SELF-EVALUATION AND INSPECTION: a consultation response
As recently appointed HMCI David Bell has published new proposals on the future of
inspection focusing on its relationship with schools and in particular on the future role for
The new proposals rest on a number or key considerations
A recognition of the need for change
Better value for money
A more integrated and coherent system
An acknowledgement of time and energy wastage in long advance notice
A better relationship with the teaching profession
A recognition of leading practice in schools’ own self-evaluation
Seeing schools as they really are
‘Build on success but make changes’
OFSTED has raised the profile of quality issues and importance of data and contributed
to a dialogue about learning and teaching. It has helped to heighten an awareness of
accountability. This contribution has, however, often been overshadowed by the means
employed to challenge practice. Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum “The medium is the
message “ is relevant to any new approach.
The use of media, and the tabloid press in particular, to convey bad news about
schools and the teaching profession is a legacy which the new regime must work
hard to counter.
Seeing schools as they really are
This is a sincerely held view of David Bell’s. It is a laudable and worthwhile. But it is
also naïve in a context where inspections carry high stakes for schools and teachers and
where the press for accountability overshadows the improvement motive. It also assumes
that inspectors are able not only to ‘see’ schools as they are but are able to tell the story in
ways that depict the complexity, vitality and dynamic of a school’s character. Snapshots
are by nature limited by both frame and focus.
How schools ‘really are’ can be captured most truthfully by self-evaluation which is
ongoing, embedded in the day-to-day life of classrooms and schools and involves the
range of perspectives of those who make schools work.
“It is time to trust schools more’. This is an implicit acknowledgement of lack of trust in
the profession which was so deeply damaging in the Woodhead era. Rebuilding trust
takes a great deal of time. It cannot neither be mandated nor promised without attention
to some residual flaws in the system. Trust has an intimate relationship with power and
the use of power. Trust builds from a sense of reciprocity –what the Dutch researcher
Van Leeuw calls the ‘me too-you too’ principle. Without this principle ‘calculative trust’
replaces “professional trust’. The former starts from a position of apprehension and a
wary testing of the relationship. The latter starts from a position of professional respect in
which there is a genuine sense of dialogue.
A new equilibrium in the power relationship between schools and OFSTED must
start from the premise of professional trust and genuine dialogue.
Short notice for inspections appears to be broadly welcomed by teachers and
headteachers. Primarily this is relative to the longer notice which in the past has built up
such a level of stress that teacher illness and absenteeism followed in its wake. With an
extended period of notice schools were tempted to put in place a whole range of tactical
measures, decoration and cosmetic face lifts, rehearsing and coaching pupils, rerunning
successful lessons, and in extreme cases, ‘borrowing; teachers from other schools, and
sending troublesome children off on external courses. Short notice has its own drawbacks
– such as difficulty in planning parent meetings for example – and will not remove the
apprehension that may occur as the window within the planning cycle looms closer. If it
means schools being in a state where they are confident to receive inspectors at any time
this is to be welcomed. If, however, their readiness is dominated by presentational issues
it may prove inimical to the deeper purposes of the school.
There is a clear logic to short notice for an inspection visit as long as it does not
imply a state of continuous high alert.
The three year cycle
While inspections are to be less extensive they are to be more frequent. This does not
square easily with a cost saving that might divert funding to school self-evaluation. Nor
will it be welcomed by teachers for whom inspection and the impending promise of
inspection will be always on the horizon. Rather than conveying a message of confidence
in schools’ capacity of rigorous self-evaluation it signals a lack of trust that self-
evaluation is truly valued. .
The commitment to a three year cycle needs to be re-examined both in terms of
value-for-money and in respect of the potential damage it may do to the building of
a new relationship with schools.
The parent factor
‘Parents have had more information about schools than ever before’. This is true, but the
nature of the information has been dubious and in many cases damaging. Our research,
our ongoing contact with teachers and parents through conferences and workshops
reveals an obsession with levels and grades that undermines parent-teacher dialogue and
skews school choice.
