Deep dives and the inspection process
How Ofsted uses evidence from deep dives
School context
Inspection of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
Transitional arrangements for curriculum intent
Further information


This briefing explains how Ofsted conducts deep dives and how inspectors use evidence from deep dives to form inspection judgements. It also seeks to dispel myths about deep dives and provide advice about what teachers and school leaders should do when being inspected and to implement effective practice.

The briefing draws on information from Ofsted guidance for inspectors, including the School inspection handbook, School inspection update, and Inspecting the curriculum (see Further Information below).

The briefing should be useful to teachers, including class teachers and those who have been allocated curriculum leadership responsibilities, and school leaders.

Deep dives and the inspection process

Ofsted’s inspection methodology is focused on the links between the curriculum, teaching, assessment and standards. It has three elements: top-level view, deep dives and ‘bringing it all together’:

  • Top-level view: inspectors and leaders start with a top-level view of the school’s curriculum, exploring what is on offer, to whom and when, leaders’ understanding of curriculum intent and sequencing, and why these choices were made.

  • Deep dive: then a ‘deep dive’, which involves gathering evidence on the curriculum intent, implementation and impact over a sample of subjects, topics or aspects. This is done in collaboration with leaders, teachers and pupils. The intent of the deep dive is to seek to interrogate and establish a coherent evidence base on quality of education.

  • Bringing it together: inspectors will bring the evidence together to widen coverage and to test whether any issues identified during deep dives are systemic. This will usually lead to school leaders bringing forward further evidence and inspectors gathering additional evidence.

There are six elements to deep dives:

  • ‘evaluation of senior leaders’ intent for the curriculum in this subject or area and their understanding of its implementation and impact;

  • evaluation of curriculum leaders’ long and medium-term thinking and planning, including the rationale for content choices and curriculum sequencing;

  • visits to a deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons;

  • work scrutiny of books or other kinds of work produced by pupils who are part of classes that have also been (or will also be) observed by inspectors;

  • discussion with teachers to understand how the curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support effective learning;

  • discussions with a group of pupils from the lessons observed.’
NASUWT comment

Ofsted states that inspectors do not undertake lesson observations and will not judge the quality of teaching in the lessons they visit.

The number of deep dives undertaken during inspection will depend on the size of the school or setting. In the case of secondary schools, inspectors will usually conduct deep dives of four to six subjects. When inspecting primary schools, inspectors always carry out a deep dive of reading. They will usually undertake deep dives of one or more foundation subjects that are being taught at the time of inspection.

When judging the quality of education, inspectors will consider curriculum:

  • intent - the extent to which the school’s curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain at each stage and how the curriculum has been designed, planned and sequenced to help pupils get to the planned end points;

  • implementation - how the curriculum is taught and assessed in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills; and

  • impact - the outcomes that pupils achieve as a result of the education they have received.

Inspectors will take a holistic view and consider intent, implementation and impact as they conduct the inspection: they will not inspect these dimensions separately.

NASUWT advice

Ofsted says that it does not expect schools to design their own curriculum from scratch. In particular, small primary schools may not have the resources to do this. Schools may use existing curriculum resources, including the national curriculum, to build their curriculum.

School leaders should seek to ensure that:

  • the school’s curriculum offer is broad, balanced and aspirational for all pupils;

  • the curriculum is planned and sequenced logically and appropriately to enable pupils to build and apply their knowledge;

  • teachers are engaged in decision-making and are supported and developed to implement the curriculum;

  • systems are in place to monitor and evaluate the impact of the school’s curriculum on pupil outcomes; and

  • the workloads of teachers and school leaders are manageable.

If the school needs to develop or refine its work in these areas, it should plan to implement actions over a period of time. Schools should note that the transition arrangements relating to the inspection of the curriculum are being kept under review.

How Ofsted uses evidence from deep dives

Ofsted states that:

‘Inspectors do not judge individual lessons, but connect evidence through lesson visits, scrutinising work and conversations with curriculum leaders, pupils and teachers.’

‘A deep dive does not lead to a judgement about that particular subject. Rather the evidence from four to six deep dives enables inspectors to form hypotheses about which factors are systemic - that is, relate to the quality of education provided by the school as a whole.’

NASUWT comment

Deep dives are NOT subject inspections. Rather, they are used to help inspectors form judgements about the whole curriculum.

