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Self-evaluation and inspection: joined-up thinking from The Key’s conference

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It is no secret that inspection is a high-pressure element of most school leaders’ lives. As a researcher at The Key, if I can help them even a little when it comes to inspection, I’m happy. That’s why I’m always interested to hear strategies and practical ideas to pass on to our members.

One talk that particularly interested me at our recent one-day conference on school inspection was Mary Myatt’s presentation on completing an accurate self-evaluation, to which many staff contribute. Staff need to be clear how you’ve determined your plans and priorities – and able to express this to inspectors.

It stands to reason that the better your own evaluation, the fewer surprises you’ll have when the Ofsted team arrives. A phrase I heard more than once throughout the day, from those describing a successful inspection, was “You should lead the inspection, not let the inspectors lead you”. Being confident with your self-evaluation will inevitably help. And who better to advise on how to evaluate your school then a practising lead inspector?

Mary said that your school’s self-evaluation form (SEF) does not have to be long. A succinct SEF - evaluative rather than descriptive - is likely to be a good SEF.

She also advised that a SEF is not a chance to paint your school as perfect. That being said, this is no time to be modest. A good SEF, Mary said, highlights the positives as much as it accurately identifies any areas for improvement (and how you plan to act on them). By no means should you miss the opportunity to present evidence of what is working well in your school.

Thinking about evidence, of course, leads us to the subject of data. Since performance tables and RAISEonline reports may cover a cohort that has already left the school, inspectors need more up-to -date evidence too. Your SEF should show that the school can analyse, not just recreate, information about current attainment and progress. What does it tell you about your pupils, and how are you using this to inform practice? This is a great opportunity for a school to be a step ahead and ‘lead’ the inspection.

Mary advised that a good SEF will use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. As someone who firmly believes that a school is more than can be reflected in its RAISEonline report, I found this reassuring. She said that the views of parents and any press coverage of the school are useful to include, as are the views of pupils. She particularly mentioned including quotes from pupils about their perception of a particular intervention you have used with them, and how it helped their learning.

Afterwards, I spoke to two headteachers about their self-evaluations. One spoke about what she was going to take out of her SEF, and the other about what he was going to add. There is no perfect model, and by their nature each SEF should look different. However, Mary’s insights and practical advice made me think a lot more about the relationship between self-evaluation and school improvement planning – and how to show inspectors that these are based on a thorough, joined-up understanding of your school’s strengths and areas for improvement.

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