Self-assessment: Success in the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework landscape

We hear a good deal about what’s changing with the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), with most of the emphasis being on the process of inspection. Unsurprising of course but the EIF has some real benefit beyond inspection when it comes to self-assessment. It provides a valuable framework to provide structure to the questions you may want to ask of your leadership, your delivery and your impact as an education provider to help you to improve.

Whilst I don’t intend to focus on inspection, it’s worth restating that Ofsted doesn’t require self-assessment to be provided in any specific format. It’s whatever arrangement works best for individual organisations and self-assessment should not be generated solely for the purposes of inspection (you can make the process either easy or hard for yourself; too many make it harder than is necessary).

It’s not that I don’t have an interest in inspection; of course I do. As an academy chair and more recently, a college governor I’m on the receiving end of the process often. It’s just that I find the framework to be more useful and interesting to engage with when uncoupled from the inspection process.

When used as the basis for self-assessment, the new framework will see less duplication between different ‘Aspects’ and reduced emphasis on achievement outcomes, with the focus placed more on curriculum and progress. We also see it and use it with clients as a tool to underpin a quality improvement strategy and processes. As part of the planned changes, I’m pleased to see the nod to staff wellbeing, yet recognise the challenge providers face when this is used as a bookend to workload.

The change of framework presents an opportunity for all involved in education to review quality improvement strategies because it could actually help us reflect not only what’s important but also on some of the methods that we use to undertake self-assessment, with it being the basis for helpful reflection rather than a document compiled once a year to satisfy inspection.

Starting to use the framework now will help people to become familiar with the changes. It will also help to identify those areas that will be more exposed or in some cases, those that can be promoted and celebrated that wouldn’t necessarily appear under the CIF; specifically progress and achievement around curriculum intent and some elements of implementation.

The discussion I had recently with a client about what good curriculum design looks like in their context, for their learners were fascinating and insightful for all of us. I’m confident in saying that level of discourse concerning the curriculum, involving tutors and managers would not have happened had the EIF not been on the horizon.

We have long been advocates of self-assessment being an ongoing practice to support improvement rather than a single, annual activity. ‘Deep dive’ reviews are a feature of our thinking and our software design as quality improvement specialists. It’s interesting to see this wording appear in the new Ofsted framework as a method of evidence gathering. I hope to see more providers using this type of approach to support improvement, rather than seeing deep dive purely as an inspection vehicle. At Mesma, we call them enquiries; a series of ongoing action-research activities which seek to challenge thinking through reflection and implementation of small changes.

We’ve found the targeted enquiry approach helps providers to challenge practice: how effective is it? How can you do it better and is it useful to do? Enquiries generated through deep dive help you to see and be in control of your areas of risk as well as being creative in our complex world of education.

To achieve this in practice, schedule a series of enquiries throughout the year, focusing for example on areas of risk driven by your previous quality improvement plan or your knowledge of what existing data is telling you; initial assessment in apprenticeships being a good example. Importantly, to use enquiries well, the approach needs to be thought through. Each one you undertake, is another step in composing your self-assessment report as opposed to it being a laborious one-off job that you are trying to fit in around a host of other tasks at the end of the year.

Isn’t it so much better to be able to talk in inspection about self-assessment just being ‘what we do around here’? My view on inspection hasn’t changed in any of the inspections I’ve been involved in; the goal is for Ofsted to agree with our own self-assessment judgements. If we seek a grade higher than we know we truly are achieving, the impact is inertia to make the changes that are needed (bang goes any investment you needed the board to sign off to bring about improvements), if we receive a grade lower than we have self-assessed, the impact on motivation of staff is significant.

In short, self-assess for yourself, not for Ofsted. A continual process, which encourages your staff to reflect, make changes, make mistakes, learn and improve.

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