Ofsted subject deep dive: what you need to know

Ofsted deep dive prep and questions

What is an Ofsted deep dive and how can you prepare for it?

Ofsted inspectors are performing deep dives into subjects as part of their investigations into curriculum, following the launch of the updated inspection framework in September 2019.

The deep dive approach aims to examine the quality of education in schools thoroughly. So, how will your school fare in the face of a subject deep dive?

Let’s find out what Ofsted will be looking for, so we can guide you through the process of getting your curriculum, teachers and pupils ready for the challenge.

What is an Ofsted deep dive?

An Ofsted deep dive is the terminology used for a detailed investigation into your curriculum to determine its quality.

As part of a deep dive, Ofsted inspectors will look to gather evidence around how the school teaches a particular subject. And they won’t stop at a single deep dive: inspectors will perform several during an inspection, to establish their opinion on your school’s provision.

How many subject deep dives will Ofsted do?

For primary school inspections, you can expect Ofsted inspectors to take deep dives into reading and probably maths, too – as well as at least one other foundation subject.

For secondary schools, inspectors are likely to perform four to six subject deep dives, gathering evidence on how schools teach the subject across different year groups.

What’s the reason for an Ofsted deep dive?

Crucially, an Ofsted deep dive isn’t about how the school aims to teach a specific subject. Instead, inspectors are looking for a realistic understanding of how pupils are learning about the subject in practice on a daily basis.

The critical phrase Ofsted inspectors use when doing subject deep dives is: “let’s see that in action together”. From here, they’ll observe, gather evidence and determine how well you’re teaching the subject in real-time.

Showing the subject in action helps inspectors during an Ofsted deep dive

What does an Ofsted deep dive include?

When carrying out a deep dive in your school, Ofsted inspectors will be looking to do the following:

  • Assess SLT’s aims for the subject, as well as their grasp of how it’s taught and understood
  • See how curriculum leaders and teachers think about, plan and teach a subject
  • Investigate how teachers choose and sequence lesson content
  • Observe connected lessons, look at pupils’ work from these lessons and discuss the subject with pupils

How to prepare for an Ofsted deep dive

Don’t just box-tick

Coverage is easy; learning is hard. Therefore, when shooting for subject depth, merely ticking boxes and offering surface-level content will fall short of the mark in the eyes of an Ofsted inspector.

Teaching and learning should be the focus, not delivery and coverage. After all, you’re teachers, not the Post Office – so show how you teach, rather than deliver a subject.

Show clear progression 

It’s essential to show inspectors clear progression across subjects. How does your school model progression when it comes to developing skills? Do your teachers and your pupils understand what they’re aiming to achieve, and how they’ll do it?

When conducting a deep dive into a subject, Ofsted is attempting to find out what your knowledge progression model is, and how you define, sequence and articulate it.

Pupils must know the subject well enough to comfortably discuss it in a way that demonstrates their understanding and shows their developing skills.

Understand the bigger picture

Subject leaders need to be very familiar with the big picture of their area, especially how they map their curriculum and how they sequence learning for all age groups.

Without this, inspectors may feel the subject is only covered superficially, rather than given the full consideration to embed it firmly and successfully in pupils’ understanding.

Subject ownership

Teachers need to take ownership of subjects to navigate an Ofsted deep dive into each area successfully.

Make sure you’re building on prior learning – this means you can’t just work in isolation, but you need to see how your lessons fit into pupils’ overall learning journey.

Articulate learning

Pupils need to be able to articulate their learning within a subject and see how it links to prior learning, understanding the big ideas that thread through the curriculum.

Focus on quality over quantity

When carrying out a subject deep dive, Ofsted inspectors are looking for quality over quantity.

The “quality of education” measure focuses firmly on curriculum and investigates three key factors: intent, implementation and impact.

Intent looks at on how you define the scope of your curriculum. What are you setting out to achieve in terms of developing knowledge and skills? When exploring your intent, inspectors will be looking to ascertain how you design, map and sequence your curriculum.

Implementation investigates how your curriculum works in practice. How do you teach it and assess it? In what ways do you support pupils to progress in this subject area?

Impact determines outcomes. Can your pupils demonstrably show more skills and knowledge in this area than they could at the start?

Crucially, inspecting the quality of education through a subject deep dive takes a holistic approach, by judging first-hand how all three of the above factors play out in your school.  

Ofsted deep dive questions

Here are some questions Ofsted inspectors might ask SLT, curriculum leaders and teachers when doing a deep dive into a particular subject:

  1. What curriculum do you follow/have in place?
  2. Why was this curriculum chosen?
  3. What are the pros and cons of the curriculum you follow?
  4. Why is your curriculum structured in this way?
  5. Can you demonstrate how your curriculum covers the National Curriculum?
  6. How do you track, evidence and assess progression in this subject?
  7. What do you expect pupils to know/be able to do by the end of the year/phase?
  8. What made you choose this particular lesson?
  9. If pupils aren’t meeting the expected standards, what measures do you have in place to support them?
  10. How do you manage the transition from EYFS to Year 1 in this subject?
  11. What curriculum CPD provision do you have in place?
  12. What should we be expecting to see in a [subject] lesson today?

Most importantly, remember to stay calm and optimistic ahead of an Ofsted deep dive. Providing you and your colleagues are confident in your curriculum and your ability to teach it successfully, this should shine through when inspectors assess how different subjects are taught and learned.

If you need help finding the right curriculum to shine during an Ofsted deep dive into foundation subject areas, we’re here to help you.  

What Ofsted inspectors say about Dimensions’ global curriculum

The following quote was taken from an Ofsted report received by one of our member schools.

“They provide a curriculum which enables pupils to experience the world beyond the school and local community. Teachers have a secure knowledge of the subjects they teach. They organise the order in which pupils learn knowledge effectively. Staff make learning exciting, practical and link pupils’ learning to other subjects.”

Garvestone Community Primary School, Ofsted Report January 2020

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