No Subject Deep Dives in Ungraded Ofsted Inspections: What Does This Mean for You?

Speaking at the annual NAHT conference, Sir Martyn Oliver announced that from September 2024, subject deep dives will no longer take place during ungraded inspections. In this blog, we explore what this might mean for school leaders.


What has Ofsted announced about subject deep dives and why?

In his speech, Sir Martyn Oliver discussed the importance of Ofsted listening to feedback given. Part of this included hearing the voices of small school leaders who shared that the inspection process is designed for larger schools.

The result of listening to this feedback?

Subject deep dives in ungraded inspections will no longer take place from September 2024.


Before you start jumping for joy at the thought, be aware that this change might not be as big as you first think. Ofsted will still look at the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management in ungraded inspections - they just won't grade the individual areas, which is standard in an ungraded inspections anyway.


So what does this mean for small schools awaiting inspection, and what about large schools? And how will leaders know whether their next inspection is a graded one or not?


Which types of schools receive ungraded inspections?

To answer this, it might be easier to look at the school's which won't receive an ungraded inspection...


Types of school that will get a graded inspection

If your school falls into any of the following categories, your next inspection will be a full (section 5) graded inspection, and therefore deep dives will still take place. These include:

  • Schools that are currently graded as inadequate
  • Schools that are currently graded as requires improvement
  • Schools that were graded as outstanding before July 2015
  • Good or outstanding schools that have received an ungraded inspection which recommends that the next inspection is a full, graded one - if this applies to your school, the first paragraph of your latest inspection report will state this.


So does this mean that any school not fitting these categories will get ungraded inspections?

Well, no - if only if it was that simple!


The schools inspection handbook outlines that Ofsted uses a risk assessment to determine whether a good and outstanding school who could receive an ungraded inspection will receive one or not.

This risk assessment includes:

  • analysis of DfE data (e.g. progress, attainment, attendance and exclusion data)
  • school workforce census data
  • parents and carers views added to Ofsted Parent View
  • qualifying complaints
  • pupils mobility (e.g. numbers of leavers and joiners outside of normal transition times)
  • outcomes of any previous inspections
  • statutory warning notices
  • other significant concerns brought to Ofsted's attention

Because of this, any school who is eligible for an ungraded inspection could still receive a full graded inspection depending on the outcome of this risk assessment.

Types of schools that will most likely get an ungraded inspection 

As above, there are no 100% guarantees that any inspection will definitely be ungraded so we feel the caveat with this news about deep dives is that you can never assume that your school will have an ungraded inspection (and therefore no subject deep dives).

However, the following types of schools in the following situations - in Ofsted's words - will "normally" have an ungraded (section 8) inspection:

  • Schools that are currently graded as good or outstanding, including those where the last inspection was ungraded and it confirmed that the school was still 'good' or 'outstanding' respectively
  • Schools that were graded as outstanding from September 2015 onwards and have not been inspected since
  • Academy converters whose predecessors were graded as good or outstanding

What does the absence of deep dives mean for your school? 

Using the criteria above, you'll know whether your school will definitely receive a graded inspection - if this is the case, regardless of your school's size, subject deep dives will still take place so you may wish to plan and prepare for this accordingly.

Our hugely popular Deep Dive in Every Subject: Full Curriculum Set can support you to do this, and individual subject packs are available for every National Curriculum area.

Deep Dive in Every Subject: Full Curriculum Set - Honeyguide School Leader Support 

But what about those possibly receiving ungraded inspections?

Well, let's think about the purpose of a subject deep dive - it's to understand your curriculum's intent, implementation and impact on your pupils, which can help you identify your strengths and, crucially, plan to address any weaknesses.

So should schools who are expecting ungraded inspections just give up on deep dives?
For the above reasons, we'd say schools should stick with them. Internal deep dives can allow subject leaders to really understand the nuts and bolts of the subject and plan for further improvement. Where there are curricular strengths, this can be used to support the development of other subjects.

Also, from a leadership perspective, it can be valuable and unpressured practice for subject leaders to discuss their subjects with more experienced staff, particularly for those aspiring to leadership roles with greater responsibility in the future.

Then, if your school does end up with a graded inspection, subject leaders are prepared to talk about their subject with inspectors. If the inspection turns out to be ungraded, it's not like time has been wasted if the rationale for conducting internal deep dives is improving outcomes for your pupils.


What will Ofsted do instead of subject deep dives?

Nothing has been officially released or confirmed from Ofsted yet (but of course, when it does we'll keep you updated!)

However, in his address, Sir Martyn Oliver did state:

  • Ofsted "want ungraded inspections to feel more like monitoring visits."
  • "The emphasis of these inspections will be on providing school leaders with opportunities to demonstrate where they have improved and to discuss where they still have work to do."
  • It will be a "professional dialogue between the inspection team and school leadership."
  • Typically, the headteacher and the senior team will be invited to show Ofsted what is typical of their school, what the school does well, what changes have been made to improve, and what the school still needs to tackle to make it the best it can be.
  • The conversations will still be "challenging" because everyone - Ofsted included - can "always do better."

So we'd urge you to ask yourself how different is any of this from what you already do when you scrutinise, reflect and investigate your school's subjects and curriculum, either within your setting, with others from your Trust or with school improvement advisers.

While the subject deep dives in ungraded inspections might disappear, the level of scrutiny around the curriculum will remain - as Ofsted have said, it just means they won't be attempting a "rushed dig into every detail."

We do hope their stated aim of reducing the burden on subject leaders will manifest though, and that further actions will be taken to reduce burdens across the entire education sector too.


Looking for support on how to evaluate your curriculum or prepare for inspection? Honeyguide's here to help


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