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Ofsted Deep Dives: Example Questions And Effective Ways To Prepare

Need to prepare your school for the Ofsted Deep Dive? This blog explores the common questions and how you can best prepare for them! Read on for more information on Ofsted deep dives and know what to expect!

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What Are Ofsted Deep Dives?

Ofsted deep dives are conducted by Ofsted in order to get a better understanding of a school’s curriculum. They are aiming to see the overall quality of education being delivered in your school. 

The deep dive will usually explore between 2 and 5 foundation subjects (depending on the  size of your school) and reading will always be a part of a primary school inspection. 

The other subjects are individually decided for each school. They are gathering evidence for the curriculum’s intent, implementation and impact.

Emile diver addition

Before The Dive

Before Ofsted deep dives begin, there is a roughly 90 minute over-the-phone discussion about curriculum plans. During this conservation, the inspector will talk to the headteacher and senior leaders about curriculum plans and the approach to teaching – it’s sequencing. This is a fairly broad conversation and is an introduction to your curriculum – inspectors need to see an overall, top-level view of your curriculum. This conversation also allows the headteacher to explain the context and challenges of the school. 

Some of the questions that may be asked:

  1. How have you designed your curriculum and why?
  2.  How ambitious is your curriculum for all children?
  3. What is it that your curriculum is trying to achieve?
  4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum?
  5. How does your curriculum meet the school’s aims?

What To Expect

Ofsted deep dives consist of 6 key features:

  1. Evaluation of senior leaders’ intent for the curriculum in their subject and their understanding of its implementation and impact.
  2. Evaluation of curriculum leaders’ long-term thinking and planning, including the rationale for content choices and the curriculum sequence.
  3. Visits to deliberately connected lessons.
  4. Work scrutiny of books or other kinds of work produced by pupils, who are part of classes that have also been observed by inspectors.
  5. Discussion with teachers to understand how the curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support effective learning.
  6. Discussions with a group of pupils from the lessons observed.

This list may seem a little daunting at first, however your school will be more prepared than you feel! Most schools will dread the Ofsted call and I’m sure that the majority will have a plan in place for when the day does arrive. Just keep in mind that they really are there to help improve your school and thus your pupils’ learning! Be prepared and remain calm (as best you can!)

Early Reading Deep Dive

Reading is a topic which is guaranteed to be a part of Ofsted deep dives, so this is the one to prepare for!

There are 6 elements that are explored for early reading:

1. Prioritise reading:

  1. Subject Leaders – How do you ensure that the teaching of early reading is prioritised?
  2. Can you provide examples of this?

2. Students love reading:

  1. Subject Leaders – How often do teachers read to children? 
  2. How do you support teachers to ensure story times are engaging?
  3. How do you decide the stories children get to know inside out? How do you get parents to love reading to their children? 
  4. How do you select the books that you are going to read to children?
  5. Teachers  – Which books have you enjoyed reading to your children recently?
  6.  Pupils – Can you show me your favourite books? 
  7. What makes this one your favourite?
  8.  Do you take it home to read/share?

3. Programme and progress:

  1. Subject Leaders I see that your PSC score is X. I would like to explore how your programme allows you to achieve this year after year. (Or if PSC is below 95%) What plans do you have to improve this Year 1 PSC next year? 
  2. Let’s look at some of the elements for word reading and spelling from the national curriculum. How do you ensure that all children remember the sounds for letters, digraphs, trigraphs, (mnemonics, repitition); blend the sounds into words; read exception words; learn correct letter formation and learn to spell?
  3. Could you tell me what you want your children to learn – term by term – so that they meet the PSC standard by the end of Year 1?
  4. How much time do children spend learning phonics, reading and writing?
  5. What do you do to ensure that children continue to make progress in reading accuracy and fluency in Year 2 and beyond?

4. Books that match sounds:

  1. Subject Leaders – How do you ensure that children’s reading books help them practise the sounds that they have learned?
  2.  How do children increase their reading fluency?
  3.  Which books do children take home to read? 
  4. How often do children change these books? 
  5. How do parents listen to their children read these books?

5. Phonics from the beginning: 

  1. Reception teacher – When do you start to teach children letter-sound correspondences? 
  2. How many sounds will your children be able to read at the end of each term?
  3. We are now at (reference point to the time of year) Where are the children up to? 
  4. Which children are not at this point? (Check arrival points) 
  5. It would be lovely to see what they do know. Would you be able to show me?)

6. Catch-up:

  1. Subject Leaders – How do you know which children are not on track with the pace of the school’s phonics programme? 
  2. How quickly do you spot children not keeping up? 
  3. What support is in place to let these children catch up quickly? 
  4. What do you do to make sure new children catch up if they are behind their peers?
  5. Teachers – How do you spot children who are not keeping up with the pace of your phonics/reading programme? 
  6. What support is in place to help these pupils keep up with their peers?

Science Deep Dive

Science is a core subject and thus may come up as a chosen subject in a deep dive. To alleviate some of the pressure on science subject leaders, here’s some of the things you can expect!

There are roughly 8 elements that are discussed as a part of the science deep dive:

1. Curriculum coverage

The best piece of advice I could give is to know what is covered in the EYFS! The national curriculum has clear topics for each year group and if these are followed, your school is guaranteed to show progression.

2. Staff training and support for new staff

Ensuring that your less confident staff are comfortable and supported in teaching science is key. Note down times that you have helped these staff members – perhaps a website that you have shown them to assist them. Ofsted inspectors will be looking at how students are being taught science, so it’s important that all staff are supported and capable!