There is clear evidence too that information and reporting policy has also served to widen
the gap between the most knowledgeable and ambitious of parents and those with least
reserves of social capital. Draining schools of those parents most likely to be supportive
of their children also erodes the social capital of the school. ‘Special measures’ and
‘serious weakness’ fall most heavily on these disenfranchised schools
Inspection cannot compensate for flawed policy. It may, however, exacerbate its
Reports to parents and school profiles
“There is a need to report sharply and intelligently to parents’ says the OFSTED
consultation document. What is reported to parents and how it is reported does indeed
hold the key to school quality, effectiveness and improvement. ‘Intelligent’ reporting
seeks the balance between what is important to schools and what is important to parents,
rather than both being locked into other political agendas. Issues that were in the past of
interest and concern to parents have largely been submerged by a performance-dominated
agenda. For parents, issues of care, enjoyment of learning, emotional security, supportive
relationships, have had to give precedence to an overriding press for attainment. Parents
often find themselves caught between a need to push their children to work harder while
resenting the testing pressure that starts too early, fosters anxiety and in now unrelenting
through the whole of their child’s school career.
Schools can change how they report to parents and the nature of the school-home
dialogue but only in climate in which there is congruence between what schools,
governments and parents value.
‘By September 2005, we want schools to have a Profile that reflects the breadth and
depth of what they do’ suggest David Miliband. .Many schools now have sophisticated
brochures and websites presenting images of their school life in words pictures and
assessment data. This kind of multi--media presentations provide a useful starting point
for profiling and reporting to parents with a ‘sharper’ focus on what counts as ‘evidence’,
contextualising and balancing assessment data with other data. Taking OFSTED s own
four key elements of ‘standards’, ‘leadership’, ‘quality of education provided’. ‘moral
and spiritual development’,
How children are learning and how the school supports children in evaluating their
own learning across the whole range of the curriculum
Examples of changes in school practice through evidence-based inquiry into what
teachers and pupils find most engaging and effective.
The evidence for moral and spiritual development through the range of the school’s
Opportunities for the exercise of leadership at all levels within the school with
evidence as to outcomes of shared leadership
Profiles have the potential to reframe the way in which schools evaluate themselves
and report on their successes and challenges. This cannot happen unless the high
stakes consequences of inspection are removed and inspection reports cease to be
seen as the ultimate arbiters of school quality.
Consideration of views of learners
There is mounting evidence that learners’ views are at the kernel of evaluation rather than
an extra to be taken into account. Reluctance to consult pupils stems from a view that
their insights are partial, subjective, sometimes intended to please and often without the
vocabulary to express deeper insights. Experienced and prescient connoisseurs, it is
argued, are better placed to get a whole, more disinterested picture. While this has a large
degree of self-evident truth, research into pupil voice has demonstrated and the
importance of purpose and climate. Leading-edge practice in self-evaluation shows that
pupils have a keen sense of audience and understand the difference between a
developmental and an accountability purpose. Where there is a climate of trust with their
teachers they will give their honest opinions but will also temper what they reveal to an
inspection team. Self-evaluation is greatly enhanced in a climate where pupils develop
confidence that their views will be heard, and when they are equipped with a vocabulary
and accessible tools with which to express their views. This takes time to build and is
helped immeasurably by the support of an external critical friend.
Pupils can play an in important and integral role in school self-evaluation when
there is a climate of trust and pupils see their contributions as for their teachers
rather than for an external source.
Short sharp review
‘Lighter’ and shorter inspections are generally welcomed by teachers but there are
inherent contradictions in the notion of ‘sharp’. There was a strength in inspections
which provided a more complete picture with a wider focus than so-called ‘key’ areas.
This new sharper emphasis seems to be reflect a policy which has narrowed the
curriculum, marginalised important aspects of school life and is hard to reconcile with the
rhetoric of teaching ‘centred upon the individual child’, where a “curriculum meets the
needs of all learners’ and ‘all learners are effectively supported’. It is an important
reminder of the’ collateral damage’ on the curriculum reported by external evaluators of
the Literacy Strategy.
There was a telling phrase from a pupil interviewed in the 1995 school self-evaluation
“I used to feel that this school cared about how well I was doing. Now I just think it cares
about how well it’s doing” (MacBeath, 1999, p.55 ).
That this insight comes within a context of a school’s own self-evaluation conveys a powerful
message. With the fine-tuning of self-evaluation which is able to hear the quiet voice these deeply
important issues may be addressed . But nothing will change if self-evaluation is narrowly
conceived and is bent to a set of pre-determined criteria. The premise of shorter sharper
inspections is that schools engage in ‘rigorous’ self-evaluation. ‘Rigour’ is however, a
mischievous word and needs to be understood in less mechanistic terms.
