Why should schools self-evaluate?
We know that school self-evaluation is a powerful tool in driving improvement in schools and when it is done well it underpins school improvement. In the section 5 handbook Ofsted tells us that in outstanding schools:
‘Leaders and governors have a deep, accurate understanding of the school’s effectiveness informed by the views of pupils, parents and staff. They use this to keep the school improving by focusing on the impact of their actions in key areas.’
That deep and accurate understanding is usually recorded in the school’s self-evaluation report and the school improvement plan, backed up with departmental action plans detailing the key actions which school leaders will take to sustain excellence or bring about further improvements.
June or July is the time of year when many headteachers begin to think about reviewing the school’s self-evaluation report and updating the school improvement plan in preparation for the new school year. The two activities are inextricably linked and inter-dependent. We know now that highly effective school leaders are those with the skill to identify what their school is good at and doing more of it. They are equally skilled at identifying what needs to improve, and the critical actions that need to be taken to secure further improvement. There is no doubt that accurate and incisive school self-evaluation will have a direct impact on the quality of the school improvement plan.
Who should write the school self-evaluation report?
Some headteachers think that the school self-evaluation is a task that they should complete in the summer holidays. For them the task is a personal and solitary one. Other schools employ a consultant to write their SSE report for them, or limit it to the headteacher and a small group of staff and governors.
Ideally school self-evaluation should be ‘a collaborative, reflective process of internal school review against national standards and expectations’. The school self-evaluation should be based on searching questions and deep reflection. It is not an end in itself. Ideally the process should be led by the headteacher with contributions from senior leaders, governors and teachers, parents and pupils. This means that the school self-evaluation is based on evidence from a range of sources.
The purpose of school self-evaluation is to bring about improvements in pupils’ learning and achievements. The best school self-evaluations are planned, and form part of a framework of review and evaluation of evidence about pupil outcomes, throughout the school year.
What format should the self-evaluation report take?
Whilst Ofsted does not require schools to have a particular format for self-evaluation reports, the expectations are that schools will self-evaluate. Schools are expected to focus their evaluations on an analysis of pupil outcomes, and in particular on all of the different groups of pupils, so that any under-achievement can be addressed.
The quality and impact of the curriculum needs to be a focus for evaluation and this links to the on-going evaluation of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. The impact of the pupil premium funding and the primary sports funding, particularly on disadvantaged pupils, must also be a focus. However the problem with too many school self-evaluation reports is that they are descriptive and narrative rather than evaluative.
The school self-evaluation process
A survey of schools, colleges and local authorities found the following features when school self-evaluation was effective, and these give a blueprint for how to carry it out effectively:
- Headteachers gave priority to a continuous process of self-evaluation and led it personally
- The process was central to the culture of the school and everyone was involved in and committed to it
- Sophisticated performance indicators were used to enhance the quality of self –evaluation and to track the effectiveness of any improvements
- There was rigorous analysis of strengths and weaknesses leading to identification of priorities and strategies for improvement
- The views of pupils and parents were actively sought, and influenced decision-making
- Governors contributed to the self-evaluation process
How to begin a School Self-Evaluation
If you are about to embark on school self-evaluation in the next few weeks then consider the following approach.
- Begin with a staff meeting to review the Ofsted descriptors for the four inspection areas and evaluate where your school sits in relation to the various descriptors. Try to ensure that teaching assistants and support staff are included as they bring different perspectives to the evaluation.
Put the staff into mixed groups of five or six and allocate different areas to the various groups. Each group should be able to review at least two areas. Explain that they are being asked to evaluate where the school is in relation to the national standards for schools and that they have to base their judgements on evidence.
Staff should then begin by looking at the ‘inadequate’ descriptors for each area that they are considering so that they are confident that there are no serious issues. Once they are satisfied that the school does not meet any of the ‘inadequate’ descriptors they should then look at the ‘good’ descriptors. Their judgement around these descriptors should lead them to either look at the outstanding criteria or to make the judgement that this area requires improvement.
Each group should record their judgement and give a brief report of how and why they reached their decision. If the judgement is not ‘outstanding’ the group has to also record what they think needs to improve.
- Consult with parents and pupils. This can be through small group interviews or questionnaires. Gather evidence about the different aspects and areas of school life that they can relate best to. For example, ask pupils about their experience of school, behaviour, and what the school does most effectively in terms of helping them to learn. Ask parents about the information that they receive about their children’s achievement, progress, and behaviour, what the school does well and what needs to improve further.
- Consult with governors on the four Ofsted areas but give them adequate time to study the Ofsted descriptors for leadership and management. They should have their own improvement plan which focuses on what they need to be doing to ensure that they are effective as they can be.
- Once the various consultations have been completed, allocate at least half a day with your senior leadership team to review the findings from the different stakeholders and write a first draft of your school self-evaluation report.
- Remember that the most important source of evidence has to be pupil outcomes, both at the end of key stages and in other year groups. Use your analysis of these, alongside the evidence from the stakeholders to inform the SLT self-evaluation of the four areas and then your overall effectiveness.
- Pose the SLT a range of questions on the various areas, such as:
- What changed last year for better or for worse? Why? What did we do differently that had an impact?
- What are the key issues facing our school next year?
- What do we want to achieve? What will success look like?
- What was the quality of teaching, learning and assessment like at the end of the year? What is my evidence for that? What impact did we have on improving this last year? What are our strengths and weaknesses?
- What did leaders at different levels do last year, which had a positive impact on pupil outcomes? What still needs to improve? How do we know that? If improvement happens what will be different?
The school self-evaluation report
This report has to be evaluative rather than descriptive or narrative. The report, based around an evaluation of the four key Ofsted areas, should be succinct with a maximum of 500 words for each section. Here’s one approach to achieving this:
- Take each Ofsted area in turn. Having read the consultations and knowing what the data tells you, as an SLT come to an agreement about the grade for each area. Then look back over the last year and identify what were the five or six critical actions taken in or by the school, which had most impact on the judgement. These form the basis of your report
- When writing the report begin by stating the judgement, then explain it, restricting yourselves to the five or six critical actions
- The report should be all about impact so try to evaluate the impact of certain actions that the school has taken in the previous year. The report should link back to the previous year’s improvement plan so try to make and stress those links. For example in PDB and W you might make the judgement that attendance at the end of 2015-2016 is now good because, ‘following an analysis of attendance outcomes in 2014-2015, the school appointed an attendance manager and reviewed support for families that have poor attendance. The impact of that has been that the attendance of pupils in this critical group has significantly improved from an average of 85% to 93%’
- If a judgement is not outstanding or good, explain why and briefly bullet point what the school will be doing in 2016-2017. For example, in PDB and W you might be writing that ‘to consolidate the improvements in attendance this year the next critical group on which to focus is the group of EAL pupils in Nursery and so the attendance officer will work with parents prior to pupils starting nursery…’
In conclusion, self-evaluation is not just about having a report available to share with governors or with Ofsted should they come calling. Self-evaluation is an on-going process to which senior leaders should return on a regular basis. The school calendar should record at least three occasions in the year when the report will be updated and these timings should be determined by the data collection points which will provide the reviewers with the information required to fully analyse the progress they are making on the school’s priorities.