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Reflecting on Effective Self-Evaluation

“Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable” is a quote I found online when doing a bit of research. Well, I was Googling stuff really, but ‘research’ sounds more consultant-ish.

Any idea who said it?

Sir Michael Wilshaw perhaps?

Or maybe you’re thinking it’s from a blog entry by a beleaguered headteacher recounting the first words that HMI muttered during their recent Section 8?

Actually, it’s attributed to John Wooden. No? Me neither.

It turns out he was an American basketball player and coach. According to Wikipedia, he was nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood,” so it must be correct. As head coach at UCLA, he won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including a record seven in a row.

So now I know he was very good at basketball; so good in fact that he possibly had some sort of magical powers. Or maybe he just owned a cloak and roared, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” as a coaching tip. I’m also left with a slight sense of surprise that Americans actually acknowledge a ‘national championship’ rather than calling it a ‘World Series’ and supposing that any team that wins a sports competition in their own country has, by right and constitutional decree, naturally dominated the entire planet as well.

But I digress, as anyone who has attended one of my courses is all too aware. Adam and the Ants and teaching styles? Rare breed poultry and e-safety anyone? You probably had to be there.

John Wooden was, of course, absolutely correct, not only in his innovative techniques to overcome the run-and-jump, 1–3–1 trapping, box-and-one, triangle-and-two, and switching man-to-man defensive systems (top tips for your PE coordinator before the next big game against that school that always wins the trophies. You know. The one with the headteacher who never quite lived up to their sporting dreams as a youngster), but also correct in that thing he said about self-evaluation. About failure being inevitable without it.

I’m not advocating any specific format or approach to self-evaluation, just the fact that it is crucial to effective school leadership. Ofsted themselves have gone out of their way to dispel the myths and rumours surrounding inspection, including any suggestion that they expect a particular style and format. They don’t.

Ofsted on Youtube

If you haven't seen it yet Ofsted has its own YouTube channel. Click here to have a look.

The ‘Videos’ page is constantly being added to as each senior HMI is taking turns to make three or four short films, all in front of the same pot plant. It reminds me of when we first had digital cameras in class, and the children took turns in the film corner. Some of the films are related to self-evaluation and inspection, so they are worth a look to get Ofsted’s perspective.

Discover what is going on

Underpinning effective self-evaluation is the ability to ask the right questions. A leadership team needs to dig under the surface of the school and really discover what is going on.

I work with many schools on self-evaluation, and the process is initially very question-based, generally based on variations of the following:

  • What do you know?
  • What does it tell you?
  • How does that compare with any benchmarking or national comparison?
  • What do you need to improve?

I’m sure John Wooden asked the same questions of the teams he coached, and at least the league tables in sports are less controversial than those in education.

And in schools, we then ask:

  • What is the ‘best fit’ against the inspection grade descriptors?

Of course, the questions are made more specific by the work of the individual school, their evidence from monitoring and evaluation, and the school’s RAISEonline and dashboard data. The latter two are, of course, history and occasionally the cause of hysteria in some schools, but they provide a starting point.

To help schools with their self-evaluation, I’ve just written a book ( ‘Writing a School Self -Evaluation Statement: Taking Account of the New Ofsted Framework and the National Curriculum’) based on these sorts of questions specific to every aspect of the descriptors in the Ofsted inspection handbook. It’s designed to prompt thinking and enable school leaders to consider the evidence base to support their responses. I’ve also included samples of text from a school’s self-evaluation where they have graded themselves ‘Good’ in each respect to provide examples of how the evidence and evaluation might be phrased. It certainly isn’t the only way to develop effective self-evaluation, but it might be helpful as a starting point.

And finally, the teams coached by John Wooden didn’t perform as well after he left. It appears that he was ahead of the game with his self-evaluative approaches. But perhaps if his assistant coaches and support staff had also been involved in the process, the teams might have continued to win trophies or at least been competitive. So perhaps it is worth considering how much of a team effort self-evaluation is in your setting. Are governors, senior leaders and middle leaders really all involved? Just as school improvement requires a team effort, so perhaps should self-evaluation.

Please just make sure it’s not in an ‘all hands in the middle…ready…GO TEAM!’ kind of way.

I’m all in favour of reiterating the importance of self-evaluation, but there is a limit to what we should take from American sport.

Continue the Conversation on Self-Evaluation

For more information on Self-Evaluation, please get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818. You can order my book ‘Writing a School Self -Evaluation Statement: Taking Account of the New Ofsted Framework and the National Curriculum’  or have us produce your Self-Evaluation document for you click here to find out more.


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