An outline of what you need to know and prepare for an ‘Ofsted reading deep dive’ from primary senior leader and English leader, Sheetal Smith.

The latest Education Inspection Framework includes a mandatory ‘reading deep dive’ where inspectors will look at seven aspects of early reading:

  • “The school is determined that every pupil will learn to read, regardless of their background, needs or abilities. All pupils, including the weakest readers, make sufficient progress to meet or exceed agerelated expectations.
  • “Stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction are chosen for reading to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and love of reading. Pupils are familiar with and enjoy listening to a wide range of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction.
  • “The school’s phonics programme matches or exceeds the expectations of the national curriculum and the EYFS early learning goals. The school has clear expectations of pupils’ phonics progress term by term, particularly from Reception to Year 2.
  • “The sequence of reading books shows a cumulative progression in phonics knowledge that is matched closely to the school’s phonics programme. Teachers give pupils sufficient practice in reading and rereading books that match the grapheme-phoneme correspondences they know, both at school and at home.
  • “Reading, including the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics, is taught from the beginning of Reception.
  • “The ongoing assessment of pupils’ phonics progress is sufficiently frequent and detailed to identify any pupil who is falling behind the programme’s pace. If they do fall behind, targeted support is given immediately.
  • “The school has developed sufficient expertise in the teaching of phonics and reading.”1

As a main inspection activity, inspectors will focus on how well pupils are taught to read. It is important for them to learn how to read fluently as quickly as possible; after all, ‘fluent readers are able to read and gain knowledge for themselves.’ 1

Phonics and early reading

The 2007 Letters and Sounds Framework is no longer sufficient as it is not a full programme that sets out how phonics should be taught on a week-by-week basis. Instead, it is recommended that schools use a validated Systematic Synthetic Phonics Programme (SSP). Designed by experts, these have all the relevant resources, reading books and high-quality training to ensure an approach which is ‘rigorous and used with fidelity.’ 1

There are also 34 Department for Education English Hubs providing support for excellent teaching in phonics and early language. They focus on supporting the slowest progressing children in Reception and Year 1 through action planning, reading audits, funding for training and support and access to a literacy specialist.

Deep dive in reading

Here is my advice as an English leader:

  • Train all staff in the school’s chosen phonics programme and teach pupils direct focused phonics from the beginning of Reception and Key Stage 1 every day.
  • If pupils fall behind the programme, leaders should ensure that extra practice throughout the day is provided so that they can ‘keep up’ rather than ‘catch up.’
  • Check that resources match the phonics programme and use them consistently in all phases.
  • Organise decodable books in the given sequence in a chosen SSP programme – pupils should not be asked to read books that require them to guess words or deduce meanings from pictures, grammar, clues etc.
  • School leaders provide high-quality CPD and make sure all new staff are trained in the programme.
  • Ensure parents are well informed and books/phonics folders are taken home.

Pupils from KS1 and KS2 (Year 3 specifically) will be asked to read. Inspectors will concentrate on the lowest 20% and will want to know if a school has a team of expert reading teachers and if the slowest progressing readers in KS2 can read age-appropriate unseen books with fluency.

All pupils should pass the phonics screening and be able to read before starting Year 3. If pupils are still learning to read in KS2, they should remain on the school’s chosen phonics programme.

In Year 3, pupils should:

  • “Read with fluency a range of age-appropriate text types (which may include fairy stories, myths and legends, poetry, plays and non-fiction).
  • “Read most common exception words by sight.
  • “Know the full range of GPCs [Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences] and use phonic skills consistently and automatically to address unfamiliar or challenging words.
  • “Determine the meaning of new words by sometimes applying knowledge of root words and their affixes.
  • “Prepare poems and playscripts to read aloud and perform.” 2

As an English Leader, it’s vital to observe and monitor the impact of any reading interventions across the school. In some cases, pupils may be able to read but struggle with comprehension. The Education Endowment Foundation provides strategies for Improving Literacy in KS2 that are high-impact and low-cost. For example, ‘explicitly teaching reading strategies’ has proven to have an ‘impact on pupils by +6 months progress.’ 3

Developing a reading culture

Timetabled slots for reading for pleasure, story-time in all phases and a reading corner in every classroom are great initiatives. Promote reading through the use of the school library (if you have one), as well as author visits and reading events. My school’s most popular reading event is The Summer Reading Challenge, an educational competition held annually by The Reading Agency. Every summer, all pupils participate and return in September with a certificate that we stick into their English books. We celebrate their success in our first assembly at the start of every year.

Many schools ensure that pupils have a decodable reading book and reading book for pleasure from the library to take home to share with their parents. NB: Inspectors will ask pupils about their reading and assess whether the school has been able to develop a love for reading.

In the early years and KS1, stories, rhymes, songs and poems should be shared regularly. Encouraging children in KS2 to research and read widely will develop their vocabulary. You may want to think about book recommendations/lists and a text-based curriculum with texts from different cultures that show underrepresented groups. Pupils should also have access to a range of poetry: choral, classic etc. NB: Inspectors will ask about what texts have been chosen to develop children’s vocabulary.

Not all parents have the time to visit the school for a workshop on reading but keeping reading high profile is essential. In the past, I have written a monthly newsletter to parents about our school’s chosen phonics programme, how they can support their child with reading at home, reading strategies and much more. It has been a useful way to communicate the importance of reading and ensure that pupils read at home every day.


For English Leaders, it is vital to ‘drop in’ to classrooms and ensure there is consistency between Reception and KS1. It is beneficial for Reception and KS1 staff to observe each other – and for all teaching assistants to be trained in the school’s reading and phonics programmes for the same reason. Inspectors will want to see that the school has made reading a priority and ensure that every child learns to read in their school.

It is also worth putting a tracking system in place so that pupils that have fallen behind can access extra lessons to ‘keep up.’ This is also beneficial if pupils require further phonics intervention when entering KS2.

The deep dive in reading is a team effort. All leaders and staff should work together to ensure that every child in their school can read, despite their ability or background.

Every child must learn to read – this must be the school’s priority to ensure all pupils can access the curriculum throughout their school years.

Key points

Pupils should be taught from the same validated phonics programme with all its resources – with texts written by authors from around the world and characters and themes representing all aspects of modern Britain. Think about how to get parents involved through reading newsletters or attending workshops or even asking them to observe your reading sessions! If funding is an issue, please contact your local English Hub for further support. Pupils love to read, so please provide a range of texts in your class – fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

References and further reading

  1. Ofsted, (2022) The School Inspection Handbook, Available at:
    school-inspection-handbook-eif/school-inspectionhandbook#evaluating-the-quality-of-education-1 (Accessed: 16 January 2023)
  2. Department for Education, (2014) The national curriculum in England-Framework Document Available at: https://www. (Accessed: 18 January 2023)
  3.  Education Endowment Foundation, (2023) Reading Comprehension Strategies. Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2023)


  • Sheetal Smith

    Sheetal is an experienced senior leader in the primary education sector. Having had a range of leadership roles and completing a number of middle leadership programmes in inner-London schools, she is now at the beginning of her NPQH journey. She has been responsible for many curriculum areas, including English, RSE and assessment and is currently leading Key Stage Two.
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