I have been a Headteacher for 9 years and at the age of 48 this much I know about effective Self-Evaluation.
I used to think more is more! In the past I have battered SLT and staff with Year 11 intervention plans which are hundreds of pages long. The culture of fear breeds backside covering. It’s really easy to implement extensive interventions to raise headline results figures just so that you can point to how much you did to improve results when the results turn out to be disappointing in August. I know the results are rubbish, but we worked really hard – look at all the things we did…
Three years ago we had the most intensive Year 11 Raising Attainment Plans for English and Maths ever; no strategy was left unemployed! Our Leading Edge consultant thought our RAPs highly impressive when she visited in June. In late August a young Leading Edge researcher rang me wanting to feature our RAPs in his Leading Edge Next Practice Showcase publication, having read the consultant’s rosy-sounding report. I told him not to bother because they hadn’t b****y well worked! For all the frantic effort, our results fell 5%! This year we did a small number of low-cost, high-impact things to maximise our results and we’re 9% higher than three years ago. Much less is more.
Don’t waste Subject Leaders’ time. All I ask them to do the first week of term is write an evaluative analysis of the results which centres upon lessons learned and identifies no more than three key development priorities for the coming year (I prefer just one, to be honest). Four sides of A4 maximum!
When I meet with Subject Leaders to discuss their self evaluation of their exam results I use a GROW model question sequence. What I want to hear at the end of the meeting is the Subject Leader to say, It’s much clearer now – I can see what we have to do. And what they have to do has to be about improving teaching and learning!
I know this sounds odd, but I like Bill Bratton’s work with the NYPD – the Blue Ocean Strategy stuff and his tipping point approach to leadership. Following Bratton, I am thinking of setting up Subject Leader peer reviews, where I don’t meet with Subject Leaders in September alone, but Subject Leaders peer review examination performance instead. When Bratton did this with different departments within the NYPD it really worked: The meetings changed the NYPD’s culture in several ways. By making results and responsibilities clear to everyone, the meetings helped to introduce a culture of performance [and…] also allowed police leaders to compare notes on their experiences; before Bratton’s arrival, precinct commanders hardly ever got together as a group. Over time, this management style filtered down through the ranks, as the precinct commanders tried out their own versions of Bratton’s meetings. Just think how empowering such an approach would be in our schools.
Self-evaluation is about being calm and not over-reacting to the numbers. I talk about using wisdom and judgement, a phrase taken from Pfeffer and Sutton who said, Measurements should be guides helping to direct behaviour but not so powerful that they substitute for the judgement and wisdom that is so necessary to acquire knowledge and turn it into action.
My whole school SEF is focused upon impact. What we have done; why we did it; and the impact on student outcomes – lots of short impact-based case studies. It’s really sharp and nails a Good grading. I am currently up-dating it and want to make it much shorter than its core 13 sides; no-one has time to read anything, so I just want any reader to access the main messages of the four OFSTED-based sections with ease. I gather the information from the sources and then write the whole thing; I like the SEF to have a single coherent prose style – mine! If you want a copy, then just e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t be a feather for each wind that blows and chase all the newest strategies. I live by Mike Hughes’ perceptive aphorism, The most effective leaders seem to have erected a sheet of polaroid across the school gate: all the confusing, paradoxical and frustrating initiatives hitting the school, as they pass through the polaroid, emerge as parallel lines, harmonious with our plans and processes.
Give Governors a “Must Know” list, one side of A4 so that they know for certain what the school’s development priorities are when an OFSTED inspector asks them.
Define Good for yourself in your school; it makes the OFSTED Inspector’s job much easier. Repeat endlessly the reasons why your school is good, without wavering.
We are in our second consecutive consolidation year. When we returned from our January Planning Weekend and told colleagues we weren’t doing anything new they loved it! Remember, much less is more.