Ofsted to scrap subject deep dives for ungraded inspections

Sir Martyn Oliver says 'it isn't helpful to cram' full inspection detail into ungraded visits

Sir Martyn Oliver says 'it isn't helpful to cram' full inspection detail into ungraded visits

4 May 2024, 10:03

Sir Martyn Oliver

Ofsted will scrap subject deep dives during ungraded inspections from September, its chief inspector has announced.

Sir Martyn Oliver said it “isn’t right” or “helpful to try to cram all the detail of a full, graded inspection into an ungraded one” and instead wants these inspections to feel “more like monitoring visits”. 

The change means 40 per cent of school inspections – about 3,000 – planned for next year will no longer have deep dives. The change was made after feedback from small primary schools which felt the methodology was “particularly challenging”. 

Schools previously rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ receive ungraded inspections, which can be upgraded to full inspections if inspectors identify concerns that may lead to their grade being changed.

Subject deep dives were introduced in Amanda Spielman’s 2019 inspection framework, and were aimed at supporting an increased focus on the quality of what is taught in schools.

But they were criticised by leaders, particularly for their impact on small primary schools.

Ofsted said in a press release that the lead inspector’s initial phone call will focus on “getting to know the school, its context, priorities and progress since the previous inspection.

“There will then be more space for school leaders to help shape the inspection plan and ensure it is focused on the right things.”

Inspectors will use ‘extended learning walks’

The inspection framework won’t change, but instead of deep dives, inspectors will typically use “extended learning walks to consider the impact of the curriculum and pupils’ personal development”. 

Safeguarding arrangements, behaviour and attendance will continue to be evaluated in the same way.

Oliver told the National Association of Head Teachers’ conference that “removing the deep dives from September, will allow for a proper conversation between professionals about the school’s strengths and its areas for improvement. Not a rushed dig into every detail.

“We also hope that this change will reduce the burden on subject leaders and more junior colleagues. We’ll focus on a dialogue with you and your senior leaders. 

“So, while we will still want to have conversations with subject leads, this will be less intensive for them.”

He added headteachers “have said that they sometimes feel out of the loop with deep dives because they’re not part of that process. 

“Sometimes that’s right, as we want to see subject leaders’ expertise and skills independently. But it’s not necessary for an ungraded inspection, so we’ll put you and other senior leaders at the heart of them.”

Heads welcome move

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the removal of deep dives from ungraded inspections was a “welcome and positive move”.

“NAHT has long argued that the deep dive approach is not well suited to primary schools, and especially small primary schools, and we are pleased Ofsted has listened.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

“We hope this is that start of an ongoing process of reform when it comes to how schools are inspected.”

The announcement has prompted some heads to ask whether the move would increase reliance on data.

Oliver said there had “always been a balance” and data had “always been a part of inspection”.

But it is not the “only determiner” of school performance and “you may have poor data, but you may have an excellent curriculum which is showing the children in the school right now are getting a good deal and a great deal”.

“And so it’s bringing that balance. It’s not an either or, it’s both together.”

He said inspectors would move from deep dives to “asking leaders, what do you know are your strengths and your areas for development”.

“If leaders are able to identify and talk honestly and openly about those challenges, then that will give us a better sense of the quality of leadership and whether a school is still good or outstanding.”

Pressed on whether there would be further changes in the next academic year, Oliver said he was confident that “much, much more is going to come in September” and “then even more will come when the legislation is passed at some point”.

‘Inspectors are not trying to trick you’

The announcement comes during Ofsted’s ongoing “Big Listen” consultation, which runs to the end of this month and has had 15,000 responses so far. 

These will be assessed over the summer, with further measures to be announced in the autumn. 

Oliver also said he has made it “very clear” to inspectors that he expects them to act “with professionalism, empathy, courtesy, and respect, at all times.

“And I hope you will meet them with the same. Because they’re not trying to trick you or catch you out. They’re trying to find out what’s great about your school, and where there is some room to improve.”

Oliver told heads he knew “how challenging” the job could be, “but I also know that it is one of the best careers out there. And I know that the rewards make it all worth it”.

“I also want to encourage all of you to remember and talk about the positives a little more. I’m not diminishing the very real issues in schools, or sticking my head in the sand.

“But I do worry that, if a narrative of negativity becomes all-encompassing, then we may lose some of the best potential teachers in the next generation.”

‘Negative’ talk risks putting off would-be teachers

He added that “of course, we need to identify the problems, and be vocal about finding the solutions”.

“But if that’s all we do. If we only talk about the negatives, the stresses, the things that make us want to give up, well then we risk putting off a generation of brilliant and inspiring teachers.”

Speaking to journalists after his speech, Oliver said the sector had “a responsibility to try and encourage the next generation and when the next generation see teachers having discourse in public, then I think if they hear only negativity, that would be very difficult”.

“If there’s a balance, much better. And of course, if there’s positivity, where possible, without being naive, even better still.”

But he said he would “not equate” his comments with the “genuine” outpouring of anger over the death of headteacher Ruth Perry. A coroner ruled in December that an inspection contributed to her suicide.

“It is a difficult time. I’ve had lots of difficult times in the three decades I’ve been involved in the job,” said Oliver.

“I can understand people feeling that this is a very particularly challenging moment in in the sector, but it will get better. Ofsted will play its part in making sure that things get better. And we should hold onto that.”

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One comment

  1. Mr D J Foster

    If Ofsted is such a wonderful thing…why don’t we have the same thing for all politicians??? There is no reason whatsoever! Who knows what they do???