OFSTED deep dive questions

Paul Main

How can schools use potential OFSTED deep dive questions to sharpen their curriculum?

What are Ofsted deep dive questions?

An inspection is an opportunity to clarify exactly what and how a school curriculum is delivered. It is as much for the school as it is for accountability measures (putting a positive spin on the experience!). There's a lot more to an inspection than a simple lesson observation and a chat with the curriculum leaders. An OFSTED inspector will expect to see how curriculum subjects are organised and delivered. The recent deep dive in school documents gave school leaders insight into what questions inspectors will ask and what type of knowledge they are looking for. In this article, we provide some extracts of what this looks like in practice. If nothing else, the questions can be used in staff meetings to help clarify how the curriculum is designed and delivered. The prompts below are an interesting reflection tool for discussions about effective learning and in this case, are solely focused on an English subject Deep Dive.


The school’s understanding of progress in English

The curriculum for novices in English enables pupils to gain fluency in key practices which are essential for later success.

How does the school understand what it means ‘to get better’ (progression) in the subject and does the school give meaningful attention to all categories of progression in English? Is the scope commensurate with that outlined in the National Curriculum?

Curriculum Intent and curriculum impact questions

  • Does the curriculum enable pupils in early stages of learning to become fluent in key practices in R,W,SL?
  • Does the school ensure pupils have the expanding knowledge they need to decode what they read?
  • Is reading fluency understood & prioritised?
  • Does the school ensure pupils have the wide-ranging knowledge they need to comprehend what they read?
  • Do pupils gain the vocabulary knowledge they need to comprehend what they read?
  • Does the school ensure wide-ranging and expanding knowledge of transcription in writing?
  • How do pupils gain expertise in key transcription elements such as handwriting and spelling, so they are increasingly accurate writers?
  • How do you ensure transcriptional errors are not repeated?
  • How is punctuation taught?
  • Does the planned curriculum ensure wide-ranging and expanding knowledge of composition in writing, including grammar and vocabulary?
  • Do older pupils compose writing in different forms/genres/styles and for a range of purposes/audiences?
  • Does the KS2 curriculum enable pupils to get better at analysing texts and making connections between and within the texts they read?
  • How do you encourage pupils to read as writers and write as readers?
  • Show me a curriculum example where specific English content is sequenced to enable pupils to be ‘ready’ for something more complex.
  • When you think about pupils’ endpoints, how do you define them for R, W and SL?
  • Show me how your curriculum prepares pupils for a particular unit of work through the knowledge that came before it.

Inspectors asking questions about the curriculum subject
Inspectors asking questions about the curriculum subject

Subject learning and memory

The curriculum is planned so that essential knowledge is prioritised. For instance, more time may be spent on it, including time checking it has been embedded. This knowledge is introduced sequentially and revisited so it can be memorised. See 2a to 2d for details of this component knowledge.

This requires pupils to receive information in manageable chunks. For example, in phonics sessions, pupils are given daily opportunities to practise using and applying their learning. They may be asked to read and write graphemes, words or sentences using taught GPCs.

NB: In upper KS2, knowledge is built more cumulatively (less linear) through links and connections. It does not always need automatising in the same way as reading and writing knowledge in KS1.

Show me which bits of your curriculum (like concepts, ideas, vocabulary, etc.) are really crucial to re-visit so that they are able to build further knowledge.

