One of the keys to writing a strong self-evaluation form is to have data or evidence to justify your judgements. For many sections of the SEF a school leader will draw upon a range of externally validated data, yet at the heart of any school is the quality of teaching, which falls within the section judging the effectiveness of provision. These judgements can of course be linked to examination data performance, but in reality many of us would assume that inspectors want us to get to the nitty gritty of what is happening in our classrooms. Where is it strong, where is it weaker and how is the school addressing these issues?

Until five years ago, many schools would have looked to a timetable of observations of teaching staff to help with this judgement. However, there is an obvious danger of just using a single data source to answer this question. Indeed, drawing conclusions from the evidence of one self-evaluation tool can cause not only inaccuracy but also a potential source of conflict in the staffroom, as teachers can feel that one ‘snapshot’ can be unrepresentative of their own work and that of their subject or year group. Many schools recognised this and began to consider examination data along with the observations’ findings. This was beginning a process of triangulation – where a number of self-evaluation tools are used and the findings of each are considered to see if there is a consistency in the evidence gathered. These conclusions are likely to be more accurate and representative of the work in school and as a result will be more acceptable to staff in school.

A challenging process

The process of evaluating the teaching and learning in a whole school can often be a challenging one as so many individuals contribute to the overall results. Therefore school leaders may look to develop a system of evaluation which breaks the school down into sections so that making judgements is more manageable. This can be done through faculty reviews, department maintenance checks or even mini Ofsteds. An alternative strategy can be to consider how a particular year group or Key Stage is performing.

Once school leaders have decided how the schools will be sectioned to enable evaluation, the next stage is to consider which tools of evaluation will be used and then how they will be integrated to ensure there is triangulation of evidence. It is also important to consider the time scale over which these evaluations will occur and even how they will feed into writing the SEF, the school improvement plan or identifying future CPD projects. Schools at different stages of development will require appropriate review systems. A school that is currently in the National Challenge may implement a very detailed and robust review system, whereas a school which has undergone a recent Ofsted receiving an ‘outstanding’ judgement may develop a system with a lighter touch. The first example of a department review system given in this article will be one which hopes to be a middle way. Hopefully this range of systems will enable you to identify the appropriate review mechanism for your school.

Review system one: a middle way

One small secondary entitled their review system ‘the department maintenance check’. This name was chosen to make the process sound more supportive and less judgemental. The SLT wished to monitor the standards of teaching and learning across the school, study the impact of whole-school initiatives and identify training needs. The results would then feed into the school SEF, performance management and CPD strategic planning.

The school was divided into eight departments, each with a middle leader responsible for standards within the department and performance management of the teachers within the department. These were English, expressive arts, humanities, languages, mathematics, PE and technology. The departmental maintenance check would use three self-evaluation tools:

  • A lesson observation of each member of teaching staff within the department. The observation could have the dual purpose of also acting as a performance management observation, so in that year the HOD will only have to conduct one other observation to meet the performance management requirements.
  • A department book check, which would look at the work of six pupils from one year group – two each of high, two of middle and two of low ability – and would ensure there is a book, folder or artefacts from each teacher. This would have the exception of PE.
  • A pupil focus group would also be conducted to find the views of the pupils on the department. A different year group from that who provide books for the work scrutiny would be identified, yet the same sampling system as for the book check would be used, of six pupils across the ability range.

The cycle would be to monitor each department over a period of five terms. There was a maximum of four teachers in any department and hence a maximum of six tasks in any one check (four observations, one book check and one focus group). This meant that each member of SLT would conduct one task in each maintenance check. In addition, if a certain member of SLT could not contribute, the school business manager offered to help by conducting focus groups.

Each department maintenance check would be led by one member of SLT. This tended to be the senior leader who line-managed that middle leader. At a senior leadership meeting the roles within the check would be divided and there would then be a two-week window to complete the check. The SLT meeting immediately after this window would be a maintenance check analysis meeting where the evidence from the check would be analysed and appropriate conclusions drawn. The lead person member of SLT would then firstly feed back to the head of department and then to the department.

Review system two: lighter touch

Rather than evaluating the school on subject guidelines an SLT could instead seek to move to a more whole-school review system. Such a system could still consist of the same components, lesson observations, work scrutiny and a pupil focus group, but could be conducted by a range of staff rather than purely by members of the senior leadership team.

