Watch yourself!

Self-evaluation is providing south London schools with a better sense of how to progress. Stephen Hoare reports

ALAN Coode, headteacher of Gorringe Park primary in Mitcham, south London, wants to measure how successful he has been in raising standards for black and ethnic-minority pupils. He wants to know whether his newly-qualified teachers are making progress and whether his information communications technology spending represents value for money.

With schools' self-evaluation he can get the bigger picture. His local education authority, Merton, has been piloting a joint annual review in which heads get together with LEA inspectors to identify key successes and issues.

"It's like raising your head above the water when you are swimming. It's an opportunity to stop blindly thrashing and look at where you are going," said Mr Coode.

He and his senior management team fill out forms to create a profile of their school. Key performance indicators include teaching observation, pupil attendance, special needs provision, ICT and ethnic-minority achievement. The resulting document provides the basis for a half-day's discussion with a Merton schools inspector out of which will evolve an improvement action plan.

"The beauty of self-evaluation is involving the staff and the whole school," said Mr Coode. If it is done thoroughly, self-evaluation also provides a strong evidence base.

Sue Evans, Merton's director of education, said: "The joint annual review shows us where we need to focus our efforts. Our inspectors play an important role by meeting the headteachers, challenging their targets and validating the quality of the process. If a school is performing well, then it gets a light touch. If it is raising concerns, then we can intervene early."

The three indicators that really matter in the review, says Ms Evans, are the quality of leadership, the standard of teaching and attitude of pupils to learning. To be effective, self-evaluation has to be controlled by the school and be driven by local needs. But it also has to be impartial and heads have to justify their judgments, especially when asked to comment on their own leadership.

Merton's self-evaluation includes interviews with senior managers, governors and pupils, minutes of governing body meetings and the reports of external assessors. When the new review is introduced in 2002-3, all Merton schools will be benchmarked against similar schools in the borough based on the percentage of children taking free school meals.

Julie Hillman, head of Beecholme primary, one of five schools involved in the Merton pilot, is a keen advocate. She said: "The joint annual review encourages us to evaluate subject areas. It's looking beyond literacy and numeracy."

By involving the management team, governors and senior teachers in self-evaluation, the work can be shared out. Ms Hillman said: "I attended three meetings with inspectors and other heads over two terms. I gave the pro formas to staff to fill in and it took me nearly a day to collate them." Alan Coode also values the democracy that self-evaluation engenders, but for a different reason.

"Most schools are run by heads who are megalomaniacs. The good megalomaniac needs input from the people he's working with," he says.

For more information contact: Paul Greenhalgh, Merton Schools Effectiveness on 0208 545 3546

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