Anne Clarke, principal of Benton Park School, discusses the value of departmental SEFs

Schools are becoming well versed in the process of ‘self-evaluation’ and in using the self-evaluation form (SEF) to record the strengths and weaknesses of the school. The SEF is the main document which informs the Ofsted process. The inspectors will want to know that the school has thoroughly analysed its performance, outlined the processes for school improvement and backed up these judgements with sound evidence. Having written what appeared to be an acceptable SEF and having found the process enlightening, I decided that we could ask our curriculum leaders to write departmental SEFs. This would encourage them to evaluate the work of their departments, analyse it and to extrapolate suitable evidence to substantiate judgements. I cannot, however, take the credit for the work with departments – this was carried out by one of our assistant heads.

The reasons we thought it was important for departments to complete the self-evaluation process were that:

  • if there was a robust whole-school self-evaluation audit taking place, then it would be important for that to feed down to departments
  • rigorous self-evaluation was part of the school improvement process and should also be part of the improvement process for curriculum areas
  • it would encourage curriculum leaders to use data to identify strengths and weaknesses within their departments
  • departments could do ‘user surveys’ to collect the views of pupils who studied their subject, thus taking notice of ‘pupil voice’
  • when we looked at the various headings of the SEF, we could see that it would provide the opportunity to evaluate all aspects of the department
  • it would provide an opportunity to outline key priorities for development
  • it would provide a strong evidence base for any subject inspections carried out by Ofsted.

The departmental SEF
We can see how the SEF can be adapted to suit departments. Below are the headings under which the information was gathered. They more or less match the ones in the whole-school SEF:

  • characteristics of the department and key priorities for development
  • views of learners, parents/carers and other stakeholders
  • achievement and standards with key priorities for development
  • overall personal development and wellbeing of learners
  • the quality of provision, including teaching and learning and key priorities for development
  • leadership and management of the department with points for development
  • overall effectiveness and efficiency and steps to improve provision.

Where do departments get the evidence from to support the information they provide under each of these headings and to support the judgements made? Although it will not be an exhaustive list, I can make some suggestions that could be included under the various headings. Evidence can include:

  • Key Stage 2 test results (where applicable)
  • information from the special needs register and individual education plans
  • socio-economic information given in RAISEonline
  • RAISEonline also has examination data, as does Fischer Family Trust, and ALPS for A-level examinations
  • reports from examining bodies or verifiers for courses such as BTEC
  • links with further and higher education
  • information on involvement with the community
  • comments from Ofsted
  • comments from parents – letters sent in or comments they make at parents’ evenings
  • departments which are part of Sportsmark or Artsmark can use the information from the validation process
  • departments which form the basis of the school’s specialist status can use information from the designation process
  • some departments do ‘user satisfaction surveys’ to gauge pupils’ opinions
  • visitors to departments make comments which can be quoted
  • departments can cite the contributions they make to whole-school initiatives and national strategies
  • useful evidence can be obtained from work scrutiny
  • evidence from the leadership group
  • involvement of governors
  • reports from the school improvement partner (SIP).

These final four items will be covered in more detail.

Work scrutiny

According to Ofsted, work scrutiny is necessary for the analysis of pupils’ work. ‘Pupils’ earlier and current work provides an essential source of evidence of their attainment and progress. It also offers an insight into the curriculum, teaching and pupils’ attitudes to work.’ (Ofsted Handbook, 2003) We carry out three work scrutiny projects per year. This involves one topic per half term followed by an evaluation, which is shared across departments, so that staff can learn from one another’s observations. Topics have included differentiation in Year 7, assessment for learning, coursework at GCSE, homework, the use of ICT in the curriculum and so on. Work scrutiny is a way of looking at an aspect of a subject area’s work across all teachers within the department. It has been both easy and beneficial to incorporate this system of work scrutiny into our self-evaluation programme. Finally, it provides useful evidence for the departmental SEFs. It also enables the leadership group to provide a structure to ensure that department leaders are evaluating an important aspect of their work on a regular basis and involving all members of the department.

Evidence from the leadership groupWe have a line management system within the school whereby members of the leadership group (at Benton Park there are eight of us) line manage a number of departments each, offering mentoring and support. Heads of department can quote comments from their leadership group line managers for their SEFs.

As headteacher, I have a regular programme of lesson observations and feedback is given to the subject teachers and the curriculum leaders. Having seen every member of staff within a department, I then write a review of that department. Once again this is useful ammunition for a departmental SEF.

Involvement of governors
Governors are important stakeholders and their comments are quotable. Governors need to be involved in the full school self-evaluation process. This is made clear in the Guide to the Law for School Governors (2006), where it is written ‘the senior management team should take the lead in carrying out self-evaluation’, ensuring they ‘involve the governing body throughout the process’. It makes sense, therefore, to involve governors at a departmental level.

Our chair of governors, for example, visits a curriculum area once every half term. He has an interview with the curriculum leader to find out information about the department and then he observes a lesson. He reports to the full governing body in a non-attributable way, so that staff feel comfortable with the process. Any comments he makes can be used as evidence in the SEF. Other governors are active within the school. We have, for example, a governor who works with the departments involved in our technology specialism – maths, ICT, science and technology. He attends the technology college management group and, once again, any conclusions he reaches about the work of these departments could be used to support their work and noted in the SEF.

Relationship with the SIP
The role of the SIP was born out of the idea of the new relationship with schools introduced in 2004 when David Miliband was the minister of state for school standards. Schools were to become self-evaluation institutions having a ‘single conversation’ with their SIPs in order to streamline accountability. Fortunately, we have an excellent relationship with our SIP and find our conversations both challenging and worthwhile.

The report that the SIP writes provides a link with the local authority and is presented to the governing body. Within the report are comments that can be used by departments for their SEFs. In our recent SIP report a large number of departments received a comment and those who received positive ones would surely want to quote those, especially as the SIP is an important player in the self-evaluation process and has access to all the school’s data.

Priorities for development
In most of the sections of the SEF there is the opportunity to outline priorities for development. These follow on naturally from the information that has been gathered and the judgements that have been made. In the third section, on ‘Achievements and Standards’, most departments have priorities for action which refer to improving examination results. These include such suggestions as changing examination boards, extending the mentoring programme, promoting ‘assessment for learning’, targeting C/D borderline pupils for after school ‘catch-up’ classes and so on. Any programme for monitoring and evaluation needs to provide the chance to make suggestions for improvement.

I found it very useful writing the school SEF. It brought together many strands of school life and presented them in a single format – providing an environment in which to display all the comments from stakeholders and to analyse all the data produced on the school. Strengths and weaknesses were outlined and points for development underlined. It was important to hand this process down to curriculum leaders and the assistant head who led this project is extremely delighted with the standard of work produced. I am in agreement with him and the whole project received a complimentary response from our SIP. What is the next stage in the development of this work? What we need to do now is ensure that the points for development in the whole-school SEF are mirrored in departmental SEFs, and that these in turn feed into the school improvement plan. There should be synergy across these very important documents and it is our aim to develop this aspect of our work.

Having analysed the first set of departmental SEFs, I think we are on track, as there are many common threads across departments and already points for development that appear in the whole-school improvement plan are echoed by curriculum leaders in their departments’ SEFs.