At the heart of both external and internal evaluation is concern for evidence. What
counts as ‘evidence' in both of these contexts needs to be the examined with the
‘rigour’ that OFSTED advocates.
‘A focus on outcomes’
The singular emphasis on outcomes runs counter to a more learner-centred, needs-centred
approach. Outcomes as currently conceived tell a small and sometimes misleading part of
the story. They are embedded in a testing paradigm, a normative or comparative view of
achievement and in their current form simply cannot reflect what matters to many young
people, their parents other their teachers. The evidence is clear. What young people
leaving school take with them is much more about the process of their learning than its
measured outcomes. This is why governments are now interested in learning how to
learn because this is what is most likely to serve young people well when school lessons
are well behind them.
We must not abandon outcomes but develop a more critical appraisal of what they
currently are and a more intelligent view of what they ought to be.
Accountability and improvement
Accountability and improvement have proved to be uneasy bedfellows. The call for
‘intelligent accountability’ is to be welcomed because it acknowledges the tension
between formative and summative purposes. This tension is not resolved bur rather
heightened in the following statement from David Miliband’s North of England speech:
‘To fulfil all of these requirements, the data upon which we base our accountability
mechanisms must reflect our core educational purposes. They must be seen to be
objective. And they must allow for clear and consistent comparison of performance
between pupils and between institutions.’
While all teachers will assent to accountability as reflecting core educational purposes,
these cannot be ‘objective’, ‘consistent ‘and ‘comparative between institutions’ without
seriously distorting educational purposes.
Intelligent accountability grows from and is led by educational purposes.
Unintelligent accountability imposes criteria constraining of, and antithetical to,
educational purposes. The move from the latter to the former is perhaps the most
significant challenge faced by DfES and OFSTED.
A question of resources
The new proposal rests on the premise that ‘resources are adequate’. With the potential
for substantial financial savings on external inspection there is now an opportunity for
resources to flow more into support for self-evaluation. Classrooms are better equipped
than they ever have been and technology allows the collection, storing and retrieval of
data much more efficiently than in the past. In schools with resident expertise or effective
consultancy these data may be put to selective, critical and intelligent use. There is a
danger that information-rich technology diverts attention from the very core of self-
evaluation which lies in the day-to-day transaction in the classroom. There is now a
wealth of experience of teacher-friendly tools, processes of consultation with pupils,
pupil feedback on the quality of teaching, and other protocols which can inform and
improve practice. These do not enjoy wider currency, on the one hand because of other
pressures, and on the other hand because the key resources of time, support and collegial
networking are at a premium.
Resources for self-evaluation need to be such that they help teachers focus on what
There was a time when school inspectors were HMI. The move to contracted and
registered inspectors changed assumptions as to who was competent to comment on
school quality. The extension of inspection teams to lay inspectors broadened the concept
further. While the quality of lay inspectors has been uneven this also holds true for
OFSTED teams and for HMI and indeed, accounts for much of the adverse response to
OFSTED and HMI visits. In all of this little thought has been given to the inclusion of
classroom teachers. There are strong arguments for their inclusion in inspection teams as
they can bring a particular expertise and credibility to the task. It is possible to envisage a
time when teachers constitute a majority on an inspection team in a situation where
improvement takes precedence over accountability. The argument for senior pupils to be
part of the inspection team has been argued by a previous HMCI in Scotland after seeing
evidence of the access that young people can get to their peers. They carry a ‘passport’
that allows them to gain entry with their peers in a trusting relationship and accessible
If inspection is to lose the unfortunate connotations of that term it may be helped by
more radical thinking about the composition and expertise of ‘inspection’ teams.
There is no mention in the OFSTED consultation of critical friends. However, David
Miliband in his North of England speech gives a central role to critical friends ‘building a
new relationship with schools’.. Their role is envisaged as ‘to act as a critical friend to the
school and be authorised to approve - on behalf of the LEA and DfES - the performance
targets set by the Head and Governing Body of the school.’ Conveying approval on
behalf of DfES or the LEA runs counter to what has been learned over many years about
the role of critical friends and their contribution to school improvement. There are three
essentials in the relation: one, that school feel free to choose their own critical friend:
two, that he or she is there ‘for the school’ in a trusted but challenging relationship: three,
that the focus of his/her work is broadly concerned with improvement and not
constrained by targets and predetermined agendas. Critical friends cannot operate in a
climate of trust when they are there to ‘approve’ practice on behalf of an external agency.
