Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Self Review – someone still loves you

This post is about the importance of self review and touches on both the Self Review Framework for ICT (SRF) and Ofsted’s Self Evaluation Form (SEF). My contention is that they have never been so useful as now.

As you will no doubt know, the Government recently removed the SEF from the Ofsted inspection process for schools. Many saw this as a Very Good Thing.

The SEF had been widely criticised by school leaders for being onerous and bloated so, in a further strike against Gove’s current bĂȘte noire, it has gone the way of other ‘bureaucratic’ hindrances such as Becta and the QCDA. The sound of supermarket-brand Cava corks popping was heard from staff rooms the length and breadth of the land.

A couple of facts which can be easily forgotten in the initial rush of euphoria should be noted though;
Firstly, schools were never actually required to submit and maintain a SEF by Ofsted. Admittedly to pursue this route you had to be pretty gutsy/ have bullet proof exam results.

Secondly, schools still are required to self-evaluate their performance actively as not only is this by far the cheapest way for Ofsted to get close to understanding a school’s performance, it’s also a pretty rewarding process for the school to undergo. Physician, know thyself.

It seems to me that the SEF is a pretty well designed tool for precisely this, one with which schools are very familiar and which has been further sharpened by the knowledge that its more peripheral chunks can now be safely discarded. My advice is to keep the SEF, or at least it’s tenets, at the core of your schools’ self-evaluation process and use it to continue the detailed discovery and evaluation which leads to school improvement.

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And so to Becta’s ICT Self Review Framework, the SRF. Those of you who did battle with this tool in its original incarnation will know whereof I speak when I say that the words ‘repetitive, tedious, tangential and fussy’ don’t come near doing it justice. Luckily for me, it’s a big part of my job so I must have been through it with a dozen schools over possibly hundreds of hours.

However, it has recently been revised (from 8 elements and 72 questions down to a more manageable 6 and 57 respectively) and is infinitely improved. Gone too are the same questions asked in 7 different ways (and so poorly worded that it’s hard to tell what they’re asking). In short, it’s been made user-friendly.

What remains is very useful – a simple framework for a school to examine how it uses technology to be more effective across every aspect of its business. It still requires a considerable and coordinated effort to make judgements about each aspect and provide evidence, but it is unlikely to induce homicidal thoughts towards those well-meaning bureaucrats in Coventry anymore.The future of the SRF is still unknown, though Naace are keen to take it back.

Of course, knowledge gained from the SRF can feed into wider school self-review processes (see above) but by far the most beneficial outcome is a Strategic Development Plan which identifies the gaps and sets out achievable steps to bridge them in the coming 2-3 years. For some reason, it’s this step which many schools falter at. What’s the point in self-review which doesn’t lead to change? That’s just narcissism, surely?
All this reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, which puts the case for self-review with a wonderful clarity;

“To understand is hard. Once one understands, action is easy." Sun Yat-sen

Dominic Norrish
Follow me on Twitter @domnorrish