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At the start of February my school had a full OFSTED inspection under the new framework. In this blog I will share my experience of the deep dive mathematics inspection as head of department.

At around 4.30 pm the day we were told OFSTED were coming all the staff got together to find out the plan. The Head of Mathematics, Science and English would each have a full day of the inspection dedicated to their deep dive with one inspector assigned to each department.

I had already done a great deal of preparation for the deep dive from the trial inspection last June. This meant I could spend time before the inspection offering advice to my teachers about their lessons. This helped to settle their nerves and gave me an overview of what my team were teaching the following day.

My day began with the Deep Dive interview at 9 am. My first question was, “Tell me about the issues you have encountered since you have worked here. I did not like the question. My response was to share the joys I have encountered since I have worked here and the challenges my team and I have overcome to experience them.

I discussed redesigning the curriculum so mathematics could be taught through problem solving and students had more opportunities to apply their learning rather than recite it.

I was quickly interrupted and asked to explain how we teach mathematics through a problem-solving approach. I explained that when students have understood the concept of the learning objective, they begin connecting it to other areas of mathematics. We regularly expose students to questions that require them to link multiple topics together within a single problem. We give them the time to make sense of the problem, come up with a method, refine the method and attempt a solution. Students share their solutions with the teacher and their peers and amend when necessary.

Teachers rarely give students the help they want, or at least, think they want. Instead, we give them the help we know they need. Often, this is simply time or someone to read the problem out loud to. Of course, we provide guidance to students who are struggling but this is in the form of clues and prompts rather re-teaching.

The inspector asked if I was describing a vision or what really happens in the classroom. I explained I was describing both. I am realistic enough to know not all these these things happen every lesson. However, they underpin our practice and I knew he would see enough evidence of this in the observations to see how effective teaching mathematics through a problem solving approach can be.

The inspector wanted to see if the department’s long-term plan and schemes of work reflected the approach to teaching that I had described. Thankfully, I had bought these with me to the interview. The inspector was impressed with the linked resources, mostly to the lessons on Mr Mathematics and problem-solving questions. Most of the problem-solving questions were taken from the Edexcel Gold/Silver/Bronze practice papers.

I explained the schemes of work are used as a basis for discussion during every faculty meeting when we talk about and share additional resources for the forthcoming topics. We discuss which problem solving questions are suitable for the different ability classes and whether to use them as a plenary to assess learning or as a starter in the next lesson to review prior learning.

Next, we discussed the implementation of the mathematics curriculum. I explained we have a two-year key stage 3- and three-year key stage 4. The inspector questioned whether Key Stage 3 was long enough to ensure enough preparation for GCSE in Year 9. I explained my Key Stage 3 leader has completed a thorough audit of what students are taught in Key Stage 2 and ensured no time is wasted in Year 7 or 8 repeating the same topics.

The inspector said he was excited to see teaching mathematics through a problem-solving approach in action. I was excited to show him. As we walked towards the maths corridor, I explained he would see happy students, either solving problems or being taught how to do so.

I observed two Year 7 lessons with the inspector. We remained in each lesson for about 10 minutes. It was obvious from the work on the board the teachers had clearly modelled several examples on for the students before we arrived. One class were applying multiple angle properties within a single problem and the other were solving worded problems with fractions.

As part of the deep dive mathematics inspection the inspector wanted to talk with specific students who were identified either as pupil premium or gifted and talented. I was grateful the teachers had all this information to hand so I could quickly direct the inspector to the correct student. He chose a couple of students from each class that he wanted to talk to later in the day as part of the student panel.

The inspector had planned to observe the maths department again after break time. I felt we needed to show more evidence of how we challenge students through great questioning as well as supporting them through our precise modelling. It was important for inspector to see us teach using the approach I had described in the interview earlier in the day.

I was teaching top set Year 11 circle theorems. The inspector observed the first 15 minutes of the lesson where the students were challenged to prove the angle at the centre is double the angle at the circumference. I guided class through with subtle prompts and a range of open questions. The students were amazing. Every single student showed creativity, fantastic algebra skills and progress. The inspector left the room a minute before the first student completed the proof.

The Deputy Headteacher carried out the rest of the learning visit for the next two lessons while I taught my class. I was told the lessons went very well and the inspector got to see how other teachers support and challenge their students through a range of carefully scaffolded questions and prolonger thinking time.

Immediately after the learning walk I spent the next 15 minutes urgently collecting all the books the inspector had asked for on his learning walk. I collected an additional 10 books which I wanted to present to the inspector in my next meeting. He had not asked for these, but these books showed evidence of how we teach maths through problem solving. I hoped I would be allowed to present them.

With all the exercise books in hand, I was asked to wait outside the inspector’s room for my next meeting. The inspector was interviewing the students he had asked to meet during the two learning walks. I have no idea what the students were asked, or how they responded.

Shortly after the students left, I was asked to meet the inspector again. We looked through some books together and had a short conversation about the marking policy which he appeared to approve of. However, I could tell he was looking for something which he was yet to find. I asked if I could present evidence of problem solving in the student’s books. This is what he had been looking for.

As we went through the books, I took every opportunity to highlight the scaffolding of questions, the diagrams that showed a mathematical model, working that was crossed out and replaced and linking of multiple of topics within a single problem. This is what my teachers do daily and there was ample evidence to present.

It was clear at this point the inspector had found what he was looking for as he began making copious amounts of notes on his laptop. When he had finished making notes the inspector told me he was excited by what we do here in maths. He said, the maths team understand and embrace the essence of the curriculum and he could see clear evidence of students enjoying their lessons.

I felt immediate relief that we had shown a true version of ourselves and pride in our courage to teach to our values no matter what. We are not the finished article and there is much more to be done. But we are a team and we are getting better every day. As the inspection has yet to be published, I am not allowed to state our final grade. On a separate note, there will be a school party later this year.

My team and I have worked tirelessly over the past two and a half years to give the students a better deal. We have done this, not for the school but for our students and ourselves. To have our hard word acknowledged in such a way is a tremendous lift for all of us.

Finally, as I have done this twice now, I would like to offer some practical advice to all Heads of Mathematics in preparing for their Deep Dive.

- Have a substantial breakfast the day of the deep dive and if you drink coffee or tea take a flask to work. . There was no time for me to eat during the day.
- Have your schemes of work and curriculum plans to hand all day.
- Ensure your teachers have seating plans to hand. These need to include details of who are your gifted and talented, pupil premium and other sub-groups.

Most importantly,

- Do not be afraid to argue your point. I disagreed with several comments the inspector made and I was able to present lots of evidence to prove the points I needed to.

My name is Jonathan Robinson and I passionate about teaching mathematics. I am currently Head of Maths in the South East of England and have been teaching for over 15 years. I am proud to have helped teachers all over the world to continue to engage and inspire their students with my lessons.

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