The quality of education judgement is a judgement about the whole curriculum. It is NOT a judgement about the subjects observed in deep dives.

Inspectors are likely to focus on how the whole curriculum is designed, planned and implemented. They will not judge how individual teachers and curriculum leaders carry out their responsibilities.

School context

Inspectors will consider the school’s context when forming a judgement about the quality of education. This means that the expectations of a curriculum leader in a primary school will be very different from that of a curriculum leader in a secondary school.

It is important to note that inspectors should be gathering evidence and forming judgements about workload and wellbeing while they gather evidence about the quality of education. Inspectors will want to understand what curriculum leadership actually entails in a particular school and that this is undertaken in a way that is manageable and sustainable.

NASUWT advice

It may be appropriate for a curriculum leader in a primary school to use designated staff meetings to discuss their subject and to provide other teachers with subject-related information and support.

Inspection of special educational needs and disabilities

Inspectors will take a rounded view of the quality of education that a school provides to all its pupils, including the most disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

NASUWT advice

Inspectors are likely to seek information about how pupils who have SEND are included. They will want to understand how leaders plan for inclusion and the steps that teachers take to ensure that pupils with SEND are able to achieve. As part of deep dives, inspectors are likely to speak to pupils who have SEND and scrutinise their work.

School leaders should consider how SEND is led and managed across the school. The SEND Code of Practice advises that the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) is a member of the senior leadership team. The NASUWT recommends that schools follow this advice.

A school should be able to demonstrate that SEND and inclusion are addressed strategically and that the school evaluates the impact of its provision on pupils who have SEND. Schools should consider:

  • how SEND-related evidence informs planning and decision-making;

  • how parents are kept informed and are engaged in decisions about their child’s needs;

  • whether the mechanisms for identifying pupils with SEND are effective;

  • whether information about pupils who have SEND is shared effectively with class teachers; and

  • whether teachers are supported and developed effectively to meet the needs of all the pupils they teach.

Transitional arrangements for curriculum intent

The School inspection handbook states that a school may be judged ‘good’ if it is in the process of constructing or adopting its curriculum and it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about.

Ofsted is keeping the transitional arrangements under review.

NASUWT advice

The new inspection arrangements may be challenging for some schools, particularly schools that have not prioritised curricular matters for some time. Some schools may need to make substantial changes to their curriculum in order to ensure that it is inclusive, broad, balanced and ambitious.

School leaders will need to ensure that they take decisive action to make the necessary changes. However, it is important that schools make use of the transitional period to ensure that these changes are planned effectively, that staff are able to engage with the planned reforms, and that the changes do not have an adverse impact on teachers’ workload and wellbeing.

Primary schools should note that the transitional arrangements do not apply to reading, writing or maths.

A school will need to demonstrate that its intent for reading, writing and maths is established and is being implemented effectively. If a school needs to develop or refine its intent for reading and/or writing and/or maths, it should prioritise this work alongside plans and actions that relate to the whole curriculum.

Teachers and school leaders should contact the NASUWT if they are experiencing particular difficulties.


I am a curriculum leader and have very little time allocated to carry out my curriculum leadership responsibilities

If an inspector speaks to a curriculum leader who does not have designated time to undertake the role, or has not been involved in decisions about curriculum content and the sequencing of the curriculum, this may indicate that the strategic leadership of the whole curriculum is not effective. Therefore, the inspector may want to have further conversations with senior leadership within the school in order to understand arrangements and how decisions are made.

It is important to note that inspectors will gather evidence about the workload and wellbeing of teachers and leaders during deep dives. They will want to see evidence that senior leaders have taken account of teachers’ workload and are not placing unrealistic and unmanageable pressures on them.

The NASUWT urges teachers, school leaders and other staff to complete Ofsted’s online staff survey. This is a major source of evidence that inspectors can use to identify and explore issues relating to workload and wellbeing.

If the school does not disseminate the invitation to complete the staff online survey, NASUWT Representatives should raise concerns with the school leadership and Ofsted inspectors.

I have been allocated responsibility for curriculum subjects but do not receive a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) payment for this responsibility. Should I inform the inspector?

A teacher should explain their role and responsibilities to the inspector, including the time that they are given to carry out curriculum leadership responsibilities and how this is or is not recognised through the school’s pay and staffing structure. This information will help inspectors to form a judgement about how the curriculum is led and managed. It will also provide evidence that will help inspectors to form judgements about teachers’ workload and wellbeing. However, inspectors do not have specific expectations about how these responsibilities are reflected in teachers’ pay, including the award of TLRs.

