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Ofsted Reading Deep Dive — Overview and Key Questions

Ofsted Reading Deep Dive — Overview and Key Questions

The Ofsted Education Inspection Framework includes a “deep dive” in reading, and this forms part of every inspection for infant and primary schools. Taken together with the guidance in The Reading Framework (July 2023) schools have been working hard to ensure their practices are in line with current expectations on the teaching of reading.

As leading educational suppliers of books to primary schools in the UK, we have been working closely with publishers and schools to ensure we are offering the most appropriate resources and up-to-date information to support schools in making the right choices when they are spending their precious budgets. We have gathered information from several sources including government documentation, research into frequently asked questions during inspections, and as much information as we could glean from the leading educational publishers whose reading schemes we stock. This should help teachers to prepare for the reading deep dive, ensuring that you have all the information you need on how your existing resources meet the new criteria (including the new Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the teaching of phonics) and allowing you to identify any gaps.

The Reading Deep Dive is set out in the School Inspection Handbook and includes a number of elements:

  • Evaluation of senior leaders’ intent for the reading curriculum and their understanding of its implementation and impact
  • Evaluation of curriculum leader’s medium and long-term planning and thinking, including the rationale behind it
  • Discussion with teachers to understand how their choices are informed by the curriculum
  • Lesson observations (4 to 6 lessons), some of which may be joint observations with the visiting inspector
  • Discussions with a cross-section of pupils, including those whom they have seen in lessons
  • Inspectors will hear a selection of children read
  • Scrutiny of books and pupils’ work (they'll look at 6 pieces of work per year group, for at least two year groups)

The EIF states that inspectors will make a judgement on the quality of education by exploring three areas: Intent, Implementation and Impact (the 3 I’s). The aim of the deep dive is based on Ofsted’s motto of “Let’s see that in action together” so that inspectors can gather evidence of how educational practice flows from intention to implementation to impact within a school. Inspectors are looking to work with leaders, teachers, and pupils to gather coherent evidence on the quality of education in the setting.

Inspectors have key expectations to consider when making a judgement about the quality of reading provision within a school. These include the following:

  • Reading is prioritised to allow pupils full access to the curriculum offer.
  • A rigorous and sequential approach to the reading curriculum develops pupils’ fluency, confidence, and enjoyment in reading. At all stages, reading attainment is assessed and gaps are addressed quickly and effectively for all pupils in order to meet or exceed age-related expectations. Reading books show a cumulative progression in phonics and are accurately matched to the grapheme-phoneme correspondences each pupil already knows.
  • The sharp focus on ensuring that younger children and those at the early stages of learning to read gain phonics knowledge, the language comprehension necessary to read, and the skills to communicate, as the foundations for future learning. This includes teaching reading through a systematic, synthetic phonics programme from the beginning of Reception.

The Reading Framework: Teaching the Foundations of Literacy (July 2021) includes a strengthened focus on the importance of high-quality phonics teaching. It supports the models of teaching reading advocated in the National Curriculum for English, namely that “Children need both good language comprehension and good word reading to become good readers” (P18) and that:

  • Language comprehension and composition are developed by talking, listening and talking about stories, and by learning poetry and songs
  • Decoding and encoding can be taught through a systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programme

Systematic Synthetic Phonics Teaching Programmes — updated guidance

In April 2021 the DfE published revised core criteria for systematic synthetic phonics teaching programmes, and inspectors will use these to form judgements. Inspectors will consider whether “a rigorous approach to the teaching of reading develops learners’ confidence and enjoyment in reading. At the early stages of learning to read, reading materials are closely matched to learners’ phonic knowledge.”

Since the DfE announced these changes, a programme of validation has been taking place for published phonics teaching programmes. The publishers’ deadline for submission for validation was 31st March 2022. Schools will be expected to show they are using a successful approach which is comprised of a teaching programme, relevant resources, reading books and high-quality staff training. This programme can be one that the school has developed internally and demonstrated to be effective for all pupils, (including the lowest 20%), or a commercially available programme that has been validated by the DfE. Ofsted does not have a preferred programme or approach; however, validation status indicates that a programme has been self-assessed by its publisher and judged by a small panel with relevant expertise and that both consider it to meet all of the DfE criteria for an effective systematic synthetic phonics programme.

A complete systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programme is one that provides:

  • all that is essential to teach SSP to children in Reception and Key Stage 1of mainstream primary schools
  • sufficient support for children in Reception and Key Stage 1 to become fluent readers
  • a structured route for most children to meet or exceed the expected standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check
  • all national curriculum expectations for word reading through decoding by the end of Key Stage 1

For more guidance on choosing an SSP programme that is best for your school, speak to your local English Hub and review our Phonics Mapping and Support Documents for more detailed information on a range of validated systematic synthetic phonics schemes.

Is funding available to replace phonics resources in school?

Some schools can apply to access the £5M funding to support schools in providing great reading provision. Only certain LEAs are on the list and schools must also meet the threshold of at least 22% of pupils eligible for pupil premium or service pupil premium funding.

You can see if you are eligible and apply for funding here.

