Last reviewed on 2 September 2022
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Ofsted's 'quality of education' measure puts your curriculum in the spotlight. Understand how inspectors will judge your intent, implementation and impact, and the evidence they'll consider. Also see what's changed now the transition period is over.

Transition period has ended, but you're not expected to meet all criteria to stay 'good'

Ofsted ended its curriculum transition arrangements in September 2022. It previously put these arrangements in place to help schools transition to the 2019 Ofsted framework, and extended them due to the pandemic.

However, even though the transition period has ended, Ofsted recognises that schools are likely to always be revising elements of their curriculum, and won't suddenly expect you to meet every single criterion to remain 'good'.

Ofsted has added a new 'good' grade descriptor for ‘quality of education’

This is to show it recognises that some schools will have some aspects of their curriculum more developed than others, for example if your school has made changes due to COVID-19.

The curriculum may undergo necessary changes (for example, following a review by senior leaders or to take account of COVID-19) and certain aspects may be more developed than others. Where this is the case, these changes do not prevent all pupils having access to an appropriately broad and ambitious curriculum. Where adaptations to curriculum breadth are made for particular pupils, there is a clear rationale for why this is in those pupils’ interests, and, where appropriate, there is a clear plan for returning all pupils to studying the full curriculum.

Read more about the transitional arrangements in our other article, and read the full grade descriptors in paragraphs 410 to 411 of the School Inspection Handbook (September 2022).

You're expected to provide a 32.5-hour school week by September 2023

This was set out in the government's 2022 white paper, so it's not statutory just yet – though, you're likely already providing these hours.

Ofsted will consider it as part of the 'quality of education' judgement. If your school is not meeting the 32.5-hour expectation and this impacts the quality of education, inspectors will:

  • Reflect this in their evaluation of your school and their inspection report 
  • Expect your school to set out a clear rationale for not meeting the expectation and understand what impact it has on the quality of education
  • Want to understand what plans you have to meet the expectation

This is explained in paragraph 210 of the School Inspection Handbook (September 2022).

3 central concepts: 'intent, implementation and impact'

Ofsted’s working definition of ‘curriculum’ focuses on these 3 concepts: 

Intent: the extent to which your curriculum (through its design, structure and sequence) sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain at each stage, including that it: 

  • Is ambitious and designed to give pupils (particularly disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND)), the knowledge they need to take advantage of opportunities, responsibilities and experiences in later life
  • Is planned and sequenced so that:
    • The end points it's working towards are clear
    • Pupils develop the knowledge and skills, building on what has been taught before, so they can reach those end points
  • Has rigour, where relevant, so that pupils learn the knowledge that they need to answer subject-specific questions and to gain disciplinary knowledge of how the subject works (but, this shouldn't prevent a topic-based or thematic approach)
  • Accounts for delays and gaps in learning as a result of the pandemic
  • Is as broad as possible for as long as possible, including when delivered remotely. Your school does not offer disadvantaged pupils or pupils with SEND a reduced curriculum

Implementation: the way your curriculum is taught and assessed, in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills. Your teachers should: 

  • Have expert knowledge of the subjects they teach and be supported to address gaps in their knowledge so that pupils are not disadvantaged by ineffective teaching
  • Present information clearly, promote appropriate discussion, check pupils’ understanding systematically, and identify misunderstandings and adapt teaching as necessary
  • Deliver the subject curriculum in a way that allows pupils to transfer key knowledge to long-term memory
  • Use assessment to check pupils’ understanding to inform teaching, and to help pupils embed key concepts, use knowledge fluently and develop their understanding, and not simply memorise disconnected facts
  • Consider the most important knowledge or concepts that pupils need to know and focus on these, and prioritise feedback, retrieval practice and assessment
  • Make sure that remote education (if needed) allows all pupils to access lessons and learn, and monitor pupils’ engagement and communicate with parents and colleagues effectively if there are concerns

Impact: the outcomes pupils achieve as a result of the education they've received – they should know more and be able to do more than when they started. All pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND, should:

  • Acquire the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life
  • Make progress, in that they know more, remember more and are able to do more. They're learning what is intended in the curriculum
  • Produce work of high quality
  • Achieve well in national tests and examinations, where relevant
  • Be prepared for their next stage of education, training or employment at each stage of their learning (including whether pupils in sixth form are ready for the next stage and are going on to appropriate, high-quality destinations)
  • Be able to read to an age-appropriate level and fluency

Inspectors won't judge intent, implementation and impact as 3 separate measures – they'll consider them all as part of your ‘quality of education’ judgement.