3. Scientific vocabulary

Ofsted will be looking to see that students are using accurate scientific vocabulary in both their books and in lesson time. Teachers are encouraged to have a scientific vocabulary board in the classroom or perhaps a word mat with this vocabulary on.

4. Book scrutiny

When looking at students’ books, make sure that they are writing down lesson objectives at the start of each correlating lesson. Ensure that there is a clear progression shown and that all content covered links to your curriculum.

5. Curriculum links

Osfted will want to see that you are linking science to other subjects in your curriculum e.g., reading. Gather some examples from student books to show inspectors.

6. Resourcing and trips

Note down all the planned science trips that are taking place and how they fit into the curriculum. As the science subject leader, you should have/plan to have all the correct resources necessary. 

7. Action plan

Be sure that your action plan is recently updated! If there is a weakness to be addressed, don’t try to hide it. Identify the issue and explain the plan in place to strengthen the area.

8. Lesson observations

Make sure that you observe a science lesson with a member of the SLT. You may be asked to observe lessons alongside an Ofsted inspector – why not first do this with a colleague?

Maths Deep Dive

Maths is a core subject and although not guaranteed, is likely to come up as a deep dive topic. Inspections for a maths deep dive will follow a similar pattern to the science deep dive.

Here are some frequently asked questions: 

  1. How has your curriculum been affected by lockdown?
  2. How are your students learning for the long term?
  3. How are you prioritising your key content?
  4. How do you use interventions?
  5. How do you share your expectations with your staff?
  6. What does staff CPD look like for your school?
  7. How do you know that your calculation policy is effective?
  8. How do you secure staff knowledge?
  9. How would you support a member of staff who was struggling to teach maths?
  10. What does assessment look like in maths?
  11. How do you check that staff are following what is expected of them?
  12. How are SEND included in your maths curriculum?
  13. How do you support new members of staff with your maths developments in school?
  14. How are your students challenged in maths?
  15. Do you feel that maths is a strength?
  16. Do your students enjoy maths?
  17. Do you get enough support in maths?
  18. How is Maths linked to the wider curriculum?
  19. How do you ensure that new students have no gaps in their knowledge?
  20. Which maths schemes (if any) do you use and why?

Questions that may be asked to students:

  1. Do you enjoy learning maths?
  2. Are you challenged in maths lessons?
  3. Do you get help in maths, if so how much?
  4. How do you know what you are learning today?
  5. What would you change about maths if you could?
  6. What was maths home learning like?
  7. Are you taught maths everyday?

Meeting Curriculum Leaders


Ofsted inspectors are likely to want to talk to whoever leads a subject as close to the start of a deep dive as possible. This helps them to get a sense of the ‘big picture’. Don’t worry if the subject isn’t an area of specialism for you! What matters most is what you want your pupils to learn and the reasons why. It is your choice how you record and set out your curriculum expectations!

Ofsted deep dives will expore things such as:

  1. Does the subject curriculum match the scope and ambition of the national curriculum?
  2. Are there clear end points? 
  3. Can they see how content is broken down into manageable chunks to build towards said end points?
  4. Are the identified chunks logically sequenced?
  5. Do they prepare pupils for the learning that is coming?
  6. Ofsted will want to talk in depth about a specific deep dive subject with a subject leader. They will ask that you to go into the specifics of that subject e.g., where does paint work take place in art lessons? Final judgements will be made on the curriculum overall, not on one specific subject.
  7. Inspectors won’t look at internal progress and attainment data.

Smaller Primary Schools

Ofsted inspects around 1,300 schools and have been very clear that they understand smaller primary schools may not have the same resources as larger schools. What matters most to Ofsted is the quality of each student’s education!

They are also aware that Ofsted deep dives can really impact teachers in small schools and so the inspectors will work with the headteacher to manage the demands that may be put on teachers.

MTC Classroom worksheets

Smaller schools often have teachers that are subject leaders for multiple subjects. Ofsted inspectors will take this into account and avoid doing multiple Ofsted deep dives with the same subject leader.

Below is a video from the Ofsted Youtube channel. This is part of a playlist they have, which explores everything that your school may need for Ofsted deep dives and much more informative content!

Tips For Ofsted Deep Dives

In order to fully prepare for Ofsted deep dives, here are a few top tips for your school:

  1.  As a subject leader, know your subject. Ask yourself some key questions as this is what Ofsted deep dives will cover.
  2. Run a staff meeting outlining the curriculum – if you can explain your rationale to staff, you can explain it to Ofsted! This can also help you to address any staff worries. 
  3. Ensure student books are in a good and up-to-date condition – inspectors will carry out a scrutiny of books or other kinds of work produced by pupils.
  4. Create a checklist of all the things you need to get together if your school gets the call – it’ll keep you from getting stressed!
  5. Don’t complete mock deep dives! This will only increase your stress and workload.
  6. Be honest with inspectors – know your weaknesses and have a plan to improve them!
  7. Don’t take their comments to heart – they are there to improve your school and help better your students’ education.
to do list - ofsted deep dives

Click here to see what Ofsted have to say about the deep dive!

To conclude, don’t fear Ofsted deep dives! Whilst this is easier said than done, they are there to ensure that your students are getting the best education that you can give them. Have a good rest the night before and be warm, friendly and welcoming! You’re the experts of your subjects so be confident in your abilities!

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