From education to employment

Taking a deep dive into deep dives

Louise Doyle, the CEO at Mesma

When a regulator introduces new language into their model, it is common for those whom they regulate to (understandably) follow suit.

This has been the case in England’s education system with the use of ‘curriculum deep dives’ during inspection of providers since 2019.

In Ofsted’s own words, a deep dive includes:

“..a range of inspection activities grouped into focused curriculum reviews, known as ‘deep dives’. These will provide evidence of the effective implementation of the curriculum and its intent. They also gather evidence which may be relevant to other key judgement areas and progress judgements.

Education Inspection Framework (EIF)

Overall, it is positive to see the use of deep dive reviews increasingly added to the internal quality assurance mix of further education providers in response. The risk – as with any change that aims to mirror an inspection approach – is that the provider does it for the wrong reason. The ‘wrong’ reason is to do it because we think Ofsted want it. The ‘right’ reason is because it drives continuous improvement. We only need to look back to pre-2016 to see the use of graded observations as a flawed method of assessment to see in practice the flow from inspection methodology to ingrained practice.

Using deep dive reviews to drive continuous improvement

Based on some of the raised-eyebrow comments on social media when deep dives were introduced in the EIF, there is a misconception that Ofsted created the term and the approach. This isn’t the case. A deep dive review is standard within the quality assurance toolbox. It even has its own dictionary definition ‘to conduct a thorough investigation and analysis of something”, and in the past has been a term used by other regulators such as the CQC.

Conducting a deep dive is a technique that we can use to:

  • Solve problems
  • Generate ideas
  • Fully understand a situation

It is a technique used by the more curious amongst us. For example, two providers might have the same problem on the surface but when we explore the reasons why it is happening, the root of it can be quite different. The solution(s) to resolve is therefore not the same. A surface level response to fixing the effect rather than the cause will eventually lead to wasted time and cost.

The activities that take place within a deep dive depend on the purpose and the question or topic we want to explore, with the aim of triangulating our findings to help move beyond our own subjective viewpoint. Conducted by either individuals or groups, there are helpful overlaps with practitioner enquiries which encourage team members to explore a topic or question in-depth.

Deep dives can be an excellent addition to your quality assurance cycle if done well. They can help overcome one of the key challenges we are often asked by quality managers; How can I better involve curriculum teams in quality assurance?

Impactful Deep Dives

Here are our seven top tips for setting up deep dives that will drive improvement:

  1. Align your deep dives with the outcomes of your SAR and QIP to inform progress, explore problems or generate ideas.
  2. Ensure deep dives have leader buy-in and sponsorship. Without it, resulting recommendations may fall on deaf ears.
  3. Involve team members from across the organisation with different perspectives. Creative solutions come from diverse minds.
  4. Invest time in clearly defining the question or topic you want to explore. This is harder than it sounds but is worth the effort.
  5. Define the activities that will best answer the question. Focus on triangulating evidence from various sources.
  6. Include the learner’s voice to ensure their experience is front and centre.
  7. Involve someone who can bring an objective view when analysing the resulting data. For example, a governor, trusted advisor, or another provider.
By Louise Doyle, Director, Mesma

Mesma Deep Dive Enquiry Features

If you are a user of the Mesma software platform, you will already know that deep dive enquiries were a feature of the platform before the EIF was introduced by Ofsted.

Our goal is to align the triggers for deep dives – such as your self assessment report and quality improvement plan – with structured enquiries to tie together both the activities and the resulting data to make life easier for you. Generation II of the Mesma platform which launched in January has simplified this even more.

  • Access a range of deep dive enquiry templates covering key topics that experience has shown us our clients want to explore most often.
  • Quickly, develop your SAR using the outcomes of deep dives.
  • Schedule all quality assurance activity using the Quality Cycle calendar (from May 2022).
  • Join the Mesma Improvement Partner deep dive programme.

You can download a diagram which provides an overview of the deep dive methodology used during Ofsted inspections here.

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