Ofsted Deep Dive: What It Is, What to Expect And How To Prepare (40 Questions)

The Ofsted deep dive is one of the key elements of the new Ofsted Inspection Framework’s curriculum focus. An Ofsted inspection of any establishment, primary or secondary, small school or large, will now include ‘a subject deep dive’.

This will be an in-depth look at a particular area of your curriculum (e.g. maths or EYFS) which Ofsted will decide on and inform you of prior to the inspection.

Here, we share what an Ofsted deep dive entails, the questions you are likely to be asked by the inspection team, what it looks like in practice, and how to prepare for it.

The list of deep dive questions below are all actual questions from primary schools who have already been through the process.

What is an Ofsted deep dive?

An Ofsted deep dive is an in-depth examination of a national curriculum subject by an Ofsted inspection team. It is part of the Ofsted inspectors’ remit to monitor the 3 Is – Intent, Implementation and Impact – of the curriculum.

From Ofsted’s guidance and the experiences of those who’ve gone through one already we know that an Ofsted deep dive involves lesson observations, book looks and discussions with subject leads etc.

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

How the Ofsted deep dive fits into the inspection framework

How to prepare for an Ofsted deep dive

You prepare for a deep dive in much the same way you’ve prepared for Ofsted school inspections in the past; keep your books up to scratch for work scrutinies, make sure you’re following your School Improvement Plan (SIP), and have an idea of your department’s wider strategy and curriculum intent. Fundamentally you need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve for your pupils and how you are trying to achieve it.

Added to this, we recommend you work through the questions below thinking about how you’ll answer them at your next inspection.

For all its similarities to past inspections, the deep dive framework is different, and getting information from those who’ve been through it already can only benefit you.

How to prepare for an Ofsted deep dive in maths

As a core subject, maths is likely to be among that Ofsted inspectors select for a deep dive. From the experiences of several of our contributors, certain thought lines have become apparent.

Inspectors have been particularly interested in how teachers are able to ensure maths progress for their pupils, and how schools are managing to bridge the gap in maths between key stages. Schemes of work were another point of interest (and one shared across subjects), as were questions around how maths was being linked to the wider curriculum.

One teacher even reported questions regarding STEM and STEM days.

‘Mocksted’ inspections and mock deep dives

A mocksted (or mock-Ofsted) is a ‘dress rehearsal’ of an Ofsted inspection that some schools use to gauge their readiness for the real thing. Mocksteds might be run internally with senior staff acting the part of inspectors, or outside ‘consultants’ might be brought in.

We do not recommend conducting mock inspections or deep dives; while they were considered the ‘in thing’ a few years ago, they’re now recognised as a pointless exercise that just causes staff unnecessary stress and might even make performance during a real inspection worse.

Your time is better spent using these questions as guidance for discussion in CPD sessions and as a check for whether you have got appropriate provision across your school’s curriculum.

Ofsted deep dive: The questions inspectors are asking

The best way to to prepare for an Ofsted Deep Dive is to have thought about the questions inspectors are likely to ask. Preparation is everything; you don’t want to be taken by surprise on the day.

We’ve also prepared a free downloadable framework of the most frequently asked Ofsted deep dive maths questions together with a framework for preparing your answers.

Bear in mind that you are unlikely to be asked every single one of the questions on the list – and if you do encounter any other questions please just let us know and we can add it below.

As maths is our specialist subject (we support thousands of schools every year with specialist maths interventions and curriculum resources), our examples are drawn from maths, but almost all questions will apply to other subjects as well.

How we sourced these questions

In researching this article we spoke to some of the hundreds of schools we’re currently working with, as well as reviewing the many Facebook groups and posts that teachers and SLT have been sharing since the start of term, and the some of the early inspection reports under the new Ofsted framework 2019.

Ofsted deep dive questions: Key themes

  1. Schemes of Work/National Curriculum
  2. Progress
  3. Interventions
  4. CPD Provision
  5. Pupil Premium
  6. SEND
  7. Workload & Wellbeing
  8. Lesson Observations
    A Note On Data

1. Schemes of Work/Curriculum Questions

Your approach to the national curriculum and the schemes of work you follow – whether created in house or from a commercial provider – will be a key topic for discussion with inspectors. Common questions included:

  • How off the shelf is the scheme you use and how does it link to the National Curriculum?
  • How do class teachers know what went before in previous years?
  • What is your pedagogy in foundation subjects?
  • What schemes, if any, do you follow?
  • How is your curriculum coverage progressive throughout the school?
  • What are the strengths/areas of development in your subject?
Response from schools

One teacher commented:

“They constantly asked me about how our school scheme linked to the National Curriculum; progression; interventions; planning; small steps; teachers’ and TAs’ subject knowledge.

