Judged through the eyes of a child

The National Education Trust is looking to introduce peer review that puts students at the centre of the evaluation of school performance, as Maxine Evans and Simon Knight explain
17th February 2017, 12:00am
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Judged through the eyes of a child


If you consider the quality of a school, what’s the first thing that you think of? The examination results, the proportion of pupils meeting milestones, the inspection outcome?

These end points associated with learning help us understand what “good” looks like - it offers us a common language and expectation.

What happens, though, if you start by looking at the quality of students’ learning experience?

At the National Education Trust, we are working to develop a new approach to the evaluation of school performance. The process is one of peer review that uses the combined experience and expertise of the school’s leaders, as well as leaders from other schools.

Most importantly, it starts with the learner and learning, and builds a view of the school from the bottom up, from the inside out.

It is easy to presume that this is a bit woolly, but that isn’t the case

It is easy to presume that this is a bit woolly, too much of an arm around the shoulder and not enough rigour. But that isn’t the case. It is perfectly possible to use the child’s experience of a school as a starting point from which to begin the process of triangulation, making use of more traditional sources of evidence of quality, such as lesson observation and outcome data, to form a holistic judgement about learning.

This isn’t about a reliance on the opinions of the child, but rather scrutiny of their learning experience based on their own individual needs.

So the framework for evaluating the school’s performance is centred on a set of guiding questions. When they are used skilfully with students by trained reviewers, these questions can draw out evidence of the learning experience to support, create or validate self-evaluation, improvement priorities and preparation for Ofsted. The threads of enquiry can then be followed through a process of “pupil pursuit”, following the experience of the child throughout the school day.

In doing so, it becomes possible to better explore the variability of that experience as the child moves from class to class, or indeed, from lesson to lesson within a single class. Observation becomes less characterised by the snapshot and more informed by the bigger picture.

What are the key things to get right for this process to have an impact?


The quality of the questioning is key because it will directly influence the extent to which the evidence base is secure. Creating the environment in which children feel willing to share their experience honestly is an essential component of the review process. Guided questions within the framework provide a starting point for the reviewers to begin to construct their own context-specific versions. This allows the review to be shaped around characteristics, such as the age of the pupils, or indeed, any special educational needs.


While building in the voice of the learner is essential, it needs to be part of the process, not its entirety. The reviewer needs to be able to carefully identify the most significant lines of enquiry, while being mindful of any vexatious assertions. These then need to be tested by exploration of the more traditional sets of data investigated when reviewing a school.


Discussion among the review team is key to identifying the common themes to be threaded through the review. These can then form the focus of deeper exploration of the data sets available. The views and experience of the learner are the starting point, not the end. The themes that come from them must be challenged robustly and evidence sought, just like any other source of commentary.


The reporting of the outcomes of the review needs to be crafted carefully and reflect a holistic summary of the range of evidence explored. It should avoid a simplistic call-and-response approach to the views of the learners, but instead address the range of evidence skilfully with the learners’ experience built into this process.

The bigger picture

For us, this is the starting point of a different way of working in the classroom. It places a greater emphasis on the learner, but it is not solely reliant upon them.

It allows us to build a bigger picture in which the voice of those affected most by the quality of what they receive is heard: a review in which the learner, not just the learning, is valued.

Maxine Evans is CEO and Simon Knight is director of education, both of the National Education Trust

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