Ofsted Deep Dives: How to deal with common questions

While schools continue to adapt to changing conditions, Ofsted inspections have resumed across the UK. Since 2019’s New Ofsted Framework, a vital element of an Ofsted inspection has been the ‘Deep Dive’.

Ofsted intends to use the Deep Dive to form a ‘quality of education’ judgement overall across a school. These Ofsted changes mean that the focus on grading lessons or teachers has gone, as have random book scrutinies. The focus is now on comparing evidence from a range of targeted subjects. Deep dives take place after an initial telephone conversation with school leaders.


“A Deep Dive involves gathering evidence on the curriculum intent, implementation, and impact of a sample of subjects … to interrogate and establish a coherent evidence base on the quality of education.”  Ofsted Inspecting the Curriculum, May 2019

A Deep Dive combines evidence from the following:

  • Senior leaders: curriculum intent, implementation and impact
  • Curriculum Leaders: long and medium-term curriculum planning, content choices
  • Lesson Observations: targeted sample of lessons
  • Book scrutinies: linked to observations
  • Teachers: discussions regarding how curriculum informs planning
  • Pupils: discussions about the observed lessons

Primary Schools will receive a Deep Dive in Reading and most likely one in Maths and at least one foundation subject. Ofsted Inspectors visit lessons to evaluate how they work within a sequence. The assessment is the unit of lessons, not the lesson itself.

At least four to six lessons per subject are observed alongside conversations with curriculum leaders and teachers to establish where each lesson belongs within the sequence. Book scrutinies and discussions with pupils contribute to the inspectors’ final assessment.

A minimum of six books from observed lessons will be reviewed for each subject, while at least two year groups’ books will be examined in depth. 

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Subject leaders need to demonstrate a clear vision for their subject and how consistent teaching across school impacts pupils’ performance.

Key areas are:

  • Curriculum: do leaders know their subjects, and are plans being followed through? Does teaching support curriculum goals?
  • Resources: do they support the curriculum? Are they appropriate for quality learning?
  • Pupil knowledge and vocabulary: do children understand what has been covered? How does the school teach key tier 2 (written) and 3 (subject specific) vocabulary ?

“Coverage is a prerequisite for learning, but simply having covered a part of the curriculum does not in itself indicate that pupils know or remember more.” Ofsted Inspecting the Curriculum, May 2019

  • Progress: does the school understand what progress means in these subjects?
  • Interventions: how does the school support children who are struggling?
  • Pupil Premium: does the school use PP to support children in these subjects, and if so, how?
  • SEND: how does the school deliver an inclusive curriculum?
  • Assessment: How effective is it?
  • School culture: are expectations in these subjects high enough for pupils?

“Progress in curricular terms means knowing more and remembering more, so a curriculum needs to carefully plan for that progress by considering the building blocks and sequence in each subject.” Principles behind Ofsted Research, March 2021

Of course, an interview with an Ofsted Inspector is likely to bring up a few surprises. You’ll need to be prepared to explain how you are leading your subject within your school. Here are some common Ofsted questions.

  • What is your vision for your subject?
  • What are your strengths and areas for development in your subject?
  • What links are there between your subject and the rest of the curriculum?
  • How do you know what is being taught in your subject?
  • How do you ensure knowledge is retained in your subject?
  • How do staff and pupils view your subject? How do you know?
  • How do you ensure all pupils are sufficiently challenged?
  • How does assessment feed into teaching and learning?
  • What resources or schemes do you use for your subject? Are they used consistently across the school?
  • How are gaps in learning identified?
  • How do staff differentiate for different ability groups in your subject?
  • Make sure you have spoken with all Key Stages so that you can say with confidence, “In Early Years,… In Key Stage 1,… And in Key Stage 2…”
  • Assess your schemes or resources to evidence how effective they are.
  • Collect your data on intervention. This will demonstrate that you are on top of supporting children who struggle in your subject.
  • Request a CPD staff meeting to ensure that staff subject knowledge is updated.
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  • Share your curriculum vision for your subject with staff; this will be great practice for when Ofsted visits.
  • Keep a folder on your computer with documents you might need to print out to avoid any scrabbling around for files from different locations at the last minute. Kapow Primary schemes of work come with curriculum overviews, long-term plans, progression of skills and vocabulary documents, all to help with your planning.
  • Buddy up with another subject leader within the school to practice your answers.
  • Have a checklist stuck inside your cupboard, so you are ready for action when the call comes.
  • If you are also a senior leader, you will be expected to have a more comprehensive understanding of the teaching across the school. Do you know the strengths and weaknesses across all areas? How is your SIP working to address these needs? Have a ‘script’ of standard answers to these more generic questions ready to refer to when Ofsted come knocking.

Ofsted inspections are always challenging but needn’t be stressful. Inspectors aren’t looking to catch schools out. With proper preparation, you should be able to represent yourself and your school with professionalism and pride. Kapow Primary curriculums have been carefully designed to ensure progression and the CPD videos help ensure that all teachers have strong subject knowledge and are supported in delivering high-quality lessons.

For more Deep Dive question examples, a readiness checklist and much more, download Kapow’s Ofsted Deep Dive Toolkit. Good luck!

Written by:
Rob Clyne

Education writer and trainer, former teacher and Deputy Head