Issues with the new Ofsted Common Inspection Framework

Louise Doyle, director, Mesma, discusses the case for self-assesment

It won’t have escaped your notice that the CIF for early years, schools and further education is changing. Ofsted have produced a handy leaflet summarising the changes and the full details are available here.

We recently highlighted that while the CIF might be going through its latest reincarnation, fundamentally, the key aspects of what is defined as good education haven’t really changed. One such aspect (as a feature of good leadership and management) is the need for accurate, evidence-based self-evaluation; referred to as the SEF in early years and schools and the SAR in FE.

This cyclical reflective process: What works? What doesn’t work? Why? How do we know? What have we already tried that hasn’t worked? What can we do to improve it? Is it sensible for all of us and goes beyond education.

A quick scan of Ofsted reports in 2015 (I looked at 30 covering schools and FE) showed me that in the summary section at the front of the report which states why an establishment has been given the grade it has, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of self assessment was mentioned in 26 of the 30 cases.

The benchmark for self-assessment

In my experience as a college director and consultant, understanding the benchmark by which to self evaluate is often a source of unnecessary concern (it is in fact one of the reasons we initially built Mesma software to take the pain out of this for our colleagues in the FE sector). My view on this is relatively straightforward; whilst we can debate extensively the value of inspection, the principles identified in the CIF are a pretty good place to start when considering how effective we are.

Mary Myatt has outlined a suggested approach to self-evaluation in schools under the new CIF here. It isn’t too much of a stretch to look at how these can be applied in an FE setting. Of course it would be silly of me not to state that the Mesma platform provides you with all of this by pre-loading the aspects and key questions associated with the CIF for you which you can then add to or amend.

Involvement in the process

I often have discussions with clients about who needs to be involved in writing the self-evaluation. There is of course no hard and fast rule to this but I can share with you what I think is least effective yet often adopted and that is one person locked away in a room writing war and peace. Involving others in the process creates ownership for both performance and improvement activity. If another person – whether it be a senior manager or (more likely in FE) a quality manager tells you what the provision looks like my experience as a people manager has told me they are less inclined to do something about it or indeed recognise what they do so very well.

I like the way a Principal I work with positions this. She says the self evaluation should be bottom up and the key headlines for improvement should be top down to then allow other people in the organisation can build relevant to their own area without feeling the need to create far too many improvement activities that won’t get looked at (anyone else have an improvement plan that doesn’t get looked at more than once a year?).

It has been exciting for us to see our clients using the software platform to its full capability by providing access and therefore the opportunity to peer assess. We are seeing this more and more between providers and sub-contractors in FE. I’m interested to explore how we utilise this collaborative capability to peer assess in other settings such as Academy Chains or between schools or FE providers who are keen to add a further dimension to the rigour of their approach.

Writing a SAR or SEF

So what should the SAR or SEF look like? Ofsted are very clear that they do not expect a particular format so there is freedom in this and it should always start with considering how you get the most out of the process as opposed to trying to satisfy Ofsted. Common sense has taught me over the years that writing too much results in waffle, a lack of easily identifiable evidence to support judgements, time that could be better spent with students or learners and a document that is too long to hold the interest of anyone who has a lot of other work on their plate.

It also results in what we see time after time which is people running out of steam when it gets to the improvement plan resulting in poorly defined objectives and a lack of clarity of the impact that you intend for the activity to have. In short, keep some enthusiasm for what is in my opinion the most important part of the process and that is creating a robust plan that you will use to drive improvement throughout the forthcoming year. Whilst the SEF or SAR is a state of the nation at a particular point in time, the improvement plan should be live in that it is reviewed and updated regularly. What it shouldn’t be is a lengthy to-do list. You know as well as I do that if you put too much on it you won’t do it.

We created a simple crib sheet for writing evaluatively, which you can find here You can find out more about Mesma’s quality management software and consultancy here.