Recovery from the pandemic

  • Remote education (if relevant) won't be evaluated separately – it will be evaluated as part of the wider curriculum
  • Where you're employing tutors to support education recovery, inspectors will consider how this supports your curriculum aims (they won't evaluate the quality of the tutoring)

This is explained in paragraphs 214 and 220 of the School Inspection Handbook (September 2022).

3 elements of the inspection process

A top-level view

Who's involved? 

Senior leadership team (SLT) and curriculum leaders.

How will inspectors do this? 

Inspections begin with an in-depth conversation about the curriculum and will use the official inspection data summary report (IDSR) as a starting point. 

Note: inspectors will use 2022 outcomes cautiously, and will only use 2021/22 data to inform discussions about pupil outcomes. You won't be marked down on 2021/22 data alone.

Inspectors will discuss:

  • What’s on offer
  • Who it’s for
  • When it’s being delivered
  • The school's context
  • Leaders’ understanding of curriculum intent and sequencing
  • Why content and sequencing decisions were made

This is covered in paragraph 215 of the School Inspection Handbook (September 2022) and page 4 of Ofsted's guidance on inspecting the curriculum.

A ‘deep dive’ into specific areas, subjects or topics to gain first-hand evidence

Who's involved? 

Senior leadership team (SLT), curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils.

How will inspectors do this? 

Inspectors will gather evidence on intent, implementation and impact over a sample of subjects, topics or aspects identified in the conversations you had in the top-level view. To do this, they’ll carry out as many activities as possible with you and your curriculum leaders. They'll agree with the headteacher which subjects will receive a deep dive during the preparatory phone call the day before the inspection.

In primary schools, 'deep dives' will look at:

  • Typically 3 to 5 subjects (depending on the size of your school and the inspection team)
  • Always reading
  • Always 1 or more foundation subjects
  • Often maths

And in secondary schools:

  • Typically 4 to 6 subjects (depending on the size of your school and the inspection team)
  • A wide variety of pupils, in different year groups across that sample

Inspectors will gather evidence for each selected subject through: 

  • Talking about the curriculum with leaders
  • Conversations with teachers 
  • Joint visits to lessons
    • Inspectors will discuss with you which lessons they'll visit 
    • Where possible, they'll visit several lessons for the same curriculum area/subject
    • Inspectors will invite the headteacher, subject leaders and/or other leaders to take part in these joint visits
  • Work scrutinies:
    • Reviewing at least 6 workbooks or pieces of work per lesson observed
    • Scrutinising work in depth from at least 2 year groups
  • Talking to and observing pupils (in addition to joint visits)

Identification of patterns and areas for further examination

Who's involved? 

Senior leadership team (SLT), curriculum leaders, teachers, governors and pupils.

How will inspectors do this? 

They’ll triangulate the evidence gathered in a 'deep dive' to test whether any issues they uncovered are systemic and which are isolated to a single aspect (for example, a particular teacher, subject or year group). 

Read more in Ofsted's guidance on inspecting the curriculum.

What will come up in conversations about your curriculum 

Here’s what the conversations in the ‘deep dive’ will cover:  

Conversations with ...

SLT

  • Evaluation of your intent for the curriculum in a subject or area being inspected, and your understanding of its implementation and impact
  • Teachers' content and pedagogical knowledge, and how you're supporting them, including with remote education

Read what questions inspectors might ask you and your SLT.

Curriculum leaders

  • Evaluation of your long- and medium-term thinking and planning, including your rationale for content choices and curriculum sequencing 
  • The programmes of study that classes are following for particular subjects or topics, the intended end points, and your view on how pupils are progressing
  • Teachers' content and pedagogical knowledge, and how you're supporting them, including with remote education
  • How the school's curriculum has been delivered remotely, and reviews of pupils' work completed remotely

Find out what Ofsted might ask middle leaders.

