March 2011


  • The truth hurts
    Tackling an underperforming colleague is never easy but by avoiding it or passing the buck you risk undermining school improvement. Edward Gildea offers some strategies for handling sensitive situations. More
  • Time for reflection
    The government is dispensing with the SEF but that doesn’t mean schools should abandon it as a tool for improvement. Tony Thornley looks at the future of self-evaluation and the implications for schools. More
  • Free range
    Ramsey Grammar’s pride and joy isn’t a state-of-the-art IT suite or Assessment for Learning scheme, says David Trace. It’s a sheep shed and piggery in the school’s animal unit… More
  • An end to pushover policies?
    Doctors and generals wouldn’t tolerate it. So why does the education profession passively accept direction from ministers on how and what to teach? It’s time to set the agenda ourselves, says Peter Campling. More
  • Brainwaves
    Accommodating right brain learning and enabling students to draw on imagery for revision rather than written texts could fundamentally improve outcomes, argues David Hughes. More
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The government is dispensing with the SEF but that doesn’t mean schools should abandon it as a tool for improvement. Tony Thornley looks at the future of self-evaluation and the implications for schools.

Time for reflection

The government has announced changes to the school inspection process which, among other things, are intended to reduce the paperwork it generates. In particular, the part played by the self-evaluation framework (SEF) – and the content of the form itself – will change.

Previously, all schools have been expected to evaluate their work and most do it by writing their appraisal in a SEF then uploading it to the Ofsted website. It is not a statutory requirement, but it is a brave school which ignores Ofsted’s advice. The white paper makes it clear that, to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools, a SEF will not be required from September 2011.

But the need to self-evaluate is unlikely to go away. In the white paper The Importance of Teaching, the government says: “We are also removing the expectation on every school to complete a centrally designed self-evaluation form.

“We strongly s support the view that good schools evaluate themselves rigorously. But we do not believe that imposing a very long form in a standard format, which requires consideration of many issues which may be of limited importance to a particular school, helps schools to evaluate themselves in a focused way against their priorities.”

There are extensive references to self-evaluation and the SEF in Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector’s annual report. Ofsted also trialled an optional SEF in its inspections of early years education last year. It is evident that inspectors have found the SEF a useful document, and that its quality tends to reflect the quality of leadership. This matches my first-hand experience of trying to evaluate leadership and capacity in a large number of schools and academies.

So, the good news is that schools won’t need to write a SEF next year. The bad news is that there remains a need to continue to evaluate provision and student outcomes, and there is no set framework within which to do it. In short, it is sensible to have good self-evaluation procedures and to keep the SEF up to date if you think you may be inspected this year.

Continuing to evaluate

Here is what I would recommend doing now. Maintain your existing self-evaluation arrangements (for example, quality assuring lessons and assessment, pupil surveys) and, if you do it, any systematic updating of your SEF. Continue to treat self-evaluation as a tool for school improvement, not something done for inspection.

Likewise, continue to expect middle leaders to evaluate their areas of responsibility, holding them to account and moderating their judgements, but focusing only on the most important outcome and provision elements.

These are likely to be consistent with the changes to the framework and should be the things that matter most. For a curriculum leader they would normally include: attainment, learning and progress (especially of sub-groups of pupils), teaching and assessment including behaviour in lessons and safety where appropriate, and, briefly, leadership – an evaluation of impact and improvement.

Finally, keep an eye on the development of the new framework through ASCL information and the imminent Ofsted consultation.

Next term, when the new inspection arrangements should be clearer, I recommend that you keep a Microsoft Word copy of the SEF in school as the Ofsted uploaded SEFs will probably disappear at the end of the academic year. I understand that Ofsted will be making arrangements to make your uploaded SEF accessible also.

Gradually adapt your self-evaluation arrangements in the light of the new framework, as details emerge. If you are currently focusing on attainment, progress, behaviour, teaching and leadership/ capacity – the areas that will be covered under the new framework – this should be straightforward.

Consider whether there are outcomes or provision which you value – which are not covered specifically by the new framework but which you want to track – and which you would want an inspecting team to take note of. These might include, for example, care and guidance, partnership working, links with parents or work with the community. Keep a written summary of your judgements and evaluations which cover the new inspection areas.

The new inspection arrangements should be published early in the autumn term 2011, but will not come into effect, I understand, until 2012. If you are liable to be inspected in the autumn term, it is really important that you keep your old SEF, even though you don’t need to have one.

The old framework, which will remain in use until it is superseded, is predicated on the SEF and it will be better for you if you have one. You will make it easier for the inspecting team and you will be just a bit less susceptible to the slings and arrows of outrageous inspection.

Prop for inspection

Thereafter, I would argue that you should maintain a slimmed down SEF. It makes you track the most important aspects of your work, it’ll be simpler than the old one, it shows governors and inspectors that you evaluate and know what you are talking about and, finally, it’s a very good prop if you’re inspected.

I think it also makes it easier for an inspector to arrive at the ‘right’ judgements – that is, those that you think are correct, especially about leadership.

Whatever the new Ofsted framework looks like, it will be simpler than the existing one. Your existing SEF judgements and evaluations should transfer almost directly to a new format, perhaps with some merging of sections. You will not go far wrong if you use the existing criteria as a basis for judgements.

I will work with ASCL colleagues to draft new SEF guidance and a SEF writing frame – based on the one for which a number of you have made suggestions to ASCL – to match the new framework, but to provide flexibility to include other things which you value.

  • Tony Thornley is a former headteacher and inspector and the author of the Guide to Self-evaluation.

Simplified self-evaluation

Following requests from members, ASCL is working on creating a simplified successor to the SEF – in line with what we expect will be in the new Ofsted framework – which members might wish to adopt. It will be based on clear, crisp and concise evaluation which matches well with the framework and allows schools to add any other things they wish to draw to the attention of inspectors. It will be completed once the framework becomes clearer, proabably next term, and in time for its introduction which is likely to be January 2012. Watch the ASCL e-newsletter for details.

Time for reflection