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Are you prepared for an Ofsted ‘deep dive’?

March 11, 2020, 12:45 GMT+1
Read in about 9 minutes
  • Do you have 'intent', asks Naomi Hiscock...
Are you prepared for an Ofsted ‘deep dive’?

Do you have ‘intent’? Do all your teachers know what it is and why it is appropriate for your school? Can it be seen in the teaching and learning taking place in your classrooms? If not, you’re not ready for a ‘deep dive’ and you need to be soon, whether your subject is chosen or not.

Preparing for a ‘deep dive’ starts with having your ‘intent’ sorted. So, what is ‘intent’? ‘Intent’ is setting out clearly what is distinct about the subject and why it is important for your children to learn it.

This has to be understood by all levels in the school: senior leaders; subject leader; and teachers.

To do this for science, look at the ‘Purpose of study’ and ‘Aims’ within the introduction to the science programmes of study in the National Curriculum and work with staff to define what this means for the children in your school and their future.

Just sorting the ‘intent’ is not enough to be well placed for a ‘deep dive’. Next, you need to establish what you are teaching in each year, when and why.

The National Curriculum sets out the content that must be delivered within each key stage. For the Foundation subjects, the school needs to make a decision about what specific content will be covered in each year, bearing in mind progression and level of conceptual understanding.

For science, the National Curriculum has already been broken down by year group with progression embedded within it. Science content can be moved across year groups but, if so, there must be a clear rationale for why this has been done e.g. classes with mixed year groups.

For all subjects, the sequence in which content is taught is not prescribed. For example, in science, the sequence in which the topics are presented in the National Curriculum is by subject (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) rather than progression of knowledge.

Consequently, it is important that schools consider the sequence in which the science topics and their related statements are taught within each year. Schools should consider the following questions when planning the teaching of the science topics and statements within any particular year.

  • Do some topics and statements require coverage throughout the year?
  • How complex are the concepts involved?
  • What is the relationship between topics and their related statements within a year i.e. does one topic need to be taught before another?
  • Can a topic be revisited in different contexts?
  • How long does each topic require? Should any be split?

To illustrate what this might mean for sequencing science in Year 3, for example, see the panel opposite.

Whether the sequence chosen is repeated on an annual basis and published as part of a long-term curriculum map or determined by the year-group teachers on an annual basis, it is critical that the rationale is clearly articulated and understood by all levels in the school.

This is still not sufficient to completely meet Ofsted’s requirements. Schools also need to reflect on their particular pupils, bearing in mind their backgrounds and experience both in and outside

  • prior experience and vocabulary, so that any potential gap in attainment can be addressed
  • the context of the school and the community from which the children are drawn and using
  • this to make learning relevant the interests of the children and how they can be used to engage them in learning

Last, but not least, there needs to be a clear set of principles for how teachers are expected to deliver the content in the curriculum e.g. an appropriate range of teaching strategies. If all of this is not in place before Ofsted call and the subject is selected for a ‘deep dive’, what follows will make little difference.

So, the inspectors are in and your subject has been chosen for a ‘deep dive’. Why? The answer is probably that it is either an area of strength or an area that is currently a high priority on development plans. Whatever the reason, what follows will be the same.

The Ofsted inspector will meet with the subject leader and will want to hear about the school’s ‘intent’, i.e. the rationale behind the school’s curriculum for the subject (eg content and sequencing), and what they can expect to see when they visit the classroom, i.e. range of teaching strategies.

When the inspector visits a classroom, they will expect to see what they observe matching the description given them by the subject leader. They will look to see what learning is taking place by talking to the pupils and looking at their work.

They will expect the pupils to be able to explain what they are learning and put this in the context of their prior learning. Consequently, teachers need to embed the practice of reminding children of what they have learnt already and how the current lesson builds on that.

After the lesson, the inspectors will invite a number of children to share their work with them, so they can establish whether what they have observed in the lesson is normal practice. This is to enable the inspectors to establish whether the ‘intent’ of the curriculum is being implemented consistently.

The inspectors will also speak to the teachers whose lessons have been visited and they will need to be able to explain what they were teaching and why, whether the children acquired the relevant learning, and how it fits with their prior and future learning.

If what they observe and hear from the subject leader, teachers and pupils is not consistent or doesn’t fit the stated ‘intent’ or learning strategies, they will be concerned.

Just because your subject isn’t selected for a ‘deep dive’, doesn’t mean that it won’t be looked at by the inspectors. From the ‘deep dives’, the inspectors identify further areas to explore which may involve looking at the books of other subjects outside the ‘deep dives’.

For example, they might choose to look at how EAL and/or SEND pupils are supported across a range of subjects, or how more able pupils are challenged, or how learning is transferred between subjects.

So, my advice for subject leaders is to prepare as if you are definitely going to be the subject of a ‘deep dive’. Get your ‘intent’ established, monitor its ‘implementation’ across the school, and gather evidence of its ‘impact’ to demonstrate that it is effective.

And my advice to senior leaders is to support your subject leaders to get this in place as soon as you can.

Throughout the year

Many plants have an annual cycle – having buds, flowers, seeds/berries at certain times in the year.

Pupils should therefore visit the same plants throughout the year gathering evidence linked to their life cycle eg collecting seeds and taking photographs or making observational drawings for buds, flowers etc. This evidence can then be reviewed at the end of the year to exemplify a range of plants’ life cycles.

This topic is best taught in the summer term when there is sufficient light in the classroom to grow seedling and plants as part of enquiry work.

Links can be made between the Plants, Rocks and Light topics. The ordering is not significant, but the links should be made explicit for the children by the teacher.

Animals, including humans
This topic can be split into two topics: nutrition; and movement

Links can be made between the Plants and Rocks topics. The ordering is not significant, but the links should be made explicit for the children by the teacher.

Links can be made between the Plants and Light topics. The ordering is not significant, but the links should be made explicit for the children by the teacher.

Naomi Hiscock is Director at Primary Science Education Consultancy.