Ofsted 'deep dives': modern foreign languages (MFL) in primary

Find out what evidence Ofsted inspectors look for in a modern foreign languages 'deep dive', and download our list of questions to help you prepare.

Last reviewed on 8 March 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 43311
  1. How deep dives work
  2. Impact of COVID-19 
  3. Questions Ofsted might ask during a MFL 'deep dive'
  4. Ofsted concerns about 'curriculum narrowing'

Ofsted inspectors use subject 'deep dives' to inspect your curriculum. They will use them to consider the ‘intent, implementation and impact’ of your curriculum as part of the ‘quality of education’ judgement.

How deep dives work

Who's involved?

Your senior leadership team (SLT), curriculum leads, subject leads, teachers and pupils.

How will inspectors do this?

In primary schools, inspectors will usually look at between 3 and 5 subjects, depending on the size of your school and the inspection team. They'll gather evidence through:

  • Conversations (see the list of questions below)
  • Work scrutinies (reviewing at least 6 workbooks or pieces of work per lesson, observed from at least 2 year groups)
  • Lesson observations (typically 4 to 6 lessons)
  • Curriculum documentation

You can read more about how deep dives work in this Ofsted guidance.

Ofsted has clarified that you don’t need to prepare special curriculum documentation to help inspectors carry out deep dives. They won’t expect to see curriculum planning or evidence in any specific format, as long as they can easily access it.

See paragraph 75 of the School Inspection Handbook.

Impact of COVID-19 

Ofsted recognises the challenges placed on schools during the pandemic, including that most schools will have been unable to implement their curriculum in the usual way. 

Inspectors will seek to understand how your school has adapted and prioritised the curriculum, including:

  • Exploring how you implemented your curriculum remotely
  • Looking at how subject leads and teachers have identified pupils’ learning gaps and new starting points, and
  • How they have responded to that in their curriculum planning

If you're directly deploying tutors to support catch-up, inspectors will consider how this supports your curriculum's aims. The use of tutors will be integrated into the evaluation of 'quality of education', and 'leadership and management', rather than being inspected separately. 

See paragraphs 13 to 15 of the inspection handbook, linked above.

Questions Ofsted might ask during a MFL 'deep dive'

Ofsted won’t expect subject leaders to be specialists in languages, especially in smaller schools. Remember, they aren’t there just to assess how you teach MFL, but to see how your curriculum is implemented across the whole school.

They will be more interested in what you want your pupils to learn, and why.

Inspectors will broadly be interested in asking you:

  • Does your language curriculum match the scope and ambition of the National Curriculum?
  • Are there clear endpoints? How is content broken down into manageable sections to build towards these endpoints?
  • Are those sections logically sequenced? Do they prepare pupils for future learning?

This is set out in Ofsted's blog post about what to expect on a primary deep dive.

Specific questions

Download our list of questions. It’s based on questions Ofsted inspectors have asked during MFL 'deep dives' and in primary school inspections under the 2019 framework.

Use these alongside our questions Ofsted might ask subject leaders and subject teachers.

Ofsted has advised against schools conducting their own deep dives to assess the quality of the curriculum. However, you can use these questions to carry out your own deep dive if you've found the format works for your school. Check out our article on how to conduct your own deep dive for more information.

Ofsted concerns about 'curriculum narrowing'

Ofsted will be looking to see that your school offers a 'broad and balanced curriculum'. They will be particularly alert to any narrowing of the curriculum, particularly in Key Stage 2. 

See paragraph 205 of the inspection handbook for more information.

Ofsted may carry out more MFL deep dives to address this concern. However, Ofsted still prioritises reading in primary schools. Inspectors will therefore always conduct a reading dive and will examine ‘1 or more’ foundation subjects. This may not include MFL. It’s important to be prepared, but don’t panic if they don’t ask to do a deep dive in your subject.


With thanks to our associate experts:

Andrew Lagden is an education consultant who works for local authorities, multi-academy trusts (MATs) and individual schools, with a particular focus on supporting school improvement programmes and the development of academies and free schools. He also works as an external adviser for headteacher performance management.

Sara Alston is a practising SENCO teacher and an education consultant and trainer for SEA Inclusion & Safeguarding, specialising in special educational needs and safeguarding.

Nina Siddall-Ward is an education consultant. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority, and has been a headteacher in 3 schools.

Sue Cave is an experienced specialist primary languages teacher and trainer, and is passionate about the teaching of languages in primary schools. She shares helpful resources and good practice on her website.

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