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Art brushed out of self-evaluation

Pupils' progress in history, geography, art, music and physical education is largely ignored by primary schools when they evaluate their own performance, Ofsted has warned.

Even primaries with otherwise high-quality self-evaluation are failing adequately to monitor standards in subjects other than English, maths and science, it said.

The findings published this week increased concerns, expressed by David Bell, former chief inspector and now permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, that the target and testing regime are creating a two-tier primary curriculum that is focused too heavily on the core subjects.

The report, Best practice in self-evaluation, found all schools need to take more account of the views of external partners, such as neighbouring schools, and to place greater emphasis on young people's broader personal development and well-being.

It said self-evaluation should be a continuous process which includes regular classroom observation - not something completed only for the arrival of inspectors.

The report was based on inspectors' visits to 12 schools, seven further education colleges and three local authorities, selected because of the quality of their self-evaluation.

It said: "Primary schools had very limited information on foundation subjects. This detracted from the rigour and quality of their self-evaluation.

"Two schools had not begun to focus on foundation subjects. One school reviewed which units of work had been covered by a class but it did not use national curriculum levels as indicators and did not set targets. The focus was more on covering the content than on pupils' performance."

The survey of schools, colleges and councils was carried out in autumn 2005 and spring 2006 after the introduction of new light-touch inspections, that put more emphasis on self-evaluation.

Ofsted praised schools' efforts to include the views of parents and pupils in the process. One primary introduced weekly homework in English, maths and science in response to parents' concerns. And Greensward technology college in Essex increased the amount of curriculum time for drama and textiles after a request from pupils.

The report said the success of self-evaluation depended on the priority given to it by heads, governors and senior management. Arrangements should be based on the needs of the individual school rather than the requirements of outsiders, it said.

David Hinchliffe, Ofsted's deputy director of education, said: "It is vital that schools, colleges and local authorities have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in order to drive forward improvements in teaching and learning.

"Self-evaluation should always be part of a continuous process, which is given high priority and seen as an integral part of the culture in schools, colleges and local authorities, rather than a paper exercise completed for bureaucratic purposes."

John Bangs, National Union of Teachers head of education, said Ofsted's findings showed self-evaluation had failed to free schools from the straitjacket of external regulation.

"This is further evidence of a two-tier primary curriculum. Inevitably schools are going to concentrate on the areas government targets tell them to. The big irony is that self-evaluation has become a top-down monster because of government targets," he said.

Best practice in self-evaluation is available from

Take a look at yourself

Self-evaluation - best practice according to Ofsted: Starting in JulySeptember:

* Review previous year's performance.

* Use attainment and value-added data to identify strengths and weaknesses and set priorities for the year ahead.

* Set targets for each individual pupil for the coming year. In primary schools, targets should be set by heads and in secondaries by heads of department.

Throughout the year:

* Regularly and rigorously monitor pupils' progress - weekly or fortnightly in primaries, half-termly or termly in secondaries. Use the results of this to provide extra support, such as mentoring and booster classes, for those who need it.

* Teachers in primary schools should be observed several times a year, secondary teachers at least once.

Other evaluation:

* Annually scrutinise the curriculum content in individual subject areas.

* Evaluate the school's ethos and culture less frequently, perhaps only every two years, using both pupil and parent questionnaires.

* Investigate particular problems, such as the behaviour of pupils,through one-off surveysof parents.

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