Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | Self-Evaluation

Whole-school self-regulating processes are encapsulated in the self-evaluation form (SEF), which is at the heart of the new inspection system. Anne Clarke, headteacher, looks at how schools can use it to empower themselves.

The SEF is the starting point for Ofsted inspections and is referred to throughout the inspection team’s time in school. Schools need to update it regularly as part of their ongoing self-analysis. The form gives schools the chance to point out the strengths that can be built upon and, just as importantly, to indicate the weaknesses that need to be addressed. The emphasis is now placed upon schools to say ‘this is what we are doing well’ and ‘this is a weakness, but we recognise it and have strategies in place to tackle the situation’.

Under the previous system, staff did feel that Ofsted was coming to search out any failings. Perhaps under the new system schools will feel more empowered through the SEF to be in the driving seat – or at least to be a willing passenger.

What the SEF looks at
The SEF part A looks at the following:

  • the characteristics of the school
  • views of stakeholders
  • achievement and standards
  • pastoral development and wellbeing
  • the quality of provision, including teaching and learning
  • leadership and management
  • overall effectiveness and efficiency.

Part B collates the factual information about the school. Part C includes information about compliance with statutory requirements.
In their report, the inspection team provides a summary of the school’s SEF, so it is without doubt a key document.

Completing the SEF
Bear in mind:

  • The SEF needs to be accurate and up to date. It is important to back up judgements with evidence. For example, it is easy to back up statements about academic results with evidence from the Panda. Ofsted reports are also a useful source of evidence.
  • It needs to include the views of all stakeholders, in particular parents and pupils. The ‘pupil voice’ is an important part of the new inspection process.
  • Brevity can also be a keyword. Informative but concise reports that hit the target are the best.
  • The strengths of the school should stand out. These are the building blocks of school improvement. Both weaknesses and remedies need to be indicated.
  • It needs to be clear how the SEF fits in with the school development plan, incorporating school improvement strategies.

We can look at the document section by section:

1. School characteristics
For attainment on entry, a good source is pupil SATs scores at Key Stage 2, giving levels in English, maths and science. Here concrete, factual evidence can be quoted.

With regard to socio-economic factors, the Panda gives a school deprivation indicator alongside a national indicator. The Panda also provides school and national data for: free school meals; ethnic minority groups; percentage of pupils whose first language is not English; special educational needs (SEN) data, including statements; pupil mobility figures and attendance data. This will give a profile of the school and set it in a national context.

There is then the opportunity to write about the school’s special features. For Benton Park, where I am head, it provided the opportunity to outline the impact that achieving Specialist School Status has had on us. Social inclusion is also a special feature of the school, as we have 14 pupils from the local special school based permanently on our site and attending 50% of mainstream lessons. Finally, I highlighted the extended services we provide as part of the Extended Schools agenda, for example adult education classes, after-school tuition and the involvement of outside agencies.

In this section there is also the chance to point out any other features that the school would like to highlight to the inspection team. This is a given opportunity to ‘boast’ about the good things achieved. Schools might stress excellent sixth form provision, extra-curricular activities, Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 transition, behaviour support work, or anything the school sees fit.

Finally, the points from the school improvement plan (SIP) can be outlined and placed in context. We have linked improvements in curriculum provision within the context of wishing to raise attainment. We have also linked the SIP to the Ofsted Action Plan, to illustrate connections there.

2. Views of stakeholders For this section it is useful to have courted the views of stakeholders through independent questionnaires. We use the Keele University questionnaires for parents and pupils. Keele send the surveys to the school for distribution and analyse the results, so the school can show in the SEF how the impartiality of information is achieved. There are other organisations who offer a similar service. Evidence for the views of stakeholders can also be verified by the Ofsted report.

Other sources can be the parent teacher association, the school council, and information from independent bodies such as Investors in People (IIP) and Charter Mark assessors.

The everyday dialogue that takes place between the school and its stakeholders via meetings, letters, phone calls and emails keeps the school informed of people’s perceptions. We also do a satisfaction survey with our sixth formers and find this a useful way of finding out their views on an impartial basis.
Having sought people’s views it is important to act upon the information, as examples of this are required in the SEF. We cited the increase in curriculum provision of ICT as being a direct result of parental requests, and indicated how this was in the SIP. An increase in the number of school trips is at the direct request of pupils. Examples of actions not taken must be given too.

3. Achievement and standards
For this section the information from the Panda is of paramount importance, but it is essential to be selective. At Key Stage 3, SATs results are available, but only for the core subjects. For the other subjects, it is possible to use teacher assessment data, possibly giving the percentages of level 5s in each subject. At Key Stage 4, for example, a mention of the 5 A* to C GCSE data is better used within a three-year period, so that progress over time can be demonstrated, if you are trying to indicate improvements.

On the other hand, you may be saying that the school’s results have had a more chequered history! Whatever trend is being highlighted, data over a period of time is more effective. For Key Stage 5, the ALPs report is an excellent source of evidence. Here you can get a value-added analysis over a four-year period, and ALPs rate the schools on a scale of one to nine. You also get a value-added rating for each subject, so you can highlight the strengths of your school. At Key Stage 4 it is worth mentioning the subjects that are a strength of the school too. Once again, the Panda gives a national comparator against which to make a judgement.