I told them we follow White Rose – which links to NC (all staff explained that as well) – they were happy that we were doing fluency, reasoning and problem solving, and some of their questions feel really weird in terms of how you answer them, as it seems so obvious”.

Another maths lead said that “They asked about progression in learning – how do class teachers know what went before in previous years? How off the shelf is the scheme you use? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your pedagogy in maths lessons?”

We asked: What was the reason they asked the ‘off the shelf’ question? Did they say what they thought of off the shelf schemes?

The teacher responded:

“The new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) refers to learning being sequenced and adapted to suit the school I think. We use a scheme as a basis but heavily adapt and move objectives etc around. They didn’t comment on off the shelf as such other than the question. They wanted to know how objectives were embedded and revisited.”

Flexible and adaptable schemes of work 

At Third Space Learning, we believe that every school is unique and you should personalise your scheme to suit the needs of your school. Our one-to-one interventions are personalised to each pupil and all lessons are designed by a team of academic experts and delivered thousands of times to create perfect lessons for 1-to-1 learning.

We provide non-prescriptive schemes to support target areas such as Fluent in Five (our daily arithmetic progression scheme aligned with the National Curriculum and proven to improve arithmetic), or Rapid Reasoning – our daily reasoning progression scheme. (Download a free sample of 6 weeks of Rapid Reasoning questions)

Given the popularity of White Rose, we’ve also created an entire series of daily lesson powerpoints which match the White Rose Small Steps for Year 1 to Year 6. Find out more about our White Rose Maths resources.

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

2. Progress Questions

Progress has been mentioned a lot during these Ofsted deep dives. Expect lots of questions and discussions and progress in pupils’ learning: how teachers know what went before, how they know where they are going, and how they are supporting pupils to get there. Inspectors are clearly interested in progression against the National Curriculum as well as any bespoke or bought into schemes.

Some of the questions included:

  • How do you make sure that children who get ‘stuck’ feel supported in lessons by other teachers?
  • How as subject lead do you know what is happening across the school. What would I expect them to see/hear?
  • What is in place for the children who are stuck?
  • How are end of term assessments fed back into teaching and learning?
  • How do you fill gaps in maths and decide on maths interventions?
Identify gaps or progress made and act on findings

Schools using the Third Space Learning Maths Hub can point to the fact that they use the 56 pre- and post-topic diagnostic assessment checks to monitor progress and highlight pupils and areas that need extra support. This can help identify which pupils will benefit most from the specialist one-to-one maths interventions from Third Space’s specialist maths tutors.

Those schools who are lucky enough to have their own confident maths specialists in school, tend then to use our intervention lesson packs which can then be focused on each child’s gaps. Our Year 6 SATs intervention packs are especially popular.

As ever with the Third Space Learning Maths Hub, while premium users get access to the entire range of hundreds of maths resources, made for the new mastery curriculum, every teacher and school leader can download samples for free.

Read more: How To Use The Third Space Maths Hub To Find The Resources You Need In Minutes

3. Intervention Questions

Questions regarding interventions or boosters were common. Most teachers were asked what interventions they had in place, with a particular focus on interventions for pupil premium children. Expect questions such as:

  • What interventions are carried out in the school?
  • How are gaps in learning filled?
  • What do you do to support children who are struggling?
  • Are the staff conducting interventions subject specialists or support staff?
ofsted deep dive maths intervention tsl
1-to-1 interventions like Third Space Learning’s maths programmes provide impact reports to SLT to judge effectiveness for the children receiving them

Ofsted inspectors are looking to ensure that there is adequate provision for pupils who have learning gaps that may be current, or future barriers to learning. Running regular interventions throughout the year that are timetabled into the day ensures that these go ahead, but you need to ensure that these sessions are well planned, and not done on a strictly ad hoc basis.

