So what is a Deep Dive?

During an inspection, inspectors are not going to concentrate on the ambitions or intentions of senior leaders, but rather “let’s see that in action together”.

The Deep Dives are principally to gather evidence in relation to “quality of education”, and the lesson visits can also gather evidence in relation to “behaviour and attitudes”.

They will have a series of deep dives on particular subjects:

  • For secondary schools, they will sample four to six subjects.
  • For primary schools, they will sample three to five subjects. It will always include reading, it will usually include maths, and there will also be one or more foundation subjects, including one that is taught during the inspection.

In small schools, this may be adapted as appropriate.


Each deep dive will look at the following, usually jointly with school and curriculum leaders, and will try to connect these different pieces of evidence:

Senior Leaders

Curriculum Leaders 

Lesson Visits

  • preferably between four to six lessons.
  • It will not be a random sample, but connected to other evidence.
  • Inspectors will not grade individual lessons or teachers, but evaluate where a lesson sits in a sequence.

Work scrutiny

  • This will be of at least two year groups, and at least six  workbooks or pieces of work per subject per year group.
  • It is not a random sample, but linked to other parts of the evidence.
  • Do they support other evidence that what the school wanted to teach has been covered? It is not going to be used to demonstrate whether an individual pupil is working at the expected standard, or to judge individual progress over time.

Discussions with teachers.

  • This will be used to understand how the curriculum informs their content and choices,
  • and sequencing to support effective learning.

Discussions with pupils from the lessons observed.

  • Having covered a part of the curriculum does not indicate whether pupils know more, remember more and can do more, and so work scrutinies by themselves are not enough.
  • Observing pupils outside of normal lessons can help evaluate personal development, behaviour and attitudes.
  • Pupils will be asked about their experiences of teaching, learning and behaviour, including the prevention of bullying and how the school deals with harassment and violence.
  • Inspectors will not expect school staff to be present at this time.

Inspectors will at times focus on your school’s most disadvantaged pupils, including pupils with SEND, FSM6, LAC/CLA, and Children in Need of help and protection.

If you are wondering where “intent, implementation and impact” are in the deep dives, they are not sub-judgements, but will form part of connected evidence across the entire “quality of education” judgement.

Additional evidence can be collected if there is insufficient evidence or leaders wish to present more.

Inspectors will also be meeting those responsible for governance, and will meet the headteacher regularly to provide updates, and alert the headteacher to any serious concerns, or allow the headteacher to raise concerns.


On the pilot inspections carried out before the framework was introduced, Ofsted created a set of 18 indicators, which were grouped into three main themes:

  • Curriculum,
  • Teaching, and
  • Behaviour.

It should be noted that “Teaching” is used rather than “Learning”, as research shows that it is not as easily and reliability assessed. Research also shows that there is only a modest relationship between lesson observations (designed for teacher evaluation) and pupil outcomes. The intent, instead of focusing on an individual teacher or classroom, is to provide indicators of practice at subject level.

Lesson Observations

Whilst the lesson visits will typically be between 15 and 30 minutes each, there is no set figure. However, visits that lasted longer than 20 minutes generally produced more reliable assessments. Additionally, there was no requirement that lesson visits need to coincide with the start of the lesson.

However, there is considerable flexibility:

  • One HMI said it was useful to being able to extend observation time to better observe activities.
  • Others said that sometimes 15 minutes was sufficient time, especially when the lesson was not going so well. This shorter time period allowed them to move on to the next observation quickly, so as not to place unnecessary burden on staff and pupils.

There were 18 indicators that were used in the pilots. 2 of these indicators were not easily able to be assessed, and of the remainder, Ofsted is prioritising on the following 8 indicators in additional pilot visits:


    • Teachers use their subject expertise to provide effective learning opportunities.
    • The lesson content is appropriate to the age group and does not lower expectations.
    • There is a logical sequence to the lesson.


    • Teachers demonstrate good communication skills.
    • Teachers possess good questioning skills.
    • Teachers give explicit, detailed and constructive feedback in class.


    • Teachers create supportive classrooms focused on learning.
    • Pupils’ behaviour contributes to the focus on learning.

The above was categorised into the following 6 categories

1 – This aspect is absent in practice

2 – Major weaknesses evident (leaders have not identified or started to remedy weaknesses).

3 – This aspect is sufficient but there are some weaknesses overall in a number of examples (identified by leaders but not yet remedying)

4 – This aspect is embedded with minor points for development (leaders taking action to remedy minor shortfalls).

5 – This aspect is embedded in practice (many examples of exceptional teaching).

N/A – Unable to score this indicator as not observed in the time provided.

A 1 (worst) to 5 (best) point range is used to differentiate it from the 1 (Outstanding) to 4 (Inadequate) overall effective assessment range. There are discussions as to whether it should be reduced to a 1 to 3 point range, so this may not be finalised.

However, use of these point ranges can lead to unintended consequences, such as standardisation and potential gaming, and therefore the judgement of inspectors must be central to inspection.

Book scrutinies

Just like lesson visits, Book scrutinies were assessed on a 1-5 point scale, with each band having an indicator (its own separate description). Sadly, these indicators have not been released, but it is presumably in line with the above 1-5 point scale.

Again, there has been discussion as to whether this should be reduced to a 1-3 scale, which seems to show improved reliability for “depth and breath of coverage” but reduced reliability for “practice”.

The indicators that were used are:

  • Building on previous learning,
  • Depth and breath of coverage,
  • Pupils’ progress, and
  • Practice.

A typical description for each of these indicators are:

Building on previous learning

    • Pupils’ knowledge is consistently, coherently and logically sequenced so that it can develop incrementally over time.
    • There is a progression from the simpler and/or more concrete concepts to the more complex and/or abstract ones.
    • Pupils’ work shows that they have developed their knowledge and skills over time.

Depth and breath of coverage

    • The content of the tasks and pupils’ work show that pupils learn a suitably broad range of topics within a subject.
    • Tasks also allow pupils to deepen their knowledge of the subject by requiring thought on their part, understanding of subject-specific concepts and making connections to prior knowledge.

Pupils’ progress

    • Pupils make strong progress from their starting points.
    • They acquire knowledge and understanding appropriate to their starting points.


    • Pupils are regularly given opportunities to revisit and practice what they know to deepen and solidify their understanding in a discipline.
    • They can recall information effectively, which shows that learning is durable.
    • Any misconceptions are addressed and there is evidence to show that pupils have overcome these in future work.


The results of the Ofsted pilot were:

  • Ofsted found the overall approach used by Inspectors helped produce standardised results.
  • Focused scrutiny across a single subject/department/year group helped in securing greater reliability.
  • Book securities need to be carried out in the context of conversations with subject leaders or teachers on the tasks and how they contribute to learning progression, and alongside lesson observation.
  • For inspections done near the beginning of the Autumn term, workbooks from the previous year would need to be available as well to make valid and reliable judgements.
  • Schools that use alternative methodologies in teaching and learning (e.g. Montessori schools) may not necessarily be captured in workbooks.

Question for you: Are your workbooks from the previous year available if you have an inspection near the beginning of the Autumn term?

Second question: Would it help Inspectors to make valid and reliable judgements?

Related Links

Sources for this article

The sources for this article have been taken from Ofsted’s documents under the Open Government Licence. It contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The sources include:


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