The NASUWT has provided advice to members with TLRs. Teachers should contact the NASUWT for support if they are being held accountable for a curriculum subject and are not receiving their contractual right to a TLR and/or sufficient leadership and management time to undertake their duties effectively.

The school’s governing body/multi-academy trust (MAT)/local authority is putting pressure on senior leaders to undertake deep dives of subjects in preparation for inspection

Deep dives are undertaken so that inspectors can gather evidence that will enable them to form judgements about the whole curriculum, including how that curriculum is designed and managed. Deep dives are not subject inspections. Therefore, conducting ‘mocksted’-style deep dives will not help a school prepare for inspection, but will add to teacher and school leader workload. Teachers and school leaders should resist attempts to undertake deep dives as a preparation for inspection. Where necessary, teachers and school leaders should contact the NASUWT for advice and support.

It is important that schools evaluate the impact of their curriculum across different subjects and phases. However, such activities should always be undertaken in the context of the whole school curricular approach. In particular, it is not appropriate for a school to undertake subject or phase-level monitoring and evaluation before it has established its intent for its curriculum and worked with teachers to identify how this intent will be implemented in practice.

At a point where it is meaningful to conduct subject or phase-level evaluation, the evaluation should always be:

  • clearly linked to the school’s priorities for improvement;

  • subject to a workload impact assessment, with action taken to mitigate any issues identified;

  • developed in consultation with staff and workforce unions; and

  • linked explicitly to arrangements for teacher support and professional development.
I am a curriculum leader. Should I ask a senior leader to accompany me if Ofsted inspectors want to speak to me because they are conducting a deep dive of my subject?

Some teachers have expressed concern that school leaders are telling them to go into meetings with Ofsted inspectors and defend their subject or the school’s curriculum. Other teachers have expressed concern that they will be grilled by the inspector.

Inspectors may ask challenging questions about the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, in order to build up a picture of how the curriculum has been designed, how it is managed and how it is being implemented. Inspectors will make judgements about the quality of education across the school as a whole and will not make judgements about individual subjects, curriculum leaders or teachers. Inspectors will be particularly interested in coherence and the extent to which the whole curriculum is led and managed effectively.

Teachers should make their own judgement about whether they want a senior leader to accompany them when they speak to an Ofsted inspector. The presence of a senior leader may provide moral support. However, some teachers may feel that it makes it more difficult for them to have an honest conversation with the inspector about particular issues.

If a senior manager insists on accompanying a teacher into a meeting with Ofsted inspectors and this prevents the teacher from raising particular issues, the teacher might ask the inspector if they could have a private conversation with them during the course of the inspection. Alternatively, the teacher might ask the NASUWT to raise particular concerns with the inspection team.

I am the headteacher. Can inspectors ban me from attending deep dive meetings with my staff?

Inspectors cannot ban a headteacher from attending a deep dive meeting with a curriculum leader or class teacher. The NASUWT advises headteachers to establish whether the member of staff would like to have a senior leader present when they speak to the inspector. Some teachers may want a leader present for moral support, but others may feel more confident speaking to the inspector alone. The NASUWT believes that the headteacher should accept the teacher’s wishes.

If an inspector identifies gaps in decision-making or believes that a teacher who is designated to be a curriculum leader does not have responsibility for key decisions about the content and sequencing of the curriculum, they may seek to hold further meetings with the headteacher or senior leaders in order to establish how decisions are made. The NASUWT advises headteachers and senior leaders to engage teachers and workforce unions, including the NASUWT, in decision-making and to ensure that teachers and the NASUWT are kept informed about curriculum developments.

What should I do if I have a concern about the way in which inspectors have conducted deep dives?

Depending on the nature of the issue, the headteacher or senior leader should consider raising their concerns with the lead inspector. This will be appropriate if, for example, inspectors seek to hold meetings with teachers outside designated working time. If the matter cannot be resolved, the headteacher, school leader or teacher should contact the NASUWT for support.

The NASUWT has an online survey about inspection which the Union urges members to complete.

It will be appropriate to use the survey to raise concerns about inspection if the concerns are about the deep dive methodology. The NASUWT will use this information to identify common issues about inspection. Where necessary, the Union will raise concerns with Ofsted.

What should I do if an inspector asks to see me during my lunch break, before the start of the school day, or after the end of the school day?

