“Ofsted don’t like the thematic curriculum approach.” Fact or Fiction?

Image to demonstrate ofsted thematic curriculum

Since the inception of the latest inspection framework, have you come across the belief that Ofsted don’t like the thematic curriculum approach? Probably. However, what evidence is there for this? How has this idea taken root in so many schools’ psyche?

Let’s apply the Key Stage 2 English curriculum objective here: Distinguish between statements of fact and opinion.

Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (EIF) 2019, which sets out the inspection process for all schools in England, states that schools should have a “broad and balanced curriculum,” which covers a range of subjects and promotes a range of knowledge and skills.

After researching in depth the latest Ofsted reports and blogs, there is no categoric breakdown or clarification statement which mentions teaching of discrete subjects as being preferable to the thematic approach in primary schools. What is true is that Ofsted has emphasised the importance of the intent, implementation, and impact of the curriculum.

No school is the same. Each has its own unique vision and challenges in meeting the needs of its pupils. Schools need to decide for themselves which curriculum design best meets those needs. 

The thematic curriculum appeals to many headteachers. They can relate to an approach to teaching that emphasises interdisciplinary connections and integrates different subject areas cohesively. They feel it offers opportunities to include relevant and meaningful learning for their pupils. They understand how subject knowledge and skills are developed through engaging and creative lessons. Research also demonstrates that the thematic approach is more holistic, helping pupils to see the connections between the subjects, with increasing opportunities to develop transferable skills such as reading. Evidence also highlights that the success of the thematic curriculum often depends upon the specific needs and interests of the pupils, the expertise of the teachers and the resources available.

However, some headteachers prefer the more traditional, single-subject secondary school approach to teaching and learning, and feel it is better suited to their school. In some cases, this is based upon concerns about the practicalities and perceived lack of rigour in implementing a thematic curriculum.

Both are a matter of opinion for individual headteachers and schools.

Nationally, 86.6% of primary schools were graded Good or Outstanding over the last three years, under the latest inspection framework. These schools had implemented a broad range of curriculum models to meet the needs of their pupils.

85.1% of Dimensions Curriculum schools using our thematic curriculum have been graded Good or Outstanding over the same period. 7% have already moved from Requires Improvement to Good and the remaining schools who have now moved to Learning Means the World are showing evidence that they are now implementing a more impactful curriculum through our thematic approach.

A few quotes from Ofsted themselves on this matter… 

Curriculum: Keeping it Simple

GOV.UK Blog December 2021

There will always be consultants offering their own advice on how to prepare for an Ofsted inspection. Unfortunately, this advice can often be overcomplicated and can divert your energy from the simple things that matter.

What to expect on a primary deep dive – some guidance for subject leaders

GOV.UK Blog February 2022

Ofsted does not consider it necessary for schools to design their curriculums themselves. Whatever it is you do, it hasn’t got to be all singing and dancing. Your curriculum just needs to be ambitious and coherent. Schools have the flexibility to organise their curriculums as they want to – and to adopt the language as they see fit.

In July 2022 Chris Russell, National Director of Education at Ofsted stated:

“We do not expect curriculum to be perfect or a ‘finished article’……Indeed, the best curriculum thinking is always evolving to meet changing circumstances. Inspection supports this approach to continuous improvement.”

In summary, there is no Ofsted expectation or evidence that the curriculum should be either thematic or subject based. There is an understanding that, if schools are to meet the needs of their pupils with a curriculum that is accessible to all, including those with SEND, there is no one size fits all approach.

So, let’s return to where we started…

‘Ofsted don’t like the thematic curriculum approach’.

Using the research and data from schools using our ‘Learning Means the World’ thematic curriculum, we have found there is no evidence to support this statement. It is not grounded in fact. 

Our rich, relevant and rigorous approach to curriculum design has proved to be key to ensuring pupils learn more, can articulate their learning and are ready for their next steps in education.

If you’d like to implement a thematic curriculum, but are nervous about what Ofsted will think, look no further than ‘Learning Means the World’! 

For more information, go to https://dimensionscurriculum.co.uk/learning-means-the-world/

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