How to Prepare for an Ofsted Deep Dive

Deep dive

The new Ofsted framework really gives more time for Ofsted inspectors to look at lines of enquiry and subjects in some depth: the now-famous Jacques Cousteau ‘deep dive’. This should hopefully allow the school time to talk in rich detail about its teaching in different subjects, especially now that the ‘grace period’ has been extended.

Are you deep-diving into Core & Foundation subjects?

As a subject leader do you know what the new Ofsted framework introduced in September 2019 means for you and your role. There is certainly more emphasis on the curriculum and each individual subject will be under scrutiny. This article will answer the following: 

• How can you make sure that you are ready?
• How can you prepare your department/colleagues for inspection?
• How can you and your team prepare for a deep dive into the curriculum?

What is an Ofsted Deep Dive?

Ofsted deep dives are a key part of the new Ofsted Inspection Framework’s curriculum focus. An Ofsted inspection of any school, primary or secondary, will now include ‘deep dives’ into particular subjects or areas (e.g. maths or EYFS) which Ofsted will choose alongside the Headteacher and will inform you of prior to the inspection.

If you are the ‘chosen one’ then an Ofsted deep dive is an in-depth examination of a subject by inspectors. It is part of the inspector’s requirement to monitor the 3 Is – Intent, Implementation and Impact – of the curriculum.

How many Ofsted Deep Dives will Inspectors carry out in your school?

According to the new framework, the intent behind a deep dive is to “establish a coherent base on quality of education”; so multiple deep dives will give inspectors a connected sample of lessons with which to establish a clearer idea of the overall teaching quality of the school.

Depending on whether Ofsted is carrying out an inspection over one or two days and the size of a school, inspectors will usually take a deep dive into between four and six subjects.

“Each deep dive will typically focus on a sample of four to six subjects, looking at a wide variety of pupils in different year groups across that sample.”
Ofsted 2019

This joined up approach is important, as inspectors will not judge either the lessons or the books in isolation. The deep dive format allows them to cross reference and triangulate their decisions.

Which subjects will they choose for an Ofsted Deep Dive?

Reading will always be included in a deep dive in primary inspection, but the remaining subjects are decided on an individual basis and often through discussion with the school leadership team. Some subjects are chosen if they have been identified by the school as a priority for development, or even a strength of the school.

Arrange for a Mock Deep Dive in your school or subject area
Contact our Inspection team to arrange a ‘Mentoring Dive’ to reassure your team & allay any fears

 Planning for a deep dive in your school

As a subject leader it is important that you prepare yourself to answer Ofsted’s questions in advance, as they will conduct a short interview with you. Think clearly about your curriculum intent: what are you trying to achieve through your curriculum?

What curriculum / schemes do you follow and why?

How is the curriculum sequenced and why?

The ‘why’ is particularly important – you need to believe in what you’re saying!
Some senior leaders are already coaching middle leaders in what to say to the inspectors, often because they feel the inspectors will want to see consistency, which they will, but not at the expense of middle leaders’ ownership of the curriculum. This also pre-supposes that they will always ask the same questions, which is not necessarily the case.

JMC offer training for your Middle and Senior Leaders: Preparing for a Curriculum Deep Dive
You might also be interested in The Ofsted Ready Leadership Team
or The Ofsted Ready School

Work scrutiny for a Deep Dive

As a subject leader you need to know what the inspectors will see when they look at the books. Carry out your own book scrutiny as a team. Can you see progression and different levels of challenge?

Planning for accurate self-evaluation

With the ‘grace’ period extended on inspection some parts the curriculum intent (see separate post here), it’s important to be honest about your strengths and areas for development. The inspectors need to understand what you are planning to do and see that solid development work is already underway. Ofsted will be looking at whether schools have concrete plans for being on their way to meeting those criteria. They do say that they will look favourably on schools where – based on leaders’ actions – the quality of education could reasonably be expected to be good by September 2021.

What else can I do as a subject leader to prepare for a Deep Dive?

We hope that this article has been useful in helping you prepare, but there is no substitute for face to face training. JMC can help your whole middle and senior leadership team plan your curriculum to meet your local context and prepare effectively for subject Deep Dives in both Primary and Secondary phases. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help your school.

School feedback on our Deep Dive & Curriculum Planning training has been overwhelmingly positive :


“Absolutely brilliant, I feel so much more informed and energised”
Katherine Letts, Director of Science ( Core Leadership Group) , St Laurence School


“Very well delivered and above & beyond what was advertised! ” – Alan Glasgow


“Thank you, you made everything seem less scary”- Richard Stubbs


“Outstanding – extremely helpful & has built my confidence” – Miranda Rawlinson


“Really useful for what a deep dive means and what to say to Ofsted” – Justin Jones

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