What is a School Self-Evaluation Form? Plus Quick Writing Guide

headteacher doing paperwork

What is a School Self-Evaluation Form (SEF)?

The SEF is a School Self-Evaluation Form. This is usually completed by school leaders. The SEF lays out the reflections on the school’s impact in a number of areas. Schools may choose to involve other members of staff and gather views from parents and pupils. All of this can contribute to their evaluation. Governors have an important role in the writing of the SEF school evaluation. They can often be the “outside eyes” useful to help schools with writing objectively.

What is the purpose of the SEF?

The school Self-Evaluation is a chance for leaders to reflect on their provision and impact. This will also include making future targets and plans. This should take into account any strengths and successes, as well as identifying areas for improvement.

The SEF should be an honest account of what the school has done, what impact this has had, and what they will be doing next. School leaders choose which areas for improvement are the most important, both for the long term and the short term. Then create a priority list which is then revisited regularly.

Reflections from the SEF school evaluation are very important in helping schools to plan for changes, including budgeting implications of these changes or staffing impact. It is also a look back on what has changed under the current school leadership already. They reference what has been achieved as well as what is still in progress.

Is the SEF just for Ofsted?

The SEF has adapted over the years along with the Ofsted Inspection Frameworks. However, since 2019, Ofsted do not expect the SEF to be based on any particular template. The school Self-Evaluation Form should have a formative element. This is to help school leaders look at what is going well. Also, what needs changing and to plan to make those changes relevant. Nothing is written in stone. Between inspections the SEF can keep being adapted to reflect their current position. Ofsted will use the SEF as part of inspections. It helps inform them of what has happened at the school since the last inspection and, also, to understand how the school leaders and governors view their school and their impact.

What should be included in the Self-Evaluation Form?

Schools should include their judgements against the four areas from the current EIF (Education Inspection Framework). This sets out how Ofsted inspects schools and colleges.

These are:

  • Quality of Education (Intent, Implementation and Impact)
  • Behaviour and Attitudes
  • Personal Development
  • Leadership and Management.

The SEF should also include the school’s reasoning behind those judgments.

The SEF can be likened to the three ghosts of school leadership impact: the Past (what has been completed so far?); the Present (what impact has this had?), and what are we doing now?); and the Future (what will do next to add further impact?).

How often should a SEF be updated?

The SEF for schools should be a working document to some extent. A termly review can help to ensure updates reflect the current situation. Some information will not change as often. For example, the cohort profile and characteristics of the school, whereas targets and achievements may change more regularly.

How should a SEF be written?

There is no one way to write a school self evaluation but we have laid out some top tips to help school leaders later in this blog, which may help. The SEF has no agreed or preferred layout. What is most important is the clarity of the information within the self-evaluation. Ofsted will want to know that school leaders are aware of what is going well, and that they have plans for what needs work. The expectation is that this document will always represent a ‘work in progress’ – that there will be honesty about where the school is on their journey is the most important element.

Schools should also make sure that their SEF helps them, primarily, to show impact over time. The form is a bit like doing a performance management review on yourself, as a team. It’s a chance to objectively assess the previous term, then to set realistic targets and expectations for the future. This should be both short- and long-term.

8 Top Tips for writing your School Self-Evaluation Form:

  1. Be clear and concise – When you’re talking the form through with Ofsted inspectors, it’s important that the information is easy-to-read and easy to explain. Flowery language is not as useful as evidence so write sentences full of impact.
  2. Add evidence – It’s important to back up any statement you include in your SEF with some relevant evidence. This applies to successes as well as to weaknesses and targets. Evidence can take a range of forms such as ‘hard data’ (test results or attendance data); parent view survey results; teaching and learning observations; and even the previous inspection report to refer to prior information.
  3. Refer to your SIP (School Improvement Plan) – It can be easy to forget some elements, especially achievements. Referring to your SIP can help to prevent this. And this should show some current targets you are already progressing with also. Be sure to include where targets from the SIP have been achieved. Reflection on what was implemented which resulted in the success is important too.
  4. Include judgements against the 4 Ofsted Inspection Categories – This may go without saying, but it’s important to regularly reference the most current school inspection handbook. This will ensure you have covered all bases. Be evaluative in your statements. Include evidence which you can discuss based on your ongoing evaluations.
  5. Keep it updated – Make sure to revisit the SEF termly so that it is always up-to-date in case of an inspection call. Aside from Ofsted this is also a tool for your school community. It is an opportunity to reflect on the last term and adapt as required for the upcoming term.
  6. Big yourselves up! (realistically) – Although there is no need for descriptive language, it’s important to focus on your achievements and the impact of the school leadership. Make sure there is evidence of impact of these. This may include comparing to previous inspections. Do not shy away from including all those key elements.
  7. Include assessment in your evaluation – Ofsted don’t expect to see your in-house assessment data and tracking within the key stage. However, it’s important that you are aware of the narrative of your assessment, in whatever form you use. This helps to ensure your SEF is reflective of the impact on improving pupil outcomes. This may include reference to a cycle of monitoring of books/pupil interviews. Possibly, formative assessment or teaching and learning observations. Ofsted will also look at your statutory assessment information. School leaders need to be aware of the impact of their in-house assessment cycles on these summative assessments.
  8. Explain your judgements – You may have given yourself a judgement based on solid evidence. This may not otherwise be obvious to inspectors unless you ‘show and tell’. So be sure to explain what you have based judgements on. This can include a range of information and data sources. Anecdotal evidence can be useful, but should ideally have a measurable element. For example: “Pupils really enjoy the morning ‘Maths Burst’ sessions. They tell us all the time about what they have learned and are always excited about the mornings. Parents say they are racing to get to school early to attend these. We can see the impact of this on our attendance, as lateness has reduced by X%”

For every school there is an overarching purpose which is to improve pupil outcomes (academic and pastoral). The SEF is a reflection of this as a work in progress. For more information on how Learning Ladders can help school leaders to gather evidence for their SEF, take a look at our features, including data and analysis tools. We exist to help schools best support their learners by including all stakeholders.

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