Assess every intervention carefully

As the largest provider of specialist maths interventions in the UK (50,000 pupils taught so far!), we know what is takes to run a high quality intervention. Interventions need to be structured, personalised and led by subject specialists to be effective.

Using the Third Space online platform, we enable up to fifteen personalised one-to-one interventions to happen within a single hour of the school day, as opposed to fifteen hours of teaching time, helping to create confident, able mathematicians whilst reducing teacher workload.

Read more

4. CPD Provision Questions

Continuous professional development is key to ensuring quality first teaching, so expect to be asked during any subject deep dive what provision you currently have in place for teachers, and just as importantly, how do you support new staff. Questions to think about are:

  • What CPD provision do you have for all staff?
  • How do you support new staff?
  • How do you ensure teachers and TAs have the required subject knowledge?
  • What training/support have you received?
Staff progression is key to pupil progression

We have to empower teachers by providing them with CPD, which is why Third Space Learning provides schools with two types of CPD.

Our Maths Masterclasses are longer, conference style content delivered by primary maths specialists such as Jane Gill or Chris Dyson, and covering key mathematical topics.

We also have over 150+ Maths in Minutes videos: bitesize CPD with top teaching tips which can be easily watched before teaching a topic, and which are brilliant for improving subject knowledge amongst NQTs and TAs.

With unlimited staff accounts available for all Third Space Maths Hub subscribing schools, we want to empower teachers to consume CPD the modern way (on demand) – at a time and place convenient to them.

5. Pupil Premium Questions

Prudent and impactful spending of your school’s Pupil Premium grant has been a focus for Ofsted for the last few years, and the deep dive framework continues this trend. Some of the questions inspectors asked were:

  • How do you provide for Pupil Premium pupils?
  • How do you improve pupils’ cultural capital (and how do you ensure it)?
  • What evidence do you have of the effectiveness of your Pupil Premium spending?
  • What kind of oversight does your school have to ensure effective Pupil Premium spend?
Progress measured against time and and school resources

Interventions are a clear and accountable way of spending Pupil Premium funding, and Third Space Learning’s one-to-one maths interventions have been designed to provide exceptional progress in a short space of time and hence exceptional value for money.

Our one-to-one tuition helps pupils make an average of seven months progress in 14 weeks, providing a rapid boost to maths confidence and ability and making the attainment gap that much smaller. We also aim for there to be minimal additional school staff involved in a Third Space Learning intervention so you can get on with business as usual while we support the pupils who need the help most. 

Thanks to our regular progress reports for each pupil and cohorts as a whole, senior leaders can monitor this progress quickly and easily, keeping them abreast of just how well the Pupil Premium budget is being spent.

Sample TSL SATs session report
An example report from Third Space’s intervention programmes, showing how clearly data is presented.

Find out more about how Third Space Learning could help your school maximise the impact of your Pupil Premium funding.

6. Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Questions

SEND is a common theme for questioning during Ofsted deep dives and links often to the questions around progression for the whole class. As ever the inspectors will want to know before they go into any classroom, or look at pupils’ work in books, what they are likely to see and how you are providing for children with SEND. Expect questions such as:

  • How are SEND pupils supported?
  • How do you plan to ensure good progress?
  • How do you know this is happening across the school?
  • How do you assess and monitor it?
  • How do you know there is progression throughout the school?
Make sure your interventions do not exclude pupils with SEND

Provisioning for SEND pupils is particularly difficult when it comes to extra-curricular activities and interventions. At Third Space Learning, we’ve designed our one to one interventions to be sensitive to pupils’ needs in many ways.

The Third Space learning platform is highly visual and scaffolded to make learning easier for all pupils. Because our interventions are online and use a microphone only, our tutors have become accustomed to gauging pupil reactions through sound alone and have developed high levels of emotional empathy.

The individual attention they provide also helps pupils with needs (e.g. autism) focus more easily on the lesson and subject, and encourages them to communicate more without the anxiety that might be present in a full classroom.

7. Workload & Wellbeing Questions

Ofsted have made it clear that reducing teacher workload is important to them. Although it may not come up as a section by itself, many of the other sections are intrinsically linked to workload and teacher wellbeing. They are looking for a top level view. For example, they may ask questions such as:

  • Do you feel supported (by curriculum leaders and senior leaders)?
  • Do you feel you have been given all the tools you need to do this role?
  • What support do you provide in a leadership role to ensure a good work life balance for staff?
  • How do you support the teachers?
  • How do you support new staff?
  • What training/support have you received?
The ways in which Third Space Learning alleviates teacher workload

At Third Space Learning, we help to reduce teacher workload by enabling schools to run up to 15 personalised one-to-one interventions within a single hour of the day, as opposed to using fifteen hours of teacher time (plus planning).