Learning walks
Rather than using formal lesson observations, a school could choose to implement learning walks. This could take the following form: once a month for a double lesson, two members of the SLT walk through classrooms, remaining in them for approximately 10 minutes. In that time they make a judgement on the quality of the teaching and learning that is taking place and also consider if school policies are being applied appropriately.

Work scrutiny
Once a term in an SLT meeting, a work scrutiny of one particular year group would be conducted. This could consist of four pupils’ work; one of above-average ability, two of average ability and one of below-average ability. The findings would be collated by subject, so middle leaders could receive detailed feedback on the four pupils just for their subject. A general report would also be written to highlight any strengths or weaknesses to communicate to the whole staff.

Pupil focus groups
To develop the role of the year leader rather than conducting a subject-related focus group, the year leader could conduct a more general focus group of six pupils in their year. These would be conducted once a half-term and hence all five year groups would be monitored by midway through the summer term. The year leader would be provided with administrative support to take notes of the focus group so that they could concentrate on asking the questions.

Review system three: a department Ofsted

This is an intensive review system conducted over three days and hence is the sole focus of the senior leadership during this time, with the aim of mirroring the current short-notice Ofsted inspections. To enable the senior leadership team to be fully prepared, the head of department is given three days’ notice to submit data such as the department quality file, handbook and an up-to-date departmental mini SEF.

This will include an evaluation of current pupil attainment and progress, using data provided by the most up-to-date tracking and an indication of how likely pupils are to meet FFTD predictions. The head of department will make judgements on the quality of teaching and learning delivered by each member of the department. The department improvement plan should be annotated to highlight the action made towards their targets. Finally, examples of the departments’ contribution to ECM, PLTS and innovative use of ICT should be detailed.

Focus of the department Ofsted
After considering the mini-SEF, the SLT will identify a focus for the review and communicate this to the head of department. The focus will relate to subject observations and the composition of the student focus group.

Lesson observation
Each teacher in the department will be observed twice working with different Key Stages. The observation is not pre-arranged, but teachers will be expected to have both lesson plans with information on SEN and G&T pupils and tracking data available. During the lesson teachers should expect that the books of the children will be scrutinised to consider the quality of assessment. Feedback will be given to teachers, including an Ofsted grading of the lesson. Observed staff can appeal against this grading to their line manager.

Pupil work scrutiny
This consists of no more than 12 books or folders across the ability range. Staff will be given 24 hours’ notice before collection and they will be returned within 48 hours. The member of SLT conducting the work scrutiny will give a copy of conclusions to the head of department rather than a complete proforma.

Student focus group
This will consist of a maximum of 10 students who will be given 24 hours’ notice. To prevent disruption this will take place at lunchtime and students will be allowed an early lunch. Students are not allowed to make personal comments about individual teachers and all comments will be anonymous. The complete documentation from the group will be given to the head of department.

At the end of the review the head of department will be asked to take part in a discussion of all the evidence. The strengths and areas for development of the department will be identified. During the meeting an action plan for improvement will be agreed. All the evidence from the three days will be kept in the SLT’s subject files and copies of the summary will be stored in the quality file. After the review, each subject will have a member of the SLT overseeing their work. They will be responsible for monitoring the action plan for improvement. Further development will take place in middle leadership meetings. In the autumn term a meeting will focus on examination performance, the departmental SEF and progress towards the improvement plan. In the summer term there will be a meeting to look at how middle leaders should be planning for the next academic year.

Under the current Ofsted framework you do not know when you will be inspected, so there is little point in having a perfectly written self-evaluation policy and then finding you have not used it for the previous six months! In addition, an increasing number of senior leaders believe there is little point in having a self-evaluation schedule which does not involve middle leaders, so the system you implement should be one in which they have some degree of ownership. Therefore, whichever method of internal self-evaluation you choose, two of the most important elements to remember are: it must be fit for purpose at your school, and it must be sustainable.

Paul Ainsworth is vice-principal of a Leicestershire secondary school and the author of Developing a Self-Evaluating School: a Practical Guide, available from, which has many more ideas for how schools can develop their self-evaluation techniques.