Schools must speak for themselves (Part 2)

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In my previous post I shared with you my concerns around the tensions that exist between writing a self-evaluation summary (SES) for Ofsted and writing one for yourself that focuses on school improvement. Can the two go together? Can we become a self-improving school if our SES talks only to the Ofsted grades and doesn’t feed-forward? Why bother using grades when we already know that in the wrong hands they can be as reliable as tossing a coin or rolling the dice?

So, keen as always to try to base my thinking on current research and thinking, I took to the 2016 book expertly edited by Roy Blatchford and Rebecca Clark. Called ‘Self-Improving Schools: The Journey to Excellence‘, it consists of a number of excellent bite-sized sections on school accountability and improvement. One such chapter was written by Roy himself  (for many years a well-respected HMI) where he said this:

‘The school system risks being strangled by regulation and compliance at all levels. To give meaning to a school-led system, the profession has to shape the style and standing of the regulator, not the other way round.’

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do; to shape the regulator and I urge you to try and do the same.

I last tried doing this in the late 1990s as a seconded headteacher in London, tasked with developing a self-evaluation framework for the local authority. Its rationale was based around the key principles of the NUT-commissioned publication ‘Schools must speak for themselves‘ by Professor John MacBeath (1999). Namely that:

  • human beings are rational learners;
  • development and change comes from within;
  • feedback is critical to individual learning and to organisational development;
  • people have a commitment to that which they have created themselves.

We developed it, trialed it and piloted it and for several years even enjoyed mild success. We created four stages of development ranging from focusing to enhancing, attempting where possible to align it with the Ofsted schedule (back then a much bigger beast). However, its downfall was that it remained hostage to the ever-changing Ofsted requirements and so it eventually fizzled out. By the time ‘Every Child Matters’ came out, we’d given up the ghost. Despite a number of attempts to resurrect it before I left the LA, it became clear that it was square pegs and round holes. So here I am, 16 years later still grappling with the same old problem.

Only this time, I think I might have cracked it. It’s simple and I’ve completely made the break from Ofsted. It consists of two stages. Stage one involves asking the question, ‘Do we comply with all the regulatory and statutory requirements?’ If we do, then we are at least a good school and so then at stage two it’s a matter of deciding just how good we are. We will then ask ourselves a series of ten questions based around ‘The 9 Pillars of Greatness‘ developed by the London Leadership Strategy in 2010. These focus on the important things that really matter to us as a school.

The questions are very simple and include:

  • How good is our teaching?
  • How well do our children learn and thrive?
  • How good are our experiences?
  • How good are our leaders?
  • How robust is our self-evaluation?
  • What do we do really well?
  • What do we need to do to improve?

To enable us to then make a judgement as to how good we are, I’ve adapted the MAT Review Tool developed by National Schools Commissioner @Carter6D (whilst he was RSC and as featured in Blatchford’s book). I’ve also reworked the criteria used by the Whole Education Network as part of their peer review process (which by the way ought to be the way ahead for national school accountability).

I love a good acronym and so its working title is ‘A BEST approach to self-evaluation‘ and is built around a 4-stage model: Beginning – Establishing – Sustaining – Transforming. It’s very much a work-in-progress and I will share it with you at some point once we get beyond the beta version. (I haven’t even shared it with all our heads yet, so I need you to be patient.)

As a family of schools we need to chuck some bad weather at it and trial it across the six academies in the trust. I need to see whether it’s as relevant for a school in category as one that is performing well.  I want to be sure that it helps us as a self-improving system to get better  and whether in fact we need to rely on Ofsted at all. Above all, we must learn to speak for ourselves.

One thought on “Schools must speak for themselves (Part 2)

  1. Great! Loved this!! So pragmatic and sensible! We need more Leaders to be courageous and confident and take this approach. Who do we do it for, is a key question? If it’s just for OfSTED then our priorities are misplaced. Let’s do it for the Kids!

    Liked by 1 person

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