Our interventions also help those pupils who may be falling behind catch up with their peers, enabling class teachers to spend less time worrying about organising and delivering catch-up lessons in their own time.

As well as this, teaching staff benefit from over 1500+ ready to go resources in the Third Space Maths Hub. Registration for this is completely free to review all the resources.

8. Lesson Observation Questions

During an Ofsted subject deep dive, inspectors will also undertake two lesson observations each. Before and during the observations, the subject leader or (if you don’t have one) the headteacher or senior leaders will be asked a series of questions in relation to what you would typically see in a lesson observation. Expect questions such as:

  • What will we see in the lesson observation?
  • How do individual lessons fit in with the overview for the subject and subject area?
  • What would you expect the teaching assistant to be doing during the lesson?
  • Will the correct vocabulary for the topic be used?
  • Will the teacher’s questioning encourage learning and enquiry?
  • Does the teacher have strong subject knowledge? How have you ensured this?
  • Are the children learning new knowledge/skills? How is this being evidenced?

As you can see, these questions are similar to those that might have been asked as part of the old framework, but with a greater emphasis – as with the majority of the new framework – on subject knowledge and pupil progression.

While there will undoubtedly be some variation in the kinds of questions asked between subjects and year groups, these examples give a clearer picture of the general ideas and intentions behind a deep dive-focused inspection.

Read more

A note on data

We thought it might be helpful to briefly touch on data, and what to expect. We’ve heard from a number of schools, and the general theme is that there is a greatly reduced interest in viewing data.

One school went as far as saying “There was no interest at all in data.” Others said that they did receive questions regarding their external data such as SATs scores, and disadvantaged gap, including looking at the 3 year trend. However, they “…refused to look at internal data.”

Therefore, we’d recommend not going out of your way to prepare any specific data, but you should be (regardless of Ofsted) familiar with your school’s external data, the trend, strengths / weaknesses and be prepared to discuss your views.

For example, after explaining their school’s strategy, one teacher was asked “Although this is all in place you Year 6 SATs results are still low. Why? What are you doing about it?”

Focus on the data that works for your school and your pupils

Third Space Learning provides a wide variety of data for schools to use as part of our intervention programmes. Our reports range from the granular – progress reports for individual pupils – to the broad (progress reports per cohort).

Our tutors use these reports to further personalise and adapt lessons for each pupil between sessions, ensuring they’re learning the content at the best pace for them. But for schools they can provide a clear, easy to follow example of progress and value for money (as mentioned earlier). This helps teachers and school leaders become more knowledgeable in an ‘external data’ sense, so that if Ofsted should ask, they can respond with confidence.

Additional Ofsted deep dive questions

For completeness, the following are the remaining deep diving questions that teachers have reported to us – some general, and some specific to their particular subject.

Senior Leaders

  • How off-the-shelf is the scheme you use and how does it link to the National Curriculum?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Which objectives were embedded and revisited?
  • What interventions are carried out in the school?
  • When we walk round what will be see being taught in maths?
  • What support do you provide in a leadership role to ensure a good work life balance for staff?
  • What do you do when a new child arrives? 
  • How are SEND pupils supported?
  • How are Pupil Premium pupils supported?

Subject Leaders

Subject-specific questions:

  • What is happening in Early Years Maths?
  • What links are there between your subject and the rest of the curriculum?
  • How do you monitor individual subjects?
  • What resources do you have?
  • How do you use the community, trips, visitors in your subject?
  • What’s on your action plan this year?
  • What are the strengths/ areas for development in your subject?
  • How do Staff differentiate in your subject?
  • What is your pedagogy in maths lessons?
  • What do Staff think of your subject?
  • What do children think of your subject?
  • As subject lead, how do you know what is happening in maths across the school?
  • How are gaps bridged between each key stage?
  • What is the aim for all children to know when they leave Y6?
  • How do you know that it is year group relevant?
  • What does a maths lesson look like?
  • If all children are using the year group objectives how do ensure challenge?
  • How are assessment results fed back into teaching and learning? 
  • How are gaps in learning filled? 
  • How are you evidencing lessons which use concrete apparatus?
  • What is your understanding of mastery?
  • How do we know where the gaps are?
  • How is homework set?
  • What’s your vision for maths?
  • What mathematical opportunities are there outside maths lessons/school?
  • What do you do to support children who are struggling?