Having used the data selectively to emphasis the strengths of the school, it is important to point out the weaknesses, or to put it less critically, the areas for development. This shows that the school has made good use of the wealth of data available, analysed it and come up with areas for improvement. Strategies then need to be in place to bring about that improvement.

At Benton Park, for example, we have reluctantly made modern foreign languages (MFL) optional at Key Stage 4, rather than compulsory, because the data showed that the pupils were performing better in the subjects they had chosen. We resisted at first, but analysis of data over time showed us that MFL as a compulsory subject was not a strength.

4. Personal development and wellbeing
In the sections on healthy lifestyles and safety, information from the following can be given:

  • hours of curriculum time given to PE at all key stages
  • extra-curricular clubs
  • data from Sportsmark, if the school has that ‘badge’
  • topics from personal, social, careers and health education (PSCHE), such as drug awareness, smoking, health and sex education
  • cross-curricular elements of health and safety education across other subjects
  • involvement from outside agencies, eg school nurses, educational psychologists, drug action team and so on
  • pupil surveys, for example we conducted one on improvements the pupils would like to see regarding the food and drink available within school
  • Ofsted report
  • Keele University questionnaire or similar outside surveys
  • reports sent to the LEA regarding racist incidents in school and/or bullying incidents.

In the section on enjoyment of education, it is useful to include:

  • information from independent questionnaires
  • attendance figures from the Panda
  • number of exclusions
  • visits abroad
  • Ofsted comments on spiritual and moral development.

For contribution to the community, you can cite:

  • charity activities
  • drama and musical performances attended by local residents
  • work experience placements
  • support given to local schools, eg our students studying health and social care assist at local primary schools and a local special school.
  • Finally, for economic wellbeing include:
  • appropriate elements from the PSCHE programme
  • work experience placements
  • involvement of the careers source
  • any outside speakers, for example we ensure talks are given to the older pupils about personal finance.

5. Quality of provision Sources of evidence for the quality of teaching and learning can come from the Ofsted report, Panda, LEA visits and the school’s own observations. If the old Ofsted report is still current this may even give a breakdown of the actual number of lessons visited and their grades. The Panda highlights which subjects are succeeding at examination level, so one can assume this is a reflection of good teaching and learning. A school may have LEA or HMI monitoring visits with appropriate evidence. I observe one or two lessons per week, note strengths and points for development and feed these back to the staff concerned, including the curriculum leaders.

Matching the curriculum to pupil need will vary from school to school depending upon the intake. For Benton Park our need is to develop vocational options. Our intake has changed over the last decade, and we have a cohort of youngsters for whom the traditional curriculum is no longer appropriate. This section gave the opportunity to outline our ‘work-related curriculum’ and new vocational options, some of which was appropriate to answer the question of meeting employer needs. Enterprise education is covered in this section too. Here we have referred to work experience, the role of the new ‘enterprise coordinator’ and the ‘Enterprise Day’ we will hold in Key Stage 4.

Finally, for care and guidance the comments from Ofsted have been quoted regarding the role of PSCHE, pastoral leaders, learning mentors, behaviour support workers, the educational psychologist and the careers service. I emphasised transition procedures from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 as these are a strength of the school. For the sixth form, similar evidence was quoted, alongside views from the sixth formers themselves, collated from the ‘leavers’ survey’.

6. Leadership and management For this section the work of the headteacher and leadership group, in terms of monitoring and evaluation, are critical. Once again, comments by Ofsted on leadership are relevant. For my own part, following the publication of the examination results in the summer, I interview all curriculum leaders and discuss strategies for continued success or improvement, depending on which category the results fall into. We also have a well established ‘line management’ system, which enables monitoring to take place by the whole leadership group.

In this section there is the opportunity to mention the outside agencies a school works with to enhance learning, such as education welfare officers, educational psychologists, school health workers, social workers and the careers service. We also outlined our inclusive practices, which helped us achieve the Inclusion Chartermark.

The points for development come from the Ofsted report, government initiatives, LEA reviews and the school improvement plan. They are the issues relevant to the leadership of the school, with a whole-school focus.

7. Overall effectiveness and efficiency
In judging effectiveness and efficiency, sources such as evidence from Ofsted and pupil and parent satisfaction surveys are again pertinent. The involvement of outside agencies also needs another mention when talking about care and meeting the pupils’ needs.

The SEF requires details of the school’s improvements since it was last inspected. For this section a whole raft of developments can be listed:

  • curriculum changes
  • staff changes, especially those in key leadership roles
  • setting up of working parties to look at issues
  • any building programmes
  • specialist status acquisition or redesignation
  • LEA intervention.

For capacity to improve, we mentioned the appointment of new middle leaders, showing we have new staff who may make changes. We also indicated the number of staff following the NPQH and LftM programmes, showing an interest to develop. We have just become involved in the Secondary National Strategy for School Improvement, indicating our capacity to improve. We have over 20 staff working with the DfES and LEA on our improvement strategies.

Writing the SEF is like painting the Forth Bridge – no sooner do you finish than it is time for a rewrite. It is important to keep it up to date, so that when Ofsted ‘freeze’ it, it is ‘as good as it gets’. It is advisable to include events immediately in the SEF as they take place in school, this way things do not pile up. I also found it useful to ask the School Improvement Partner to look through it and suggest improvements. Compiling all this information is so time-consuming that in answer to the question ‘What do heads do?’ I feel like replying, ‘They write the SEF.’

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Mar 2006

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