Back in 2006, a requirement was introduced for schools to keep an up-to-date school self-review using a self-evaluation form (SEF). In the years since, use of this document has gone in and out of fashion among school leaders, but it remains a very useful tool for reviewing what impact a school is making as a whole.
A tight SEF will consider the focus areas of school life (leadership, learning, personal development and outcomes), and help to provide evidenced judgements of any actions in the complementary school improvement or development plan. Your SEF is a review document designed to inform Ofsted teams and direct school inspection under the current framework. It’s not meant to present a descriptive history of the school, but rather serve as a robust and up-to-date analytical tool.
Every member of the school will be a stakeholder in the creation of this document. It might be SLT that actually writes it, but there’s every chance that you’ll be later required to provide evidence to support certain aspects of your SEF or specific statements within it.
Manage it carefully
At its heart, the SEF is an evaluative assessment of current practice. It shouldn’t outline the vision of the school, and nor should it be used to drive the development of that vision. Yes, during a review your SEF may uncover issues that might warrant some form of short-term school improvement – but it shouldn’t be used as a major vehicle for long term vision implementation. As with many other areas of school life, your SEF will need to be carefully managed.
There are certain times of the year when it makes sense to update particular sections. Establishing direct links between your SEF and school improvement plan will create a harmony between the two documents – indeed, school leaders are increasingly viewing their SEF and SIP as one document consisting of two parts – while also providing the ongoing evidence you’ll need for external evaluations.
SLTs must remember that maintaining the SEF is a joint responsibility that should be communicated to the whole staff body at least once a year. If there are distinct areas of responsibility, such as the Foundation Stage or professional development, area leaders should provide the evidence needed for the sections in question.
Ofsted recommends that before uploading their SEF to the Ofsted portal (something only required during inspections), leaders should consider the following points:
- Are your judgements clear and to the point?
- Have you reflected stakeholders’ views?
- Does the SEF give a fair and honest picture of what the school is like, and have you been clear about the actions being taken to improve matters?
- If you were an inspector, what questions would your SEF lead you to ask?
There’s a quandary here, though. If it’s important to keep SEFs sharp and short, how can you hope to adequately cover all of the above?
Present it intelligently
School leaders are rightly passionate about their schools, and with that can come the temptation to wax lyrical about their every achievement. I’ve previously seen SEFs that are some 40-plus pages long – which, in truth, tends to ring alarm bells. If the received wisdom for many years has been that SEFs ought to be kept tight and short, why is this head bucking the trend?
We don’t want to lose that rich detail, but it can be captured in other ways. Each section of your SEF should cover three areas:
1. Evidence and commentary that supports your judgement
2. Action points that have been identified as areas of weakness or development
3. Bullet points that signpost to documents, reports and/or awards that further support the SEF
All of that can and should be recorded using one page per area. The core sections should meanwhile reflect the current inspection framework – which at present covers leadership, teaching and learning, outcomes, Early Years and personal development.
That said, church schools will be required to develop a specific SIAMs (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) SEF. Given that the SIAMs framework is in the process of changing, it’s essential that you understand what its seven new priorities are, and that your SIAMs SEF addresses core questions regarding vision.
Embed it within your practice
Having invested time in producing your SEF, it’s can be useful to then carry over the shape of your SEF headlines to other documents and procedures. Linking your school improvement plan to the SEF will mean that something identified as a weakness or area for development has a clear and strategic place in the current year’s school improvement. Linking the two will also help governors track changes.
Just as with the SEF, the school improvement plan shouldn’t be an intensely detailed document, but neither should it leave out important details. Redesigning the written headteacher report to reflect the core titles used in your SEF will help governors gain a deeper understanding of the progress the school has made, while also creating a further body of evidence that directly links to the SEF.
It’s worth also reconsidering how you minute your leadership team meetings. Why not flag up your SLT meetings with the same titles as used in the SEF and headteacher’s report? You might not always be discussing ‘outcomes’ at each meeting, but there’s a strong likelihood that elements of leadership, learning and personal development will regularly figure on your agenda – and referring to them in the same way in which they’re cited in your SEF will keep thse core areas at the forefront of each leader’s mind.
Inevitably, there will be incidental issues that fall outside of those key areas, but these should be rare. Most of what SLTs do and discuss will conern learning and leadership; formatting your minutes to reflect this will serve a useful exercise for yourself, while at the same time creating yet another evidence pool.
Convey your essence
Finally, don’t forget the school itself – because that’s the strongest evidence of all. Ofsted will expect you to lead a learning walk, and if you’ve been training your mind to identify how the learning environment reflects your SEF (particularly where you’re actively addressing weaknesses) then you’ll be able to demonstrate, as a school leader, that you’ve identified your school’s needs, understood them and devised a plan for addressing them.
Remember that inspectors won’t have time to wade through and thoroughly understand a lengthy document. They might conceivably have less than half an hour allocated to reviewing your SEF, and will thus want to comprehend the essence of your school as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, there’s little to be gained from creating chapters for your SEF that deviate from what Ofsted (very clearly) state they’ll be inspecting. Link the SEF to your school improvement plan, consider how you can build evidence that supports the SEF, and tailor your school’s documentation and procedures so that said evidence is easier to source.
Anthony David is an experienced headteacher, executive headteacher and educational writer and speaker.