This blog complements a free webinar video of the same name which is available to school members in the Members Area.

Recent changes to the Ofsted framework have implications for a school’s provision for high potential learners. Schools need to be ready to tell their story – and know if this is likely to be a strand for a deep dive.

Are high potential learners (HPL) achieving the best possible outcomes? This means they need to have been identified, nurtured and traced in and out of your curriculum. How does the curriculum secure continued high levels of attainment? This blog outlines Ofsted expectations around high prior attainers and explains how schools can prepare and present their high learning potential (HLP) strategy in the most positive light.

This blog is not intended to represent personal views or the views of Potential Plus UK, but to accurately reflect the briefing Ofsted Inspectors have received about Post Covid-19 inspections and how inspectors have indicated that schools may respond. 


  1. HPA refers to High Prior Attainers as this is likely to be the term used by Ofsted and their focus group.
  2. HLP refers to High Learning Potential, looking beyond current attainment to those who have the potential to excel if given the right support, encouragement and challenge. If this is your approach to drawing up the register and provision, you need to explain this and the rationale to Ofsted. Potential Plus UK would recommend this as best practice as it provides the best opportunities for disadvantaged learners to access the opportunities needed to excel.
  3. HPL refers to the young people who are High Potential learners.

 The 4 Areas Judged

No change to the Education Inspection Framework. The 3 points in bold are most relevant to high potential learners.

  1. Quality of education
  2. Behaviour and attitudes
  3. Personal development
  4. Leadership and management.

HLP strategy should be woven through everything and central to what the school does.

Achievement and attainment of HPAs may be a specific focus of the Inspection if the Self-Evaluation Form or data indicates it needs to be.

How Will Ofsted Evaluate Your HLP Practice?

Methodology The inspection starts with an overview from the Head, HLP Lead and if relevant the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) HLP line manager. Then Ofsted will carry out deep dives involving the wider school community to test the overview presented. They will be asking:

  • Is there a clear progression model?
  • Are all HPLs challenged?
  • What do HPL books tell us?
  • How well supported and challenged do HPLs feel? (Student Voice)
  • How secure is the understanding of Middle Leaders of HPL policy and practice? (Interviews)
  • How well briefed are Governors to enable them to challenge and champion good practice? Do governors know how HPLs are identified? Do they understand their needs? Are they clear about attainment and whether this is appropriate for this high achieving group? (Talk to governors)
  • What is happening for HPLs in a sample of subjects? (Watching learning in action e.g. Learning Walks).

Then, Ofsted will bring all the evidence together to answer the question, ‘What is the experience like for an HLP learner at this school?’

What Role Does Data Play?

Data will be considered, but will not overtly affect judgements to the same extent as in previous inspections. This is especially true if the school is in the middle of change. Internal data, Centre Assessed Grades and Teacher Assessed Grades, may be less significant across all phases.

How Clearly Are The School’s/College’s Values Understood By Everyone?

The Head, HLP Lead and SLT Line Manager will be asked about school’s/college’s values. Subject and Key Stage Leads will be asked about their values in their area of responsibility.  They need to be able to answer the questions: ‘What does that look like? What will I see to reflect these values when I go into lessons?’

QUALITY OF EDUCATION: The Big 3 and the Key Questions

  1. Intent – What is your curriculum plan, how is it designed and sequenced? Is your curriculum meeting the needs of HPLs? How is progression embedded: does KS1 prepare learners for KS2, etc and how well does KS5 equip learners for their next steps?
  2. Implementation – How effectively is your curriculum taught and assessed? How well is assessment used to determine the next steps? Is this cyclical?
  3. Impact – What do HPLs at your school/college leave with? Have they learnt what you intended them to learn and how do you know? Are your learners well-equipped for their next steps? Are your outcomes broader than just results: do they include qualitative outcomes, such as skills learnt and involvement in enrichment activities (now referred to by Ofsted as the co-curriculum)?

What Next for You?

  1. SLT and subject leads should read the Ofsted subject reviews and use the subject audits to identify strengths and areas to develop further.
  2. Check how well Subject Leaders can articulate their values and how they relate to HLP. Practise these discussions, as well as the question, ‘What is different about the diet for High potential learners in geography/maths/history/etc?’
  3. If you provide A Level content once GCSE is covered (for example), make sure that you can justify this to Ofsted. Ofsted’s view is that high potential learners should be provided with breadth and depth to meet their needs, not fast tracked, which can be isolating, with missed opportunities for discussion and for collaboration with peers. Be prepared to explain how you meet the social needs of accelerated high potential learners, provide time for discussion with peers and how you provide depth and breadth to the age-related curriculum.
  4. Read the pros and cons of shortening KS3. If a school chooses to shorten KS3, it risks narrowing the curriculum and they will need to have sound justification.
  5. Avoid narrowing the curriculum; arts, sports and creativity are crucial. In secondary schools, do not just cover the EBacc subjects at the expense of the arts and non-EBacc subjects.
  6. Ensure the enrichment offer meets the needs of HPLs (as well as other groups) and uptake must be monitored to ensure a wide uptake (disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged, sub-groups, etc). Are the needs of high potential learners being met outside the curriculum to provide breadth and depth and to cater for their interests? Are there opportunities for them to develop life skills, e.g. team work, negotiation, social skills? Schools will be asked who is attending which club so you must track this as well as being clear about the impact and the skills gained.
  7. Look at high potential learners’ books across several year groups to see the diet over and across phases, checking how the curriculum develops skills and knowledge with opportunities to apply this. Compare this to SEND learners’ books so that you can see the differentiation. Consider whether the work given to high potential learners is too constraining for them to excel.
  8. Integrate texts into subject areas, not just English, to develop wisdom and expertise. Texts in subjects must be fully embedded and not add-ons. Ofsted will look for learners’ love of reading, listen to them read and follow this with discussion groups.
  9. HLP Lead needs to talk to the Careers Advisor to find out what is bespoke for HPLs. Are their interests being nurtured in or outside of school. Careers advice should be signposting possibilities.
  10. Consider creating a few case studies to show how the school has provided well for HPLs.

Learning from Covid-19 (To Be Asked of Leaders At All Levels)

  1. What did the school learn from the experience of Covid-19, e.g. did any groups thrive and how have you built on this to promote progress?
  2. What does the school’s internal data tell you about HPLs during lockdown? How have you adapted in light of this?
  3. What has assessment told you about learning and what adjustments have you made?
  4. In primary schools, get samples of work from the foundation subjects, check for progression and then make sure progression is built into curriculum maps.

Sample Questions Linked to Quality of Education

  1. Tell me about the design of your curriculum?
  2. What teaching methods have you chosen and why?
  3. What led you to select those resources?
  4. How are you sequencing and structuring lessons?
  5. What assessment methods are used and what are they telling the school about progress?
  6. What enrichment opportunities are there? Who attends these? What is the impact?

We do hope that, if you get The Call, you will feel well-prepared and keen to demonstrate your strong practice in this area.  Good Luck!

About the Author: Mary Phillips: Potential Plus UK Schools Advisor

Mary was the Head of English before moving to Yorkshire to set up her own consultancy, specialising in education. She works with senior leaders and classroom teachers as a coach and mentor. She facilitates a wide-range of professional learning and has lived experience of the challenges and joys of living with a child with high learning potential.

About the Author: Joy Morgan: Potential Plus UK Trustee

Joy was a senior leader in London schools until August 2021, responsible for professional learning and for high learning potential. She has helped many schools to develop their policy and to improve their practice for high potential learners. Joy is passionate about securing excellent outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Her extensive experience within schools is invaluable to the team. Joy continues as a Trustee of Potential Plus UK.