Ofsted’s Reading Deep Dive – Questions and Phonic Focus

The New Ofsted Education Inspection Framework now includes a ‘Deep Dive’ in reading, and this will form part of every inspection for infant and primary schools. As this has a more detailed focus on the teaching of early reading and how children’s books form part of that process, we have been taking lots of calls from teachers here at Badger Learning. Teachers are keen to know more about the books we supply, and how they support children’s reading development.

We’ve gathered together information from a number of sources including official documentation from the Department of Education, research into frequently asked questions during inspections, and guidance from the leading educational publishers whose reading schemes we stock. This should help teachers to prepare as it includes the information you need to review how existing resources support children’s reading, and also enable you help identify any gaps you may have.

Gill Jones, the Deputy Director of Early Education tells us that inspectors will be considering 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, they 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.

Gill also says in her blog, ‘Good phonics teaching will make sure that all children learn to read early, regardless of their background. It is easy for inspectors to find out if a school has a team of expert reading teachers: if the slowest progress readers in key stage 2 can read age-appropriate unseen books with fluency, inspectors know the school has made reading its priority.’ Read the full blog here

The Education Inspection Framework (EIF) can be found here

Reading Deep Dives consist of the following:

  • For Senior Leaders: evaluation of intent, implementation and impact of the reading curriculum.
  • For Curriculum Leaders: evaluation of long and medium term planning and thinking
  • For Teachers: questions to understand how their choices are informed by the curriculum
  • Lesson observations (4 to 6 lessons)
  • Scrutiny of books and pupils work (they'll look at 6 pieces of work per year group, for at least 2 year groups)
  • Discussions with a group of pupils who were in the lessons observed
  • Hearing children read age-appropriate unseen books

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).

In the implementation section inspectors will be assessing to what extent 'a rigorous approach to the teaching of reading develops learners’ confidence and enjoyment in reading.' They will also focus on if 'At the early stages of learning to read, reading materials are closely matched to learners’ phonics knowledge.'

As educational book suppliers we are receiving many queries about the content of the books we supply. Teachers want to ensure the books they have bought and are planning to buy, support children’s phonic knowledge as outlined above. The new framework sets this out clearly and it is more rigorous than previously seen. We, at Badger Learning have complied information from the all the major educational publishers detailing which sounds are covered in which books, so that teachers can ensure children’s reading materials can be closely matched to the sounds they have learnt in class.

What Phonic knowledge is in which books?

Click on the links below for information from individual publishers schemes:

What Questions come up in a Reading Deep Dive?

Ofsted will vary their questions so this cannot be a fool proof list, but it is intended to give you a good idea of what has come up in previous inspections drawing on what other teachers have reported from their inspections under the new framework and on our knowledge of the subject area. Below is a list of questions OFSTED may ask your literacy or reading lead, as well as pupils and class teachers. We have not attempted to give answers, as these will be specific to your school and your teaching practice but thinking about your response should allow you to see if your practice follows the current guidance.

The teaching of phonics is crucial, as schools will need to show an SSP (Systematic Synthetic Phonics) approach that includes the teaching practice in class, training and CPD for staff and resources such as flashcards and reading books used in school and at home. The government programme Letters and Sounds (2007) may provide the foundation for this or alternatively SSP’s developed by reading hubs or commercial publishers can be used.

General questions for subject leaders:

  • What whole school reading policies do you have? Does the whole school have a policy of sending books home?
  • 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?
  • How do you make sure early reading is prioritised?
  • How are the lowest 20% supported with reading?
  • How do you improve children's reading fluency?
  • 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 inspire a love of reading in your pupils? In class and at home?
  • How do you engage children in reading?
  • How do you select children’s reading books?
  • How do you decide upon the texts that children get to know very well?

Home – School Reading Questions:

  • What books do children take home? Who chooses their books? If you choose them, what criteria do you use?
  • How often do children change their books?
  • What parental involvement is there with children reading at home? How do you evaluate this?
  • 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?

Key Stage 2 Reading Questions:

  • How do you ensure children are fluent and accurate readers beyond year 2?
  • How do you know older children 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 around phonics:

  • Phonics check — if your results are good, how are these achieved? If they need improvement, what are your plans to have an impact on results?
  • How do you ensure children's books help children to practise the sounds they have learnt in school?
  • What is your termly plan for phonic knowledge leading up to the screening check?
  • How do you ensure children know the digraphs, trigraphs and letter sounds etc? To blend sounds into words? To read exception words?
  • What movements and images do you use to convey the sounds, digraphs etc?
  • 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 children up to? Which children are not at this point and why?
  • What are you doing to improve on children’s progress? 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?

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 often?
  • Do your parents read with you? Do your parents know you have reading books that you take home?
  • Do you enjoy storytime?
  • Do you read in other subjects or just in this lesson?


Helpful Links:

Documents to help schools choose a phonics teaching programme from gov.uk

Publishers Self-Assessment forms for Phonics Teaching Materials — Assuring high quality phonic work

Collins’ Developing a Reading Policy in 3 Steps

Resources From Badger Learning:

What’s the Best Reading Scheme for My School?

Phonics Based Reading Schemes

Bug Club Phonics

Collins Big Cat for Letters and Sounds

A Guide to Book Bands


A Guide to Accelerated Reader

What is Guided Reading?