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Ofsted Deep Dives: Just Keep Swimming

14 Nov 2019

We’ve all engaged with the rumours, heard the whispers and liked the memes when it comes to Ofsted Deep Dives, but maybe it’s time we all took a step back and really asked the question on the tip of everybody’s tongue: what are they?!

Even more importantly: should I be worried? (The answer to which is no, they are intended to work in favour of teachers and their work-life balance.)

What are Deep Dives?

In answer to the first question, I am going to do my best to summarise my understanding of Deep Dives and hopefully, provide some insight into how schools and teachers can prepare for them before they get ‘the call’.

In May 2019, the ‘Quality of Education’ judgement was introduced into the new Ofsted inspection framework. The idea is to give the inspectors (and anybody subsequently reading the inspection report) a more comprehensive look at the school, the curriculum and the overall summary of Ofsted’s findings. In order to do this, they are now going to be conducting a four-tiered inspection. 

Beginning with a conversation with SLT about the overarching decisions concerning the curriculum, they will then perform their ‘Deep dives’ of reading, writing, (usually) maths and then a selection of other foundation subjects. The Deep Dive involves gathering evidence on the curriculum intent, implementation and impact over a sample of subjects, topics or aspects. This is done in collaboration with leaders, teachers and pupils. Inspectors will then move on to work through collecting evidence to back up their findings in the Deep Dive (or to contradict them!). This is done through lesson observations, book scrutinies, conversations with students and further conversations with SLT and curriculum area leaders. The inspectors will then meet and bring all the evidence together, referring back to the previous conversations and scrutinies as necessary.

Should I be worried about the Deep Dives?

A big concern a lot of teachers seem to have about this is if their ‘worst’ subject will be checked. Being the lead for MFL isn’t something all teachers take on willingly and therefore being subjected to a ‘Deep Dive’ in MFL is a scary prospect. It’s worth bearing in mind that Ofsted are very clear that they will not base their judgement on anyone subject but will ensure that the evidence they gather shows a realistic view of teaching across the curriculum. If they do find that MFL is an issue, for example, they would then look into another subject and check if this is an issue across other subjects.

Another worry is the amount of preparation needed to prepare for the Deep Dives if you are a leader of several curriculum areas: this is a particular worry for those teaching in small schools. It’s worth reiterating that Ofsted have confirmed that this is all taken into account during their inspection - they know the challenges smaller schools face but know that the children can and should be offered the same breadth of curriculum as larger schools. The whole point of the four-tiered inspection is to ensure that the accountability doesn’t always lie at the subject teacher’s door - the process behind how that aspect of the curriculum is planned is a focus and this should be a shared responsibility, beginning with SLT.

What are my priorities?

The important thing to remember among all the scaremongering and panic is that, despite popular belief, the point of the OFSTED inspection is not to catch anybody out but to work with schools and teachers to ensure pupils are being given the opportunity to access the best, most comprehensive curriculum possible. If you are now realising that you aren’t sure of the reasoning behind aspects of your area of the curriculum, now is the time to sit down your line manager and discuss it - the more understanding you have of the whys, whats and hows, the smoother you Deep Dive will be. 

So when the time comes, don’t panic, remember what you’re in it for and just keep swimming!


Rose Moss is the Product Owner of Leader's Digest, Twinkl's dedicated hub for school SLT members who need informed access to the latest DfE/OFSTED policy updates. They deliver them in digestible chunks with supporting documents, and even best practice examples.


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