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Look deep inside yourself

Daunted at the prospect of inspecting your own school? Philip Schofield shows how to cope with self-evaluation

Schools are about to be faced with a new and demanding inspection regime.

The corner- stone of the new approach is self-evaluation. Inspectors will turn up at short notice and will require an up-to-date evaluation of the school's performance.

It sounds daunting, but it need not be. Essentially, the approach moves control back to the school. The self-evaluation form enables schools to go through the process in a systematic and sensible way. It encourages schools to look at their practice and performance in a constructively critical manner and enables them to explain, justify and, if necessary, change what they are doing.

The expectation is that the new system will build on existing practice and be a normal and natural part of the school's work.

In fact the new system is not really new at all. Every day in schools up and down the country, people ask questions about their work and the impact it has on learning. The best do this in an organised way and can justify and explain what they are doing and what they have achieved. They collect and collate evidence and can provide it to others. They sort and sift, using what is helpful and discard data which clutters up the system. Here are a few tips to help you cope:

* Organise your information.

It needs to be clear and accessible. Banish embarrassed silences as the head rummages through the overflowing contents of an in-tray saying, "I know it is here somewhere!"

* Spend time on things that matter.

Before you launch self-evaluation, take time to reflect on what you need to do and home in on those things that really make a difference. Too often, people simply pile one thing on top of another until it becomes unmanageable. A classic example is workforce reform. Some schools have tried to redistribute tasks without taking the opportunity to review their working practices. Others have managed this process more successfully by stepping back and looking critically at their work. Things that have been done for years with little effect or value have been jettisoned so that effort can be focused on useful areas.

* Value what you know you do well.

It may not conform to Ofsted or withstand the scrutiny of statistics-hungry inspectors, but if you know it is important, say so. The school crossing patrol with her cheery welcome to the children may contribute. Hard working PTA members who reach out to other parents and make them feel part of the school community may add to children's perceptions of school. You may have a calm, purposeful atmosphere that helps children to learn. These facts will never appear on a spreadsheet, but are crucial to success: make sure the inspectors don't leave without knowing about them.

* Check out things you may be taking for granted.

In one school, the behaviour of children was transformed in just two years.

Children were given more responsibility. Partnership with parents improved beyond measure. New routines and procedures were introduced and the emphasis moved from sanctions to recognition and reward. The inspectors came and the behaviour of the pupils was described as "good". But there was no explanation of how this had been achieved - because no one in the school had thought to record progress towards improved behaviour or to present that to the inspectors.

Make self-evaluation part of your normal routines, concentrate on the things that really make a difference, be organised about the way you record the outcomes and, above all, be confident in your explanations and justifications. This way, you will have nothing to fear when the inspectors finally call.

Philip Schofield is an experienced headteacher, inspector and consultant who has worked extensively in the UK and abroad. He can be contacted at director@worldclass.me.uk

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