School Improvement Plans (SIPs) and Self Evaluation Forms (SEFs) have been around for a while. When done well, they give unparalleled insights into the workings of a school and help to inform school improvement activities with action and precision.
The school SEF has become infinitely more important following the most recent Ofsted framework changes, and in this blog we’ll look at why this is the case. But first of all, what are SEFs and SIPs and why do we need them?
What is a SEF?
Self evaluation forms (SEFs) are used by schools to evaluate current practices, determine effective processes and to identify areas for improvement. Not only do they help during Ofsted inspections, they are a critical tool in the continued development of schools and make creating school improvement plans easier.
A SEF gives school leaders the chance to assess their policies and curriculum in line with Ofsted’s key judgements: ‘quality of education’, ‘behaviour and attitudes’, ‘personal development’ and ‘leadership and management’. This ensures that all processes are ready for the real thing.
What is a SIP?
A school improvement plan (SIP), also known as a school development plan (SDP), is effectively a plan of action to improve the problem areas identified in the school’s SEF. An effective SIP is reliant on an in-depth and complete SEF to inform specific actions that the school can take to attain a higher Ofsted rating.
Much like SEFs, a SIP does not have to follow a specific structure, however it’s accuracy and effectiveness will be assessed and referral to findings from your SEF is important if you want inspectors to see that you’re taking feedback onboard and acting accordingly.
What does Ofsted say about SEFs and SIPs?
One of the biggest changes to the 2019 Ofsed inspection framework was the decision to no longer take into consideration the use of internal pupil performance data to judge improvements. Instead, in order to understand their approach to school improvement, inspectors will rely more heavily on schools’ SEFs and SIPs to help inform their decision.
This is a bid to tackle the obsession some schools have with data collection and the impact it has on teacher workload. It shifts the focus towards improvement and progression instead of data analysis and processing. Whilst data is hugely useful for schools to use, Ofsted don’t want schools to collect it for the sake of an inspection.
The new ‘quality of education’ key judgement also acts as a diversion from the data-dominated to data-led school. It puts the curriculum at the centre of Ofsted’s assessment process. This gives SEFs and SIPs yet more influence, as they both analyse and inform the new curriculum, constantly tailoring it based on real feedback.
How to create an effective SEF
Beyond Ofsted, a SEF is a litmus test for school performance. It uses Ofsted’s key judgements to reflect on the success of its policies and on areas the school should focus improvement efforts, but it should look further than Ofsted judgements for the school to truly succeed.
Ofsted does not look for a specific structure with SEFs, nor does it stipulate a desired length. Instead, inspectors will be looking at how appropriate and accurate evaluations are and how reliably they inform consequent SIPs. However, there are some best practices that you should strive to maintain:
- Use Ofsted judgements as a basis to create your own school’s criteria
When conducting your self evaluation, assess processes against the key Ofsted judgements. By doing this you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement before Ofsted do and have them worked into your SIP.
- Acknowledge areas that have improved and areas that require further improvement
What have staff and students changed about their behaviour to reach improvement? How has the school improved as a whole? What evidence do you have of this success?
- Keep it short
Be evaluative, not descriptive. Ensure that you maintain a clear style throughout and differentiate between attainment, progress and achievement. Your SEF should be concise enough that it fits on a single page.
- Communicate with your entire school
Ensure that everyone has their voice heard and that the whole school’s approach to improvement is aligned. Listen to what teachers and staff have to say, as well as school leaders and parents to build a more rounded picture of the school’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Regularly update
Your SEF should be updated regularly to account for changes in policy and the results of your SIP. Updating the school SEF every term should be frequent enough to keep on top of changes.
- Refer to evidence
Use students’ work, lesson observation notes, SEND records, child protection records, reports from previous inspections and your most recent SIP for evidence. It might be useful to cross reference this with Ofsted’s inspection handbook too.
- Explain your judgements
Inspectors are looking for two main features on your SEF: A judgement and an explanation of why you’ve made that judgement. If either of these are missing, your SEF is going to fall at the first hurdle.
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How to create an effective SIP
Your SIP essentially acts as a pledge to stakeholders for areas that the school aims to improve in. It should help inform teachers of their duties in their journey towards an improved school.
- Use a combination of internal and external reporting
Whilst a SEF and your previous SIP is a good starting point, using the most recent Ofsted report for your school to cross reference ties your school improvement in with the key judgements.
- Dovetail with your SEF
Your SIP should align perfectly with the most recent SEF, in order to create an in-depth plan that directly caters to the needs of the school. Ofsted will look at how closely your SEF and SIP complement each other and how well informed your SIP is as a result.
- Make it accessible
Staff should be able to access the SIP whenever they need to as a point of reference to inform their own individual planning. If your plan isn’t accessible, staff won’t be able to use it and school improvement will suffer. Including a SIP summary for key stakeholders also makes detailed sections easier to process in one go.
- Stay flexible
Changes to Ofsted framework, catchment areas and the National Curriculum can result in major changes to school policy. Your SIP should take these changes into account and adapt accordingly.
- Review regularly
Many schools review their SIP once per term by holding termly SIP meetings. Meetings should be focussed and minutes taken. Ensure that changes are made in accordance with priority (e.g. a school in special measures requires a faster rate of improvement than a school aiming to move from Good to Outstanding.
Commiting time and effort to a concise SEF and an informed and focussed SIP can give your school a decisive action plan. A plan based on areas that need improvement within your school, with the guidance of Ofsted’s requirements.
Maintaining good practice with both your SIP and SEFensures that your school continues to develop and improve with the changing tides of education research. It also makes it easier for schools to align their policy with Ofsted’s new framework and ultimately achieve a higher rating.