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Ofsted to scrap subject deep dives for ungraded inspections

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.

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

The 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. 

Olive 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.”

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