Curriculum Intent and curriculum impact questions

  • How do you as a school go about agreeing which specific knowledge (ideas, concepts, vocabulary, etc) pupils absolutely need to know within each topic you teach?
  • Which particular knowledge within your curriculum is emphasised to build pupils’ conceptual understanding over time?
  • How does curriculum enable memorisation, e.g. through revisiting topics/chunking/retrieval/low-stakes quizzes?
  • How does the curriculum enable pupils who have gaps to memorise the knowledge they need to catch up quickly, e.g. phonics knowledge?
  • English curriculum in early years
  • Leaders prioritise children’s communication and language development as it is the bedrock of future success in reading, writing and the acquisition of knowledge in a range of subjects.
  • Leaders/teachers/adults have a well-developed understanding of how to develop children’s expressive and receptive language (see glossary). For instance, ensuring high-quality interactions between adults and children; explicit teaching of vocabulary; modelling language structures; and extending vocabulary through discussions, including about the books which are shared.
  • Spoken language is central to the curriculum. Adults help children to talk about what they are doing and learning throughout the day, in each area of learning. They use structured conversations where they build in responses. This also strongly supports children’s listening and attention.
  • Language is crucial for children’s wider development. The ways in which teachers talk to children can influence learning, memory, understanding and the motivation to learn.
  • Staff understand that sharing stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction form the foundation of children’s language comprehension.
  • Adults help children to listen attentively and become familiar with traditional and modern stories, recognising and joining in with predictable phrases and reciting some poems by heart.
  • Adults encourage children to use new vocabulary in a range of contexts. Reading also allows children to encounter more demanding sentence structures and themes. Adults model reading with fluency, expression and enjoyment and encourage discussion to support children in becoming comfortable with a rich range of vocabulary and language structures.
  • Curriculum Intent and curriculum impact questions
  • When do you start to teach children phonics? Is phonics taught daily, and directly from the start of Reception? Do approaches include teaching pupils to write what they decode?
  • What is your plan to teach pen grip and letter formation?
  • How do you ensure that children practise using the phonics they have been taught?
  • How do you manage the transition from oral composition to written composition?

Potential OFSTED deep dive questions
Potential OFSTED deep dive questions

Providing curriculum coverage for SEND children

All pupils follow the same phonics curriculum for early reading and writing. They must learn the phonic code to become fluent decoders and spellers. Pupils with SEND who are struggling to read and write (often those with poor visual memory and/or weak auditory skills) may take longer to secure some of the components of early reading and writing. The curriculum components need to be broken down into smaller steps and are repeated more often until they are automatic.

Additional support to become fluent in reading and writing may be required and should be prioritised to prevent pupils from becoming further behind and struggling to access the age-appropriate curriculum.

Any additional intervention is not a different curriculum. It follows the same curriculum progression but provides sufficient practice so that pupils secure their understanding of the essential components.

  • Which pupils in this class are finding the subject most difficult? Why do they find the subject hard?
  • How do you ensure that pupils with SEND access the curriculum? What additional support do they receive to do this?
  • How do you ensure pupils with SEND secure the knowledge they need to access learning in English and other subjects?
  • Which bits of content are absolutely key that all pupils, including those with SEND, need to take away from this specific unit?

Teaching the English national curriculum

The focus before Reception should be on language and communication. There is no requirement to formally teach reading and writing before children begin phonics instruction in Reception. Therefore, teaching activities before Reception are more likely to be incidental teaching when children ask about how to write a letter in their name, for example, as well as more direct teaching, through stories, for instance.

Reception and KS1: As shown in the simple view of reading, word recognition and language comprehension are different elements of reading. Therefore, they need different kinds of teaching and activities. Phonics is taught daily and directly in a settled environment where distractions are kept to a minimum. Lessons are focused and keep pupils engaged and involved. Common exception words are introduced sparingly when children begin learning phonics. Phonics is still the method used to read these words. Adults make sure that in phonics sessions, and later the same day, children have lots of practice sounding out, blending and reading graphemes, words and sentences.

Keystage 2: Pupils to both store subject-specific knowledge in long-term memory and apply this knowledge to draw increasingly sophisticated conclusions (as they encounter more challenging texts). Deep process complex ideas/concepts, e.g. deep processing implicates semantic processing which occurs when we determine the meaning of a word and associate it with similar words with related meaning.

Curriculum Content and pedagogical practice questions

  • Can you give me some examples of how the content that pupils study shapes the activity you have chosen to teach it (might consider inclusion of explicit explanations, guided practice and worked examples)?
  • How does teaching ensure pupils learn the necessary subject-specific components like grammar?
  • What use is made of models/exemplars in writing? Do pupils have enough underpinning knowledge to learn from them? Are they ambitious/challenging enough?
  • Are carefully chosen subject-specific pedagogies used to teach reading, writing and spoken language? What are they and how have they been chosen?