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School self-evaluation for school improvement: Principles of effective practice

Ross Goldstone, Cardiff University

In developing the National Strategy of Educational Research and Enquiry (NSERE), the Welsh Government conducted several evidence reviews to understand how to foster educational research capacity across the education system. This blog introduces findings of a yet-to-be-published review of international evidence and best practice in school self-evaluation.

School self-evaluation is a process ‘by which members of staff in a school reflect on their practice and identify areas to stimulate improvement in areas of pupil and professional learning’ (Chapman & Sammons, 2013, p. 2). It is a form of school improvement, learning and accountability increasingly adopted internationally that is led by the school and for the school.

However, school self-evaluation has been implemented in different ways according to national and local contexts, which has resulted in varying relationships to external inspection. However, there are six common elements found across effective evaluation systems:

  1. school leadership
  2. a national support system
  3. school culture
  4. evaluation literacy and data use
  5. critical perspective
  6. stakeholder engagement.

Local school leaders are significant actors in school evaluation and in the development of local capacity in conducting self-evaluation. It is for this reason that in Ontario, for example, a leadership framework was developed to cultivate the core leadership capacities needed in a self-improving education system. Leaders need to be able to:

  1. set clear and workable goals for improved practice
  2. align resource allocation with school improvement priorities
  3. promote collaborative school learning cultures
  4. use and encourage the use of data effectively
  5. engage effectively in critical conversations for school improvement.

Crucially, school leaders must embody commitment to the process of evaluation and evidence-informed practice, which is best demonstrated via allocation of resources (time, financial, training) to enable staff engagement. In addition, it is important to embrace a more dispersed approach to leading, which seeks to empower local actors – including teachers, students and parents – to own school improvement alongside school leadership.

‘It is important to embrace a more dispersed approach to leading, which seeks to empower local actors – including teachers, students and parents – to own school improvement alongside school leadership.’

Local leaders must also be supported at the national level, through a range of instruments to enable school self-evaluation (figure 1). Decentralised decision-making can empower local actors to have autonomy to act on self-evaluation findings. As part of this decentralised approach, the school self-evaluation system must have mutually reinforcing internal and external accountability measures.


Figure 1: A decentralised approach to support school self-evaluation at the national level

Schools must also be incentivised to self-evaluate for school improvement. In Singapore, for instance, schools are mandated to complete self-assessment, while national awards celebrating good practice is another successful option.

Self-improving schools require a culture that is committed to and recognises the value of self-evaluation in its own right, not as a precursor to external inspection (Macbeath, 1999). Collaboration is fundamental to self-improving school cultures. Embedding collaborative reflective practice – such as peer review and learner feedback – allows all stakeholders to feel valued when contributing to school improvement. For instance, Singapore and Estonia, both of which use self-evaluation in their efforts to achieve school improvement, have significantly higher levels of participation in self- or peer-to-peer observation compared to OECD and TALIS[1] averages (OECD, 2020).

Moreover, the school culture should recognise the importance of evidence and data use for school improvement – to be evaluation and data literate. This will mean that sufficient resource is devoted to the training of staff and students in collecting, analysing and using data. Many leading systems in school self-evaluation make use of a diverse suite of data types, including achievement scores, student and parental feedback, and observations, in addition to more everyday reflective practices (such as note-taking). As a result, part of the culture change in schools must be a recognition of the value of different types of data for different areas of school practice.

Effective self-evaluation should also be characterised by a receptiveness to critical perspectives. While critical voices are often external to the school (for instance, a critical friend), school leadership and staff can also provide reflective feedback on individual and school practice. Being open to critical perspectives is important because they can usefully provide impartial feedback and examples of good practice observed elsewhere in the school system. Swaffield and MacBeath (2005) explain that critical friends are most effective in supporting school improvement when solicitation is voluntary, and the relationship is prolonged and mutually conceived.

Finally, enabling all school stakeholders to participate and be regularly updated of progress towards school improvement goals is paramount, and forms a vital part of inclusive leadership and school culture. This means that the board of trustees, teachers, students, parents and non-teaching staff are given the opportunity to engage.


Endnote

[1] The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) is a five-yearly survey of teachers’ and leaders’ attitudes to their working conditions and learning environments in thousands of schools across nearly 50 countries. The latest survey was conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018.


References

Chapman, C., & Sammons, P. (2013). ‘School self-evaluation for school improvement: What works and why?’. Education Development Trust.

MacBeath, J. (1999). Schools must speak for themselves: The case for school self-evaluation. Routledge.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2020). ‘Teaching in the United Arab Emirates: 10 Lessons from TALIS’.

Swaffield, S., & Macbeath, J. (2005). ‘School self-evaluation and the role of a critical friend’. Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 239–252.