By contrast, when it is for the school’s own benefit challenge is offered in a supportive
While consultant leaders is a forward looking initiative it will fail if more informed
consideration is not given to the role, purpose. and appointment of critical friends
The consultation document suggests that school profiles contain ‘a short description of
the context of the school and the community it serves’. This has been a traditional and
important feature of HMI and OFSTED reports, often acknowledging the heroic efforts
some school make in hugely challenging circumstances. Nonetheless these are the
schools that are most likely to be put in special measures or designated as having serious
weaknesses. What we know from three decades of school effectiveness research is that
social context matters and that it is the prime determinant of school success. School
cannot compensate for society, and to ignore this is to put unreasonable and unethical
pressure on teachers. It was at one time customary in Canadian provinces for inspectors
to spend two days in the community before visiting the school. What they gained was a
measure of social capital – the resilience and capacity in the community to contribute to
school-based learning. The consultation document talks about shared responsibility ‘for
improving all educational settings’. This implies a deeper and more sophisticated
understanding of where and how children learn and that what impedes learning is less
likely to be bad teaching than other less observable home and peer group effects.
Addressing social context issues with more fine-grained understanding is a
necessary precursor to building bridges between school learning and
What we have learned about self-evaluation?
Self-evaluation, as conceived by OFSTED, gives to schools the criteria and methodology
to apply in their evaluating and reporting on themselves. Schools are not involved in the
formulation of these, only in their application. There is a paradox in the very central issue
of a ‘self’ evaluation system being imposed or driven by an external source. Hence the
critical importance of process by which schools can take ownership and can engage in the
process of thinking for themselves. For criteria, indicators and outcome data to be useful
to teachers and their pupils they need to be discussable, open to interpretation and
alternative views. Without this they cannot capturing the essential qualities that lie deep
in learning life of schools. It is from that formative base that the school is able to begin to
tell its story. It is from this base that accountability grows, with a sense of audience, a
recognition of what matters, and an ability to persuade and convince parents, policy
makers and media of what school quality really is and how it works in the day-to-day life
of the truly self-evaluating school.
If schools are to be centres of learning, self-reflective, self-critical and self-improving
then self-evaluation must:
Have a clarity of purpose for those engaged in it
Have a sense of audience(s) and the priorities in telling the school’s story
Be a product of the school’s own thinking and practice
Use criteria adapted to the school’s own social context, constraints and opportunities
Be focused on what matters to the key stakeholders
Be seen as a process of continuing development rather than as an event
Achieve the balance of bottom-up development with top-down support
Welcome the external eye because it affirms, challenges and takes schools further in
their thinking and practice
A clarity of purpose means that all of a school’s stakeholders are aware of its intrinsic
intentions. They have a developed understanding of accountability and improvement and
have come to terms with the tension between them. In this light they have a clearer
insight into the primary audiences for their story. Telling their story is not a chore but
something to be celebrated and to this end there is an ubiquitous flow of information up,
down and across the school, and beyond its physical boundaries.
The criteria used to evaluate learning, teaching, ethos and leadership, form a delicate
mosaic, reflecting different interests, needs and imperatives. They have a kaleidoscopic
quality because they are not static but emergent, changing over time as pupils and
teachers and schools change. It is in the juxtaposition of pupil, teacher, parent and senior
management priorities that the dialogue begins and self-evaluation is sparked into life.
Self-evaluation is a process involving dialogue, a meeting of hearts and minds, a forging
of new ways of seeing and doing, vital and continuing because is at the core of a school’s
educational life. It has continuous appeal to evidence and uses performance evidence
with a critical eye, recognising that the appeal to evidence is the essence of the learning
community, the intelligent school, schools that learn.
Engaging in the dialogue and following where it leads inevitably creates a tension
between what is valued by those closest to the action and the mandates of their political
masters. It is through the process of self scrutiny and informed dialogue (importantly with
support from a critical friend) that there develops a confidence to discriminate the
important from the unimportant, to know how to comply when compliance is necessary,
and to be creatively subversive when subversion is needed. Self-evaluation in this
dynamic sense is a risky business. It has no antipathy to inspection or other external
perspectives because challenge and new ways of seeing are the motor of capacity-
building, and the drivers of transformational change. Quality assurance starts in the
school with the school but it does need to be complemented by external review and
support whose central purpose is to support and enhance the self-evaluation process.
This is now widely acknowledged as the most valuable role that external evaluation can