Skip to main content

Inspecting under the EIF

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: education inspection framework, inspection, teachers

Picture of head teacher and Ofsted Inspector Sean Flood

Sean Flood, headteacher of Our Lady and St Joseph’s Primary School in Hackney, and Ofsted Inspector (OI), blogs about his experience of education inspection framework (EIF) pilot inspections.

What is it like to inspect under the EIF? Along with one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI), I took part in a 2-day inspection of a primary school in February this year. We were shadowed on day 2 by Ofsted’s Regional Director, London, so no pressure there!

 A move away from data

My biggest observation was the sheer joy – both for inspectors and for school leaders – of the move away from detailed scrutiny and analysis of internal data. When presented with folders of data, I was able to say, ‘thank you for that but I’d rather talk to/look at/hear…’ This is especially true of early years data on entry and progress.

The new approach is much more about observing and discussing work. For example, we may ask if a young child can read simple words, identify letters and sounds and count. We talk to pupils and look at their work. That said, teachers do still have the opportunity to explain their assessment procedures and the rationale behind these and, crucially, what action they have taken off the back of that assessment.

The ‘deep dive’

The new framework really gives more time to look at areas and subjects in some depth: the now-famous Jacques Cousteau ‘deep dive’. This allows the school time to talk in rich detail about its teaching in different subjects.

We explore how the school’s curriculum is helping disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) to overcome barriers to learning. How is it building their knowledge and ‘cultural capital’? This is really about knowing and being able to do the things that let them take part fully in society. We’re especially keen not to see disadvantaged and pupils with SEND receiving a thinner or less ambitious curriculum. The deep dive really lets us explore that.

The whole 2 days also built up evidence around personal development and behaviour and attitudes. This was similar to how things happen now, but there was more time to collect evidence and talk to pupils and staff.

In the discussions we had in the pilot, there was certainly none of the ‘why was there a 17.3% dip for disadvantaged boys in science in key stage 3 in 2017?’ type of questions. As a governor, I’ve been asked similar over the years, but we are serious when we say inspectors will not look at internal progress and attainment data!

Professional dialogue

Inspectors are encouraged to be flexible, not to use a script, and to make sure the line of questioning is effective. From an inspector’s point of view, there is much more professional discussion with staff and leaders. There’s also more talking to pupils about their work and learning – a lot of which we will have seen snapshots of when we were visiting their lessons.

One of the learning points I took away was to ask more from leaders about teacher workload and well-being. What is the school is doing to help and support teachers in this area?

When I did this pilot, the idea of inspectors preparing for inspection on site was still a possibility. This sent chills down my spine. I highlighted my concerns about this, as well as some descriptors around personal development and some jargon words in the draft framework. All have since vanished. Ofsted genuinely listened and reflected on what was working and introduced the education-focused phone call instead. It was a serious consultation.

The EIF launches in September. As a parent and educator, its focus on the real substance of education is laudable, and a real challenge for us all. Best wishes to all who work in schools and colleges out there in the months ahead.

You can keep up-to-date with Ofsted news by signing up for email alerts. You can also follow Ofsted on Twitter.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by JOHN UBSDELL posted on

    When writing an EF or Summary EF if you use jargon it would be returned and circled to be removed; now we have Ofsted and the EIF full of jargon such as 'Deep Dive' , 'Hazing' from Sean Harford in Safeguarding docs, 'Off rolling' this is used for foreign ports and Tilbury to offlroll a haulage ship, Gaming again a betting term........ acronyms such as JUSCO, PACEY, but do not define the letters first! We now have 2 -3 data drops per year is fine but it should be the school/academy decision to decide how and when to perform a data drop and data drops can be focused e.g. a drop for EAL students, mid term arrivals .... so schools now say' oh we can't do a data drop more than twice or three times a year because Ofsted says.....

  2. Comment by @TeacherToolkit posted on

    It is so good to read that inspection is moving away from data conversations and collection ... and that the pre-inspection process has followed a common-sense approach to support schools in managing a complex job, not increase their workload.

    For years, far too many schools and the way in which they have been able to work has been hindered by an inspection framework which focused far too much on data as evidence on performance and progress.

    How do you see Ofsted's role evolving with this framework, despite the Department for Education continues to publish league tables and rank schools?

    How do we define 'deep dive'?

    In terms of conducting reliable information in the school on the day of inspection, I have one concern over the term 'deep dive' being used for inspection over 1.5 to 2 days. Will this be through observation, work scrutiny, conversations with pupils, parents and teachers? If the latter, what questions will be asked: Will the be consistent between person to person and school to school? And will these questions be made public? Or it is 'just a conversation'? If we consider pupils' books, we know that in some subjects, work is often not recorded. For example, in drama or PE. What would a deep dive look like in those curriculum areas?

    If we use a small primary school with one-form entry. Even with ~180 pupils, to look at what pupils are doing in just one class, it would take at least 5 minutes to look at one book per pupil. Assuming inspectors hope to gain a sense of what has been taught across the curriculum and assess 'cultural capital' in lessons, book looks and in conversation with a 4-year old, if we just consider a range of primary lessons in English, maths and science, a humanities and language for one child, to gain a sense of how that pupil is performing across the school, how long would this take? It would take at least 25 minutes to look at 7 books for one pupil to draw any meaningful conclusion of what they have been learning throughout the year. For 30 pupils, this would be 12.5 hours of 'deep diving' to do this in a reliable and effective manner. Again, assuming a small primary requires a small inspection team of 1, 2 or 3 inspectors, this would require one person to be only 'deep diving' into books (conversations with a pupil) to be able to gather anything coherent. Obviously, a) this is not practical and b) not a good use of everyone's time.

    Therefore, is 'deep dive' an appropriate term to use if we consider the same methodology when triangulating sources of evidence in books, observations and in conversation - without looking at any data? And without any agreed questions?

    More thoughts here:

    I'm struggling to understand how this can be reliably achieved. Is there anything in your guidance to define what a 'deep dive' is and how it will be conducted reliably between schools?

    So many questions...

  3. Comment by JL Dutaut posted on

    I love a good Jacques Cousteau reference. My favourite quote of his reads: “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.”

    I wonder if the same couldn’t be said of teachers. Ofsted’s ‘deep diving’ inspectors seem such a poor substitute for knowledgeable and highly skilled teachers leading the system from within.

    By re-discovering curriculum, Ofsted seems to have taken a step towards the realisation that a school is an ecological system, not a economic resource. Unfortunately, it has echoes of Shell ‘green-washing’ their reputation, feigning interest in sustainability while ploughing on with its primary raison d’être.

    I am more convinced than ever that the watchdog has stopped chasing its tail, and has started eating it. This ought to be Ofsted’s final framework before ceasing its pollution of the educational sphere. It may not be. We may yet have to live through the demeaning experience of seeing the top echelons of the policy world ‘discover’ the importance of community to good schooling.

    Meanwhile, teachers on the ground will continue to mischievously mis-quote Cousteau: “What is an inspector, after all? It is a curious person looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nurture, trying to know what’s going on.”

  4. Comment by External Relations posted on

    Hi Ross, our document <a href="">Inspecting the Curriculum</a> sets out what will be included on deep dives, and how we will make sure they give us the insight we need into the school’s curriculum.