Ofsted’s Deep Dives: Music

Jan 13, 2021

Uh oh… Yup, that’s right. Ofsted, and therefore subject deep dives, are back for 2021, and although the transition arrangements for inspection apply until July 2021 (though not for reading, English or maths), that date will be here before you know it. Hence, now is probably a good moment to reflect on your music curriculum in the context of a potential deep dive, and check everything is in good order.

Sounds very sensible. Start by reminding me what the aim of a deep dive is. Certainly. Deep dives are Ofsted’s way of evaluating education ‘in action’, looking at the ‘three Is’ (intent, implementation and impact) and seeing how “education flows” between them.

Right. And what should I expect the inspectors to do when they carry out a deep dive? Ofsted has produced an EIF and deep dives slide-deck that sets out the process in detail, but essentially there are six key elements that inspectors will undertake:

  • An evaluation of the subject intent, and senior leaders’ “understanding of its implementation and impact” through discussion with relevant staff
  • An evaluation of “long- and medium-term thinking and planning, including the rationale for content choices and curriculum sequencing” through discussion with curriculum leaders
  • Visits to “a deliberately and explicitly connected sample of [4-6] lessons” to check that this aligns with what leaders have told them about the intent and implementation of the curriculum
  • A scrutiny of books or other kinds of work produced by pupils from the classes visited by inspectors (at least 6 workbooks/pieces of work from the lessons visited and an in-depth scrutiny of work from at least two year groups)
  • A discussion with teachers “to understand how the curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support effective learning”
  • A discussion with a group of pupils from the lessons visited

Remember though that this is NOT a subject inspection; lessons, subjects, teachers and subject leaders will not be graded.

We would also recommend reading this primary music lead’s account of a deep dive experience produced by the Portsmouth Music Hub, which includes details of what they were asked, and the documentation that was shared with inspectors. Two further schools have shared their experiences here (via #InspireOnline).

So when I’m talking to the inspectors, what sort of messages should I be trying to get across? This blog from Cornerstone Education suggests that “Inspectors will ask questions to get a deeper understanding of how a subject has been planned across the school, the rationale behind it, how the children learn it, and how the school knows this.” As such you will want to highlight how the music curriculum has been developed and is being driven forward, while focusing on the impact it has on children’s learning and experiences.

Understood. Do you have any examples of questions I’m likely to be asked? In general, questions will cover: CPD, curriculum choices and sequencing, progression, coverage, and provision for PP, EAL, SEND, low and high ability. More specifically, you can find lists of possible deep dive questions at the following links:

In terms of preparation, should I carry out a mock deep dive prior to inspection? No! As the NASUWT reminds us, deep dives are not subject inspections, so “conducting ‘mocksted’-style deep dives will not help a school prepare for inspection, but will add to teacher and school leader workload.”

OK, let me rephrase that! How can I check that the music curriculum is on track to succeed in a deep dive? Deep dives aren’t trick exercises, designed to trip you up, so a well-run subject (which no doubt yours is!) will likely emerge well from such scrutiny. However, it never hurts to reflect on your offering, so perhaps consider looking at this self-evaluation guide from Cornwall Music Education Hub and holding staff meetings/CPD to discuss and explore music and to offer information, guidance and support. Ask yourself some key questions:

  • Is music being implemented as it is meant to be? If not, how can I address this?
  • Do teachers have access to both substantive and disciplinary knowledge? How am I ensuring this is the case?
  • How do we develop and nurture creativity and spark interest and passion for music?
  • What is our rationale for the music we study and the order of teaching?
  • How do we assess and track knowledge and skills? How do we ensure progress? How do we ensure knowledge is ‘sticky’?
  • Is the music curriculum relevant to our pupils and local area? Is it diverse? Is it inclusive?

Reflecting on guidance from the NASUWT you may also like to consider:

  • Is the music curriculum broad, balanced and aspirational?
  • Is the music curriculum planned and sequenced logically and appropriately to enable pupils to build and apply their knowledge?
  • Are teachers engaged in decision-making and supported and developed to implement the curriculum?
  • Are there clear systems in place to monitor and evaluate the impact of your D&T curriculum on pupil outcomes?

Dr Elizabeth Stafford, director of Music Education Solutions, has also set out some thoughts in this article.

In a nutshell… Ofsted deep dives are back for 2021, but fear not, a broad, balanced, relevant, resonant curriculum will stand up well to the scrutiny.

Older posts

Ofsted Research review series: Music

We summarise the key findings from Ofsted’s music subject research review and list key features of ‘high-quality music education’.

Remote learning: music

We explore possible options for remote music learning where bubbles and individuals are self-isolating.

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