What can I expect in an Ofsted Deep Dive?

If you work in education, you’ll have been hearing about deep dives and shallow paddles for the last few years. You’ll know we aren’t talking about crystal-clear Mediterranean waters, toe-dipping or daring to swim with sharks… 😉 

Of course, we mean the subject leader deep dives that take place during Ofsted inspections. Whether you have years of subject leadership experience or are relatively new to the role, a deep dive is likely to take place at some point during your leadership, even if it’s one you conduct yourself. So with this in mind, let’s ensure you’re equipped with everything you need to know about subject deep dives so you don't find yourself adrift.

What is an Ofsted deep dive?

It can sound like an incredibly daunting prospect - and you’re not alone in this feeling. You may be wondering “What is the purpose of Ofsted’s deep dives into areas of the curriculum?” and “How can I survive a deep dive?” so let's summarise what they are first…

An Ofsted deep dive is conducted during an inspection to thoroughly assess a specific subject area or aspect of a school's curriculum. This focused evaluation aims to measure how well the school aligns with educational standards and expectations as set out by the government and Ofsted in the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). Inspectors use various methods, such as classroom observations and interviews, to gather evidence and make judgments about the quality of education. The findings, including examples of good practice, are shared as feedback and recommendations, guiding school leaders in addressing weaknesses and developing improvement plans.


What does an Ofsted deep dive look like?

If you haven’t experienced a deep dive before, you may be worrying about what it entails and whether you’re prepared for the subject evaluation. So let’s break it down. 

In summary, an Ofsted deep dive follows this process:

1. Selection of deep dive focus areas

  • Inspectors choose the deep dive subject areas during the initial notification phone call with your headteacher, discussing curriculum plans and teaching methodologies with senior leaders.
  • Focus areas are determined based on factors like performance data and website reviews as well as the discussions that take place with leaders during the call in relation to strengths and areas of development.
  • Inspectors and senior leaders will agree here which subjects will have a deep dive and when they will see particular lessons in action.

2. Deep dive preparation

  • Following the notification call, you’ll have half a day to gather supporting information for the deep dive discussions if your subject area has been chosen.
  • Ensuring any subject leader folders are updated with the latest documentation is crucial.
  • Bear in mind that depending on how day 1 of the inspection goes, Ofsted may select additional subject areas for day 2.

3. On-site inspection

  • Inspectors will observe lessons, activities and interactions as part of a pre-planned and agreed timetable.
  • They will conduct interviews with senior leaders, subject leaders, teachers, support staff and pupils to gain insights into their roles, responsibilities and perspectives on the subject area.
  • Inspectors may review additional evidence, such as curriculum documentation and mapping, pupil workbooks, pupil files, policies and intervention records.

4. Feedback, report and follow-up

  • Verbal feedback is given at the conclusion of the deep dive, highlighting strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Deep dive findings are included in the final Ofsted inspection report and recommendations for improvement may be outlined.
  • Schools are expected to address identified areas for improvement, potentially using a post-Ofsted action plan.
  • Follow-up inspections may occur to monitor progress and ensure necessary changes are implemented. 

We go into further depth about this process in every deep dive pack we have on site:

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


What do deep dive questions include for subject leaders?

Isn’t that the question we would love to have a one-size-fits-all answer to - and wouldn’t I be a rich man if I had it for you?

While I can’t share a guaranteed, exact list of the questions you’ll be asked by inspectors, I can give you some tips and hints about what they’ll be delving into and the types of questions and phrasing you may hear across all subject areas. Between local authority ‘mocksteds’, several inspections as a subject leader, senior leader and headteacher, and talking to our colleagues across the country, a clear pattern has emerged and a comparable approach evident - which is really helpful for us all! 

When thinking about the subject leader deep dive questions, begin with the ‘5 W’s’.


This is your intended curriculum content, encompassing its depth, breadth and intricacy.


The underlying rationale for your teaching choices.


The organisation of your teaching timeline and methodology for structuring units or topics, your timetable and the instructional approach.


The quality of the learning environment and resources.


The accessibility of your curriculum for various pupil groups, including those with SEND.

What do inspectors ask pupils during a deep dive?

We know that inspectors will also meet with groups of pupils during the deep dive to talk about their thoughts on the subject area and to evaluate their recall of lessons taught over the year.  

Some common questions include:

  • What topics are you currently studying in this subject? 
  • What is the reason behind your study of these topics? Why are you learning this?
  • What aspects of this subject do you find particularly enjoyable? 
  • Which specific topic holds the most interest for you? Why?
  • What is your preferred activity during these lessons?
  • Are there any aspects of this subject that you find challenging?

If you’re keen to explore more in-depth subject-specific deep dive questions, don't worry - we've got guidance for every primary and secondary national curriculum subject available individually here:

If you’re a headteacher or SLT looking to support your entire team of subject leaders, we also have the deep dive guidance packs together as one huge pack that covers every subject area.


How can I prepare for a subject deep dive with Ofsted?

Ofsted deep dives are intended as a ‘snapshot’ view of the quality of education in your setting within the one or two days that inspectors are present in your school. However, you have the luxury of seeing your curriculum taught every day and have the opportunity to explore the intent, implementation and impact of the quality of your curriculum over a longer period of time than inspectors do.

If you wish to conduct your own internal deep dive to assess your curriculum or a particular subject area, there's nothing stopping you from doing so. Ofsted encourages schools to take initiative in evaluating their curriculum quality and you may choose to use parts, or all, of the deep dive guidance pack for your subject area to support you in your monitoring and evaluation processes.


Each deep dive pack includes:

Subject Evaluation Audit for Primary and Secondary - over 100 deep dive questions about the specific-subject area to ask stakeholders, including senior leaders, subject leaders, teachers and pupils. As the subject leader, you can utilise these to reflect on the current picture of the subject area in your school and explore specific areas further when listening to staff and pupil voice. Many subject leads find it useful to practise the questions with other leaders to build their own confidence in preparation for an Ofsted deep dive. 

Subject Knowledge Question Bank - content-specific questions for the subject area covering the relevant key stages for the pack. They’re ideal if you’re wanting to explore the finer details of staff members' subject knowledge in this area.

Deep Dive Process Overview - use this to structure your internal deep dive, working through the process of identifying your perceived strengths and weaknesses, observation and questioning, and creating a plan of action. 

Deep Dive Evidence Exploration - a handy place to collate all your observation notes when conducting an internal deep dive, including observing lessons, asking pupils about their learning and looking through work or recordings.


How else can Honeyguide Help with deep dives?

In addition to the deep dive guidance packs above, we put our heads together to think about other supportive materials to help you feel ready and prepared for when “the call” comes through. These include the following packs and all are ideal for subject leaders:


Top tips from our deep dive experiences

Remember, a subject deep dive is an opportunity for you to highlight and celebrate the efforts you've invested in your subject area. It's a chance to articulate your subject priorities and outline the steps you plan to take in the future.

If at any point you feel uncertain during the professional conversation with inspectors, don't hesitate to request clarification or ask for questions to be repeated in a different way. You have the option to include colleagues in these discussions, so if your school involves subject leadership teams or individuals like curriculum leaders, it's beneficial to have them alongside you in the meetings.  

Ensure you bring all relevant documentation with you, using it as a point of reference and to illustrate examples of the developmental actions you've implemented in your subject area.

Breathe - you’ve got this.

 As always, we’re here to lead beside you.

P.S. We hope you sail it!


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