Self-Evaluation: The Backbone to a Great School

Self-Evaluation: The Backbone to a Great School

Is there a danger that school leadership can become overly complicated? What is the essence of leading a great school? It goes without saying that at the heart of great leadership is the relentless drive to get the best for your children.

Leadership focused on children and excellent outcomes trumps all other motives, time and again. This is most clearly seen when there are challenges and vulnerabilities in school and within the community. Driven and decisive leadership makes a difference - the evidence tells us. Roy Blatchford (2014) notes, “Leaders set out to see the best in people and dwell on the positive, while at the same time being single-minded in rooting out mediocrity.”

The work of Professor Vivienne Robinson from the University of Auckland boldly states, “The more leaders focus their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater their influence on student outcomes”.

So, while leadership is leadership, regardless of sector or context, there are some distinguishing features of educational leadership… namely the focus on pedagogy and getting the best outcomes for all children (i.e. equity).

When Ofsted inspectors visit any school, their evaluation criteria are clear. They are looking for evidence that demonstrates how well schools are performing, closing gaps and ensuring that all children achieve their very best. The starting point for the inspection process is the school’s self-evaluation, which is the first glimpse that inspectors get of how the school views itself.

Self-evaluation isn’t new, but it is still cited as one of the most time-consuming and challenging tasks by many school leaders. For those who are not new as leaders, you may recall completing S1, S2, S3 and S4. For those not quite so long in the tooth, the SEF became everyone’s nightmare with the challenges of losing your self-evaluation if you didn’t instantly click ‘save’! Ofsted appears to have evolved a little and now accepts that schools can present their self-evaluation in any way they choose. At its heart, self-evaluation is simply asking:

  • How well are we doing?
  • How do we know?
  • What do we need to do next to secure further improvement?

Where do you start with your self-evaluation?

There is no right or wrong way. Leadership teams need to find what works best for them. One strategy that many leadership teams find useful is starting with the inspection criteria they will be judged against. A good starting point is to get your highlighting pens out! The shared debate and discussion that a leadership team will have in agreeing on the current ‘state of the nation’ in their school is at the heart of self-evaluation. Leadership teams can use the inspection criteria to identify their best fit, identify their evidence base to support their judgements and define their next steps in terms of improvement.

The format used in our popular Focus Mini version of the evaluation schedule is a useful tool for this, as seen on this example page. It enables school leaders to compare the relevant descriptors for the four grades where applicable and organise the grade descriptors against clear headings.


Having undertaken this task as a leadership team, you can be sure that all leaders will share the bigger picture and should also understand how the sections of the inspection criteria dovetail together. For example, what you assert about implementation might correlate with impact, etc. For many, this process is the most useful part of self-evaluation. Where many schools seem to get stuck is by trying to write their self-evaluation as a group. The written product is merely a record of the discussions and debates you will have had as a team. Sharing the criteria and deciding the best fit is the critical process; who writes the self-evaluation summary is slightly irrelevant.

Keep it simple

When it comes to writing your self-evaluation, keep it simple. It can be helpful to frame each statement in a similar way:

State your judgement and how you know, and define what is next; for example, ‘Feedback is consistently good. Evidence from book scrutiny and discussions with children support this because children can talk about their successes and next steps with most pieces of work evidencing pupil response to feedback. To further improve, we must ensure that this good practice is seen in all curriculum areas, not just in English and mathematics."

The length of your self-evaluation will vary depending on the complexities within your school. Remember, it is a self-evaluation summary, not a self-evaluation story. Keep to the point. It is important that you do not need to include every detail in your self-evaluation. The simplest way to keep your summary short is to signpost to other sources of evidence, such as detailed evaluations of teaching, evaluation of pupil outcomes, CPD records, analysis of pupil groups, etc.

Once complete, it might be useful to ask a colleague outside of your school to read your self-evaluation and ask whether they can see if the strengths and next steps are aligned with the inspection criteria. When looking at a self-evaluation summary, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it concise and succinct, clearly signposting evidence?
  • Is it evaluative rather than descriptive or repetitive?
  • Is it a working document that isupdated regularly?
  • Is it shared?
  • Is it linked to the inspection criteria?
  • Is it linked to the improvement plan?
  • Is it honest?

Use evaluative language

Writing about your school is challenging, much more challenging than writing about another school. In your school, there are emotions, heartaches, dilemmas and human beings! The combination of these makes writing in a dispassionate way a real challenge. Try, where possible, to use evaluative language. The following phrases may help:

Because of… this meant that…
Outcomes indicate that… because…
The progress of… compared with national shows…
The impact was… as a result of…
Evidence from… showed us that…
Feedback from… resulted in…

Try to avoid the following language:

It seems like…
We are not sure why…
We think that…

In essence, writing your self-evaluation is an important leadership task. Just remember that your self-evaluation summary, along with your school website, are the first glimpses that inspectors have into the reality that is your school.

Continue the Conversation

Take a look at our products for writing your Self-Evaluation.

We can help you write your Self-Evaluation form. To read more about this service, click here

You can find us on Twitter @focuseducation1 or get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818.

Related Products




Back to blog