I was recently working with a primary school on their self evaluation, something I do often, and I was trying to think about why this process is so useful. Why, I kept wondering, was it better to get advice and support writing a self evaluation? Surely the clue is in the name, that you should be doing it by (your)self? Here’s what I came up with.
Okay. It’s confession time. Brace yourselves. Here goes.
My wife and I share a guilty pleasure…
Once the kids have gone out or they are safely up in their rooms, my wife and I will snuggle up, open a bottle of wine and watch Four in a Bed on TV.
That might sound like a lot more information than you need, or indeed want, to know.
So just to reassure you, in case you weren’t aware, Four in a Bed is a Channel 4 programme where bed and breakfast owners visit each other’s establishments over the course of a week. After the 24 hour stay in one B&B the other owners give anonymous feedback against various criteria such as the welcome provided by the hosts, cleanliness of the rooms, quality of the breakfast etc. The whole group then move onto the next B&B and this is repeated until all four establishments have been visited. The final day is when the group all get together and find out what they have been paid by the other owners. Sometimes it is lower than the set cost of the room; sometimes it is higher. It depends on whether the visitors considered their stay to be good value for money.
The winners are the B&B that gets the highest percentage total payment against the actual cost of their rooms. They win a plaque saying they’ve won. Brilliant. Or maybe not. Okay, perhaps a job in Channel 4 marketing isn’t my next career move.
Perception vs. Reality
What really stands out is that the owners’ perception of their B&B often doesn’t quite match that of the visiting owners. This can work both ways. Some owners don’t always see all of the positives in their establishment and the visitors comment that they are under-valuing themselves. On other occasions the owner isn’t aware of the massive cobwebs in the rooms and the dirty crockery, which are obvious to the visiting B&B owners.
I gave this some thought and realised that this is probably because the owner of a B&B lives and breathes their establishment every day. It’s rare that they go and stay in similar establishments because they are so busy running their own place. And because they are so hands-on and working at such a pace they perhaps don’t get time to sit back and look at their establishment with a fresh pair of eyes.
At this point you’ve probably seen the analogy I’m making with school leadership. If you haven’t, can I just state that I’m making an analogy here with school leadership? Even down to the dirty crockery in some cases. Have you seen some staff rooms? Why don’t they teach basic washing up on initial teacher training courses?
So when I work with schools on their self evaluation I try to offer that fresh pair of eyes. Not literally of course, although I might bring a few biscuits.
Approaching the Self Evaluation
I always contact the headteacher or principal in advance and I’m quite happy to receive the school’s RAISEonline, dashboard and existing self evaluation beforehand so I can read it through and save time on the day.
Typically we begin the day by discussing the historic data and last inspection report. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We tend to begin the day with tea or coffee and then talk about that parent who always brings their child in late. It is a school after all.
But then we typically talk data and Ofsted. Sometimes this is just with the headteacher or principal; sometimes this is with the SLT. I try and ask the questions that someone with no inside knowledge of the school (just like me in fact) might ask, based on the data and previous key issues.
I always ask if we can go for a walk around the setting too. This really helps to contextualise the discussions. I have seen amazing displays and innovative use of resources and it’s great to feedback this to the school.
Sometimes they are aware that this is a strength and are pleased I noticed. On other occasions they may not have realised it was anything to write home about.
Self Evaluation and Improvement Planning
I normally visit between two and five different schools every week across all parts of the country which means a) I can compare and contrast schools and b) I know a bit about motorway service stations too, in case you are planning any trips soon.
The latter part of the day varies between settings. At some point I will refer to the Ofsted grade descriptors to offer challenge and to prompt questions. We discuss the sources of evidence that support the school’s judgements and ensure the school is fully prepared to justify and validate their gradings. We may also look at the link between self evaluation and improvement planning.
Sometimes the SLT or headteacher and I may work on a particular section of self evaluation collectively, perhaps on a large screen. On other occasions different members of the SLT have gone off to work on a particular section of the self evaluation for a while, whilst the headteacher and I might discuss the progress of current cohorts and how this can be summarised and expressed succinctly in the document. Then we all meet together to go through each section. And sometimes the school has preferred to make notes during the day as discussions continue and then someone will type up the final document after I have left.
The aim is to have a completed and updated self evaluation in place as a result of my visit.
So what I’ve decided is that a self evaluation doesn’t need to be, and probably shouldn’t be, a single-person exercise. Bringing others in for different perspectives allows you to talk about things you could be overlooking or taking for granted. I’ve been asked to approach school self evaluation activities a dozen different ways, as each school has a different context and unique set of circumstances. Some just prefer a certain approach.
I try and be flexible and work with the school to use the time effectively. I really don’t mind. Just as long as I’m home on Friday in time for Four in a Bed.
More about Self Evaluation
If you’d like to talk about me helping with your own self evaluation, get in touch with Linda and she’ll give you all the information you need. You can find out more here. If there are any other Four in a Bed fans out there, head over to Twitter and let me know. I’m @Focustn and I’m told by my kids I need more followers to be cool.
Have a look at my self-evaluation book by clicking below.
Self-Evaluation for a New Era
Planning for Improvement
Writing a Self-Evaluation Statement
Tim has been a headteacher with a successful track record; his last school had a reputation for innovation and their initiatives have been utilised by others and presented internationally.
School improvement has been at the heart of his career, working as an LLE, a School Improvement Partner, Professional Partner as well as an Ofsted inspector and mentor for trainee inspectors.