Teachers

  • How the curriculum informs your decisions about content and sequencing to support effective learning
  • The programmes of study that classes are following for particular subjects or topics, the intended end points, and your view on how pupils are progressing
  • How often you're expected to record, upload and review data
  • How the school's curriculum has been delivered remotely, and reviews of pupils' work completed remotely

See what Ofsted might ask teachers.

Pupils

  • What they've remembered about the content they've studied
  • In primary schools, listening to a range of pupils read

How inspectors will collect other evidence

Inspectors will rely heavily on first-hand evidence, including the conversations above.

There won't be 1 type that's more important than another – inspectors will triangulate the evidence and the focus will be on how all of the evidence fits together and what it tells inspectors about whether pupils are knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more.

Work scrutinies

Inspectors will look at pupils’ work. They won't grade individual pieces of work or teachers, or evaluate their marking schemes.

The purpose is to evaluate whether pupils know more and can do more, and whether the knowledge and skills learned are well sequenced and developed incrementally. 

Inspectors won't randomly select samples of work, but will choose them in connection with other evidence and the focus of the 'deep dive'. 

They’ll look at work in context alongside other evidence (such as conversations with pupils), to check that pupils do actually know and remember more about parts of the curriculum that your school has covered.

Joint visits to lessons

Inspectors will visit lessons and will invite the SLT and curriculum leaders to take part in joint visits. 

For each 'deep dive', they'll deliberately and explicitly choose a sample of 4 to 6 lessons in connection with other evidence and the focus of the 'deep dive'. They won't grade individual lessons or teachers.

The purpose of lesson observations is for inspectors to form a rounded view of the quality of education, and gather evidence which will contribute to the 'behaviour and attitudes' judgement.

Documentation and data specific to the curriculum

Inspectors will review schemes of work or other long-term planning in whatever form you usually use these documents (e.g. curriculum maps, knowledge organisers). This will usually be alongside discussion with curriculum leaders.

In terms of the impact your curriculum is having, inspectors will look at:

  • Nationally generated performance information about pupils' progress and attainment (available in the inspection data summary report – IDSR)
    • Inspectors will be mindful of the age of national data, and 2020/21 teacher assessed grades won't be used to assess curriculum impact
  • Nationally published information about the destinations to which your pupils progress when leaving school

Your internal assessment data alone isn’t enough to show progress or effectiveness 

If you collect non-statutory data in your school, inspectors will be interested to know what conclusions you've drawn, how it informs your curriculum and teaching, and what actions you've taken as a result of it.

In a nutshell: what’s an 'outstanding' quality of education?

Your quality of education is 'outstanding' when: 

  • Everyone knows your curriculum intent (what you're teaching pupils and why you're teaching them that) and how it's being implemented, including what it means for them
  • Across all parts of the school, series of lessons contribute well to delivering the curriculum intent
  • The curriculum, schemes of work, lessons and work given to pupils are coherently sequenced and planned so that pupils know more, can do more, and remember more
  • Pupils' work across the curriculum is consistently of a high quality
  • Pupils consistently achieve highly, particularly the most disadvantaged
  • Pupils with SEND achieve exceptionally well

You also need to ‘securely and consistently’ meet the criteria for a ‘good’ quality of education. 

See the full criteria for both grade descriptors below paragraphs 410 and 411 of the School Inspection Handbook (September 2022). 

Recap: 7 myths about the process, busted

  • 'Intent', 'implementation' and 'impact' won't be judged separately
  • Ofsted doesn't specify how you should lay out curriculum or lesson planning, how long it should take or the detail it should go into
  • You don't need to provide individual lesson plans
  • There doesn't need to be a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils' books
  • Ofsted won't grade individual lessons, teachers or books
  • You don't need to provide recordings of live lessons delivered remotely (unless you normally store them for staff/pupils to use later)
  • You'll be judged fairly for taking a radically different approach to the curriculum, as long as it's got appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing, and you've implemented it effectively
megaphone icon Article updates
2 September 2022

We updated this article to more closely reflect Ofsted's updated inspection handbook (in force from September 2022).

17 February 2022

We've updated this article to:

  • Reflect that the transitional period is now in place until September 2022
  • Clarify that Ofsted will look at information about the curriculum on your school website when preparing for your monitoring inspection if you were judged 'requires improvement'
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