Ofsted have recently been carrying out subject monitoring visits under Section 8 of the Ofsted inspection framework for History and MFL, with mathematics also planned for this year. Thematic subject reviews have been reintroduced and some of the first schools to be inspected have been outstanding schools.
"Our biggest new programme will be the re-introduction of thematic subject reviews. For this, we will be using data from inspection deep dives to look at the state of the nation in different subject areas across key stages," stated Daniel Muijs, Ofsted’s Deputy Director, Research and Evaluation.
(In addition to subject thematic reviews, Ofsted will also be collecting research in early years, looking at how providers develop the 3 prime areas of learning in the early years foundation stage.)
In the past, subject reviews were a very useful source of information for school leaders, enabling them to consider typical strengths and weaknesses across the nation and helping them to consider to what extent the same applied in their own school. It provided a stimulus for professional debate and discussion. It was also a useful source of information for Local Authorities and school improvement bodies / colleagues, helping to ensure that CPD offered matched the aspects of the curriculum and teaching that were most in need of development, and helping to identify schools where good practice could be shared.
Clearly, from the reports published so far, there are elements emerging of both strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum and the teaching of History and MFL in outstanding schools. For example, not all schools have achieved a balance in MFL between oral language development and reading / writing, and are perhaps not taking full advantage of the rich sources that can be used to aid pupils in acquiring a deep and long lasting knowledge of a foreign language. In History, the difficulties of reshaping the curriculum into a logical sequence (if this was not already the case) are evident and the need to support teachers in how to develop the discipline of the subject (e.g. historical concepts - such as cause and consequence, continuity and change; approaches to a subject - such as historical enquiry and use of historical sources). Schools can consider to what extent they are tackling these issues within their own school and how they might strengthen these areas. There were also lots of examples of good practice that are described and schools can gain ideas from these reports that may support the development of a subject within school.
Teachers’ high expectations in history are reflected by the range and depth of materials they present to pupils. For example, Year 6 pupils learn about life in the Victorian workhouse by comparing a wide range of evidence including inspectors’ reports, floor plans, workhouse timetables and a list of the daily food allowance. This gives them a very rich understanding of conditions in Victorian workhouses. They also learn how workhouses, though repressive and tough, protected some of the most vulnerable people in society from destitution and starvation.
The curriculum is designed so that pupils have sequences of lessons on each topic that they cover in depth. For example, Year 3 had a sequence of lessons on describing people, using adjectives and their agreement with nouns, using the third person with some verbs and relevant vocabulary. This culminated in pupils using what they had learned to produce written and oral descriptions. Pupils revisit this knowledge in later years. They are able to do more and remember more because they are already familiar with certain content, such as adjectives.
I have put together a resource pack that includes extracts from three example reports for History and three for MFL with a series of questions at the end of each extract to promote professional dialogue. This is free to donwload.
The type of information Ofsted are interested in gathering in these thematic reviews is not surprising and follows the same themes that were identified in their curriculum research reports and in the inspection handbooks. For example:
Is the curriculum logically sequenced?
Does the curriculum match the Aims and Purpose of Study as set out in the National Curriculum?
Does the school ensure full coverage of the National Curriculum?
How is the curriculum delivered and what impact does this have on learning (e.g. when delivered and how often; who delivers the subject and do they have sufficent subject knowledge)?
How does the school ensure subject discipline is strong?
What concepts and knowledge are developed? Is this set out clearly enough? Is it sufficiently rigorous? Is it challenging and well matched to the age of the pupils? Does it link together in a coherent way, including links between aspects of study?
How is the subject assessed and how is this information used?
I have created a series of prompts that subject leaders and senior leaders may find helpful. This can be downloaded, along with other really useful materials. Grab your free download at the end of this blog.
I have included some free bonus materials to help senior leaders and subject leaders in primary schools. Governors may also find some of the materials very useful. The questions and prompts are designed to help leaders improve the quality of teaching in foundation subjects, particularly for history and MFL.
I hope you find the resources really useful.