister of State for Education feeling the need to step in and act as peacemaker, to broker a deal between MATs and Ofsted.
Mistrust of Ofsted
All this has lead to re-surfacing of concerns about the ability of Ofsted to inspect against this framework fairly and consistently - something first voiced during the consultation period and which promises to recur through the life of the framework itself. The outgoing framework, with its predominant focus on hard data and outcomes, felt objectively assessable in a way that this new framework - with its scrutiny of curriculum and whether a school has chosen and sequenced the most powerful knowledge and skills and retained breadth and balance - does not.
Examples are being shared - particularly at Secondary level - of subjects being inspected against the quality of their curriculum by an inspector with no experience or specialism in that subject. And whilst much of this blog has focused on KS3 and the Secondary sector, just this week we have seen the story of a number of primary schools preparing to launch appeals against their Ofsted gradings, over concerns inspectors have the expertise and time to make fair judgements.
A number of figures have added their voice to the view that it is not possible to reduce complex matters of breadth, balance and curriculum to a single, graded judgement - and with them, the familiar calls for Ofsted to review the grading system in its entirety. Nick Brook of the NAHT captures this sentiment best, saying ‘Inspectors are being asked to do too much, in too short a time, and with too great a degree of subjectivity. All of which is leading to rushed and ill thought-out judgements — with sadly career defining consequences for headteachers.’
Lynne Fox is one such example - by all accounts an inspiring, well-respected Headteacher and who indeed was a silver award winner at Pearson’s Teaching Awards last year - the feeling of being unfairly and harshly judged under the new framework has been too much.
What has struck me in reading across the different opinions on the new framework is how, at the heart of this debate and angst, are some fundamental questions about the purpose of education. Sir Dan Moynihan touches on this when he writes that ’Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications’ - there is a kind of ethical quandary here for all involved in education that asks questions around: What is in the best interest of students? Is it right to sacrifice the breadth of curriculum for strong pupil outcomes in qualifications? (if indeed the two are mutually exclusive, which is another point of contention!)
Which is more important and who is best placed to decide this? We will all have our own views on these questions - and to complex questions there are rarely simple answers. For my part, I think it is schools themselves who are best-placed to answer the above questions for their students and their particular context - and that the framework needs to be applied with a degree of nuance that looks beyond the narrow question of whether KS3 is delivered over two or three years.
We’re already working with many schools, trusts and partners to understand their needs and provide solutions. If you’d like to discuss your school curriculum and how we can support you to choose and implement courses that work for your school in context, please request a call-back from our curriculum team.
Written by Danny Cuttell, Head of English, MFL and Extended Curriculum Services at Pearson.
Reading aloud to children is fun, but it doesn’t deliver educational rigor, right?Read more