View Phonics Mapping and Support Documents

As suppliers of educational resources to schools, we've collated mapping & supporting documents from leading publishers of phonics resources to help you easily compare validated systematic synthetic phonics teaching programmes to decide which one is right for your school. If you already have SSP provision in place but are updating or auditing your stock, these documents help by identifying the sounds each text contains, so you can ensure that all books are closely matched to the sounds children know as well as identifying where future book purchases need to be made.

The Phonics Mapping and Support Documents resource is available here.

Where can I buy DfE Validated Phonics SSP Teaching Resources fitted with protective jackets?

Pandora Books offer competitive pricing and FREE protective jackets fitted on all paperbacks ensuring your books stand up to the wear and tear of the home/school reading programme. Browse phonics resources here.

What will inspectors look at during deep dives into early reading?

Gill Jones, Deputy Director for Early Education at Ofsted states that inspectors will consider the extent to which:

  • direct, focused phonics is taught every day in Reception and Key Stage 1
  • children read from books with the sounds they know, while they are learning to read
  • teachers and teaching assistants provide extra practice through the day for the children who make the slowest progress (the lowest 20%)
  • all children in Year 3 and above can read age-appropriate books
  • teachers instil in children a love of literature: the best stories and poems

‘However, we do not expect to see phonics in ‘continuous provision’ activities. This is a time to develop children’s talk, play and wider curriculum experiences. A ‘language-rich’ environment is just about talking with children, not building displays, or sticking on Post-it Notes.’

Read the full blog here

What questions are asked by Ofsted during a Reading Deep Dive?

Below is a list of questions Ofsted may ask your literacy or reading lead and pupils, class teachers, or Early Years leaders. This list has been formulated based on what other teachers have reported from their inspections under the new framework and on our knowledge of the subject area. Many questions will be specific to your school but this sample is intended to give you a heads up in your preparations.

General questions for subject leaders:

  • What is your action plan for developing reading this year? What are you trying to improve upon?
  • How does reading fit with the wider curriculum?
  • What whole school reading policies do you have? Is sending reading books home a whole school policy?
  • How do you make sure early reading is prioritised?
  • How often do teachers read to children?
  • How do you make sure story time is engaging? How do you support teachers in doing this?
  • How do you make sure children have a love for reading? In class and at home?
  • What do you do to engage children in reading?
  • How do you select the books that children read?
  • How do you decide upon the texts that children get to know very well?
  • How do you improve children's reading fluency?
  • How are the lowest attaining 20% supported with reading?

Questions about reading at home:

  • What books do children take home? Do they pick or do you? If you pick, how do you choose them?
  • How often do children change these books?
  • Do parents get involved with children reading these books at home? How do you know?
  • How do you help parents to foster a love of reading at home?
  • If parents can't read themselves, how are you supporting them to help their child read at home?

Questions around phonics:

  • Phonics check — if your results are good, how are you achieving that? If they need improvement, what do you plan on doing to make results better?
  • How do you ensure children's books help children to practise the sounds they have learnt?
  • How do you ensure children know the digraphs, letter sounds etc? To blend sounds into words? To read exception words?
  • What images and movements do you use to convey the sounds, digraphs etc?
  • What is your termly plan for what you want children to know with phonics leading up to the screening check?
  • How much time do children spend learning phonics?
  • When do you start teaching letter-sound correspondence? Why then?
  • How many sounds will your children know by the end of the term? Do you have an outline/plan for this?
  • Think about where we are in the year now — Where are the children up to? Which children are not at this point? Why?
  • What are you doing to remedy this? Can you show me what they know? (read with children here potentially).
  • How do you know which children are not on track? How do you assess? How regularly?
  • How quickly do you spot children who are struggling?
  • What support is in place for these children to catch up?
  • How do you ensure children build strong phonological skills?

Key stage 2 reading questions:

  • How do you ensure children are fluent and accurate readers past year 2?
  • With older children, how do you know they are reading at home?
  • Are your KS2 teachers phonics trained? How are they supported to use phonics in their teaching?
  • How is reading taught in Key Stage 2?

Questions for pupils:

  • What is your favourite book you've read at school this year?
  • What books have you taken home? How often do you take them home?
  • Does your teacher read aloud to you? When? How much?
  • Do your parents read with you? Do your parents know you have reading books that you take home?
  • Do you enjoy story time?
  • Do you read in other subjects?

Helpful Links and Resources:

School Inspection handbook

Choosing a Phonics Teaching Programme

Ofsted News: Ofsted's official YouTube Channel, containing an extensive playlist of videos relating to the education inspection framework and much more.

Find out More About Additional Funding:

Essential Core Criteria for a Validated SSP

The Reading Framework July 2022

Contact Your Local English Hub

Phonics Mapping and Support Documents

Encouraging Parental Engagement with Reading At Home

10 Top Tips to encourage Children to Read

Badger Learning: Download 5 ways for families to have fun reading at home

Encouraging Book Talk for Wellbeing and Vocabulary Development

Catch Up Reading Schemes for Children in KS2


Ofsted Reading Deep Dive — Overview and Key Questions

The Ofsted Education Inspection Framework includes a “deep dive” in reading, and this forms part of ..

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