Effective self-assessment and the improvement plan that shakes out from it, is an expectation of Ofsted. First and foremost however, it’s just good organisational practice to reflect on current practice and aim to improve it in an objective, robust way.
There’s little doubt that good further education and skills management teams see the value of self assessment and improvement planning. In the scheme of what is keeping them awake at night, it’s understandable it falls below some of the current challenges faced; particularly around funding and education reforms more generally.
Whilst we urge our clients to undertake self-assessment primarily for their own benefit, it’s not a bad place to start by understanding where it features in the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework; particularly if you’re a new apprenticeship provider, as many of our clients are.
It sits most prominently under ‘Effective Leadership and Management’
‘The rigour of self-assessment, including through the use of the views of learners, employers and other stakeholders, its accuracy and how well it secures sustained improvement across the provider’s work, including any sub-contracted provision’ .
Ofsted also has no expectation that you ‘prepare a self-evaluation or equivalent in a specified format or with specific wording; any assessment they provide should be part of the provider’s usual evaluation work and not generated solely for inspection purposes.’
And what do inspectors say about self-assessment when it’s done effectively? ‘Self-assessment leads to quality improvement planning that accurately identifies specific themes. These themes translate into detailed action plans and targets for individual managers and teachers as part of the appraisal process.” And when it’s not? “The report is overly long and too descriptive”…“Managers have not implemented a sufficiently rigorous system to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the provision to allow them to set actions to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.’
So to help, here are our five steps to improved self-assessment:
Clarity is critical
Document your process in a quick, easy-to-understand diagram and share this with your team so they understand it and their role in self-assessment. When does self-assessment take place? Who needs to be involved at which points? How does the timeline sit alongside availability of any data you intend to use as evidence? You are looking to embed self-assessment in your culture, rather than it be a bolt-on to the day job.
Too often, writing a self-assessment falls to a single person or a limited group of people. While finalising and editing may well need such tight control mechanisms, it shouldn’t be at the expense of involving others who might have something useful to contribute. Failure to do so, risks judgements being made from a too narrow perspective, This leads to a lack of ownership from those who need to drive improvements. So, involve staff, including support areas, from the outset. Gather input from employers and learners in whatever form is realistic. Look to peer review with others outside of your organisation.
Here’s what Ofsted might pick up if it doesn’t permeate throughout your structure: “Leaders and managers have put into place a comprehensive process to evaluate the provision, which they monitor termly. This has focused managers on the key strategic improvements required, but curriculum managers are not yet routinely able to identify areas for improvement and do not focus enough on improving the quality of teaching and learning. As a result, managers do not secure the rapid improvements required.
Don’t be afraid to be self-critical. An honest report is the single best way to build a realistic and sensible improvement plan. If you took Ofsted out of the equation, you’d rightly ask yourself what on earth the point of a rose-tinted self-assessment approach is.
Let’s be sensible though. If you identify an absolute clanger of an issue, fix it immediately. Writing about (for example) safeguarding training being inadequate is a bad idea when, your time would be better invested moving away from your keyboard and getting the training sorted.
Beyond the extreme examples though, being self-critical is crucial. Why? Because if Ofsted identify weaknesses that you haven’t outlined yourself, a credibility gap can open up. Doubt is shed on your ability to have a firm grasp on your provision.
It’s also important to share the good practice that exists. So much good work is done throughout the year by you and your team, which can be difficult to track. To then remember it when you’re writing a self-assessment can be a tall order. Capture these examples as they happen. Don’t make a meal of it: a slot on a team meeting agenda or a shared space to allow staff to log examples is all that is needed. I happen to know a bit of software that allows you to do that 😉
Use the data wisely
We have an enormous amount of data available to us in education. Too much in fact. Self-assessment requires you to focus on the important bits; that which relates to progress and outcomes for all learners and the data you choose to use which helps to measure the quality of teaching learning and assessment. Good self-assessment uses the data to inform judgements rather than relying heavily on opinion.
Here’s a link to a resource with some ideas on how to use the Common Inspection Framework to guide self-assessment to share with your teams.
Self-assessment has changed a lot over the years, as has the expectation of Ofsted. It’s less prescriptive, less of a door-stop document. Our own software to support the process has changed too. Ultimately we encourage our clients to write less and think more. You’ve got enough on your plate without self-assessment adding to it, by turning it into a long-winded exercise in story-telling.