Teachers and school leaders should not be required to meet with an inspector outside their normal working time, including a lunch break or before or after school. The headteacher should raise the issue with inspectors during the pre-inspection telephone conversation and seek assurances that this will not happen. Teachers and school leaders should contact the NASUWT for support if an inspector ignores such a request or if no request is made and an inspector seeks to hold a meeting with them during a break time, before school, or after the end of the school day.

I am a headteacher. Some headteachers have reported that deep dives are having a negative impact on the workloads and wellbeing of curriculum leaders and teachers. What should I do to protect and support my staff?

Schools should not prepare for inspection. However, schools may wish to use the education inspection framework (EIF) to identify things that they should prioritise or focus on.

If a teacher is accountable for a curriculum subject, then the school should ensure that the teacher receives a TLR. Teachers should not be asked to take on the responsibility if they are not paid a TLR.

School leaders should introduce reforms in a systematic way over time as it will be important to ensure that any changes do not add to teachers’ and school leaders’ workloads. Schools should undertake workload impact assessments of any proposals and take action to address any issues that are identified.

It is important to understand that inspectors will look at how the whole curriculum is designed and managed and at the links between the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. This means that responsibility for the curriculum is shared. It means that the decisions made by individual curriculum leaders cohere with the broader vision for the curriculum. The headteacher should ensure that curriculum leaders and teachers understand that this is the case. The school’s approach to organising and managing the curriculum should be collaborative and co-operative.

The headteacher will need to consider how staff are engaged in discussions and decisions about the intent for the whole curriculum. This includes discussions and decisions about curriculum content and planning. The headteacher will need to ensure that there are clear channels for communicating information about the curriculum to all staff and for receiving information and feedback from class teachers. Further, the headteacher will need to ensure that measures are in place to support and develop teachers and curriculum leaders.

Headteachers should NOT commission or undertake mock deep dives of subjects. This will NOT help school or curriculum leaders prepare for inspection.

Schools will need to establish a means of evaluating the implementation and impact of their curriculum approaches at subject and phase level. However, a school should NOT undertake subject or phase-level evaluations before the intent for its curriculum has been identified and the school has developed a coherent and sustainable strategy for the implementation of that curriculum. Conducting subject and phase-level evaluations before a whole school approach to the curriculum has been established is a meaningless and burdensome exercise. It is also unlikely to convince inspectors that a school’s leadership and management of the curriculum are effective.

How will inspectors inspect reading in primary schools?

Inspectors will use the same inspection methodology to inspect reading as that used to inspect the quality of education. They will consider intent for reading, how the curriculum for reading is implemented across the school curriculum, and how this impacts on pupils’ learning outcomes.

Inspectors will pay particular attention to reading in years 1, 2 and 3. They will also pay particular attention to pupils who are performing below age-related expectations.

Inspectors will gather a top-level view of reading through discussions with the headteacher and curriculum leader/co-ordinator for English. They will undertake a deep dive of reading by talking to senior leaders, curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils, by scrutinising pupils’ work, and by visits to lessons. Inspectors will consider whether certain practices are systemic and look to test this out.

Inspectors will draw evidence together to form a judgement about the quality of education. Ofsted identifies seven evaluation criteria for early reading:

  1. the headteacher prioritises reading;

  2. staff foster a love of reading;

  3. the content and sequence of the phonics programme supports pupils’ progress;

  4. reading books match the sounds that children know;

  5. children are taught phonics from the start of reception;

  6. pupils who fall behind are supported to catch up quickly;

  7. staff are experts in early reading.

It is essential that the curriculum leader/co-ordinator for English is given adequate time to fulfil their responsibilities. This includes time to embed the subject across the whole curriculum, to train and support staff to implement the intended curriculum consistently and coherently, and to identify and share effective practice. It is vital that the English leader/coordinator, like all subject leaders/co-ordinators, receives a TLR or is paid on the leadership pay range.

Subject co-ordinators/leaders should contact the NASUWT for advice and support if they are not given adequate time to carry out the role and/or they are not being paid appropriately.

Further information

Ofsted, School inspection handbook: Handbook for inspecting schools in England under section 5 of the Education Act
Ofsted (May 2019), Inspecting the curriculum: Revising inspecting methodology to support the education inspection framework
Ofsted inspection blog: Guidance and commentary on inspection, including what Ofsted does and does not require