More general questions asked to Subject Leaders:

  • Do you feel supported?
  • Do you feel you have been given all the tools you need to do this role?
  • How do you ensure accurate assessment?
  • What aspirations do you have for these children? 

Pupil Progress

  • Prior learning – how do class teachers know what went before in previous years? 
  • How do you plan to ensure good progress?
  • How do you know this is happening across the school? How do you assess and monitor it?
  • How do you know there is progression throughout the school?
  • How do you make sure that children who get ‘stuck’ feel supported in lessons? What is in place for these children?
  • How do you ensure that the children are secondary school ready? 
  • How is your curriculum coverage progressive throughout the school? 
  • How do you ensure coverage across all year groups?
  • How do you ensure that all teachers build on prior knowledge if a topic is repeated? (Eg. Light in Science)

Staff CPD

  • What CPD have Staff had?
  • How do you support new staff?
  • What do you do to ensure that your teachers and TAs have up to date subject knowledge?

Lesson Observations

  • How does the lesson fit in with the overview for your subject?
  • Is the correct vocabulary being used?
  • Are the children learning new knowledge and skills?
  • Does the teacher’s questioning encourage learning and enquiry?
  • Is the teacher’s subject knowledge good?

Book Scrutiny

  • Prior to lesson visits Lead Inspector took 6 children from each of the 2 lessons observed and asked them to talk through individual pieces of work in their books. Pupils also had to explain what they had learnt in that lesson.
  • Learning Objectives have to be tight and refer to the learning in the lesson.
  • Explain how the tasks taught link to your subject overview and what would come next.
  • Where is there evidence of what you have put in place and the impact it has had? Link to action plan. Where have you identified weaknesses and what have you done about it? 
  • Is there consistency across the year groups?
  • How do we ensure culture capital in maths?
  • How do we ensure that children remember what they have learnt?

When the inspection team were looking at books with the small steps for the year group: 

  • Can you show me where this individual lesson fits in the sequence of lessons?
  • What objective is this?
  • Can you talk me through the book? What are you seeing?
  • Where will they go from here? 
  • Focus on lowest children in the class. 

“A more positive experience overall”

While it’s difficult for any school to entirely welcome an Ofsted deep dive as part of their inspection, the general feedback about the experience of an inspection and deep dive under the new framwork has been largely positive. This is perhaps best summarised by one teacher who said:

“Overall it was quite an intense experience, but in my opinion it was a lot fairer than inspections under the old framework due to the additional time spent listening to subject leaders, teachers and pupils.”

Of course this may not be your experience. Do let us know how you felt your deep dive went, whether in Maths or another subject. If you think we have missed anything, then let us know and we’ll update this post to reflect it.

Don’t forget to get your free copy of the downloadable list of Ofsted deep dive questions, together with a planning framework to help you prepare.

Contributors

We’d like to thank the following teachers and school leaders for their responses to our questions, and their feedback about what an Ofsted deep dive means and incorporates. Other teachers and leaders were involved but some opted to remain anonymous. If you think we’ve quoted you in this document without attribution do please get in touch and we’ll add your name to the list.

Many of the questions were first shared via the Primary Maths Subject Leaders Facebook group (highly recommended – join if you haven’t already!)

Linda Potter
Lauren Baker
Marcus O’Donohoe
Louise Betts
Wendy Cook

See also Alex Bedford‘s site where he’s shared a breakdown of exactly how an Ofsted inspection under the new Ofsted framework took place.

Further reading

Do you have pupils who need extra support in maths?
Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of pupils across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons designed to plug gaps and boost progress. Since 2013 we’ve helped over 60,000 primary school pupils become more confident, able mathematicians. You can learn more about our interventions or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.

Rob Langman
Rob Langman
Rob is a passionate educationalist who has spoken to thousands of senior leaders over the last few years. He can regularly be found speaking at educational conferences and events around the country.
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Downloadable resource

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

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Downloadable resource

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

Download Free Now!