Louise Doyle, Director, MESMA

AS the FE and wider skills landscape shifts, an effective self-assessment and the improvement plan that shakes out from this, is a key Ofsted expectation, says Louise Doyle, a further education consultant and director of quality assurance experts Mesma. Moreover, she says, such good practices allow education decision makers to stay in control while improving education and training provision.

There’s little doubt that many education decision makers see the value of self assessment and improvement planning but in the face of changing college structures driven by area reviews and new entrants to the apprenticeship delivery market, including many who are migrating from sub-contracting models to direct contracting with the ESFA, a review of good practice can only be beneficial.

Moving forward to a smarter, more engaging self-assessment environment, an understanding of the requirements of Ofsted is paramount. So it’s a good place to start. In the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, it’s covered under ‘Effective Leadership and Management’: “Evaluate the quality of the provision and outcomes through robust self-assessment, taking account of users’ views, and use the findings to develop capacity for sustainable improvement.”

And what do inspectors say about self-assessment when it’s done effectively? “Self-assessment leads to quality improvement planning that accurately identifies specific themes. These themes translate into detailed action plans and targets for individual managers and teachers as part of the appraisal process.” And when it’s not? “The report is overly long and too descriptive”…“Managers have not implemented a sufficiently rigorous system to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the provision to allow them to set actions to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.”

The evidence is there for those who embrace and engage in effective self-assessment: senior leadership teams stand to benefit from operational and administrative advantages, which can directly contribute to an improved Ofsted. So to help, here are our five steps to improved self-assessment:

  • Clarity is critical

Document your process in a quick, easy-to-understand diagram and share this with staff so they understand it and their role in its delivery. When does self-assessment take place? Who needs to be involved at which points? How does the timeline sit alongside availability of any data you intend to use as evidence? Critical questions, but you are looking to demonstrate that self-assessment is embedded in your culture.

  • Involve others

Too often, writing a self-assessment falls to a single person or a limited group of people. While finalising and editing may well need such tight control mechanisms, it shouldn’t be at the expense of involving others who might have something useful to contribute. Failure to do so, risks judgements being made from a too narrow perspective leading to a lack of ownership from those who need to drive improvements. So, involve staff, including support areas, from the outset. Have input from employers and learners in whatever form is realistic. Look to peer review with others outside of your organisation.

Here’s a warning from Ofsted of failing to do so: “Leaders and managers have put into place a comprehensive process to evaluate the provision, which they monitor termly. This has focused managers on the key strategic improvements required, but curriculum managers are not yet routinely able to identify areas for improvement and do not focus enough on improving the quality of teaching and learning. As a result, managers do not secure the rapid improvements required.


  • Self-critical

Don’t be afraid to be self-critical. An honest report is one way to building a realistic and sensible improvement plan. Ask yourself: is there a risk that sharing weaknesses with an inspection regime will impact on our grade? Being self-critical is crucial. Why? Because if Ofsted identify weaknesses that you haven’t outlined yourself, a credibility gap can open up - doubt is shed on your ability as leaders and managers to have a firm grasp on your provision. Understand what needs to be done to improve it.

  • Celebrate success

Equally, it is important to share the good practice that exists. So much good work is done throughout the year, which can be difficult to track. To then remember it when you’re writing a self-assessment is a tall order. Capture these examples as they happen. Don’t make a meal of it: A slot on a team meeting agenda or a shared space to allow staff to log examples is all that is needed.

  • Use the data wisely

MESMAWe have an enormous amount of data available to us in FE. Self-assessment requires you to focus on the important bits; that which relates to outcomes and progress and the data you choose to use which helps to measure the quality of teaching learning and assessment. Good self-assessment uses the data to inform judgements rather than relying heavily on opinion. The days of seeing self-assessment as a prescriptive tome that distracts from the day job are long gone. In the words of one inspection report let’s avoid reports being ‘overly long and descriptive’.

Louise Doyle, Director, MESMA

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