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International schools have long carried out self-evaluation in every aspect of their work, but it has not always been performed objectively and systematically to the extent that is now expected.

Self-evaluation is of even greater importance in international primary schools, as the distance from mainstream school exacerbates difference.

School leadership and self-evaluation

The implications of this have ensured that the school leadership team has a greater connection with self-evaluation as a tool for improvement. At the root of this connection, are a number of questions:

  • How can we simplify school leadership?
  • What is the essence of leading a great school?

It goes without saying, that at the heart of great leadership is the relentless drive to get the best for your children. Leadership focused on children and great outcomes, time and again, trumps all other motives.

The process of self-evaluation

International schools need to show that they are performing, closing gaps and ensuring that all children achieve their very best.

Self-evaluation isn’t new, but it has previously been cited as one of the most time consuming and challenging tasks by many school leaders. At its heart, self-evaluation is simply asking:

  • How well are we doing?
  • How do we know?
  • How does that compare with any benchmarking or national mainstream comparison?
  • What do we need to do next to secure further improvement?

Where to start with self-evaluation?

There is no right or wrong starting point, leadership teams need to find what works best for them.

The shared debate and discussion that a leadership team will have in agreeing the current ‘state of the nation’ in their school, is at the heart of self-evaluation.

Where many schools seem to get stuck is by trying to write their self-evaluation as a group because the written product is merely a record of the discussions and debates you will have had as a team. Sharing the criteria upon which the international school and individual teachers are judged, and deciding the best fit is the critical process, who actually writes the self-evaluation summary is slightly irrelevant.

Keep it simple

When it comes to writing your self-evaluation, keep it simple. It can be helpful to frame each statement in a similar way:

State your judgement, state how you know, and define what is next, for example, ‘Written feedback is consistently good. Evidence from book scrutiny and discussions with children, support this because children can talk about their successes and next steps with the majority of pieces of work evidencing pupil response to feedback.

Once complete, it might be useful to ask a colleague outside of your school to read your self-evaluation and ask whether they can see clearly the strengths and next steps. When looking at a self-evaluation summary, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it concise and succinct, clearly signposting evidence?
    • Is it evaluative rather than descriptive or repetitive?
    • Is it a working document, updated regularly?
    • Is it shared?
    • Is it linked to the improvement plan?
    • Is it honest?

Use evaluative language

Writing about your own school is challenging, probably much more challenging than writing about another school. In your school, there are emotions, heartaches, dilemmas and human beings! The combination of these makes writing in a dispassionate way a real challenge. Try, where possible, to use evaluative language. The following phrases may help:

Because of… this meant that…
Data indicates that… because…
The progress of… compared with national shows…
The impact was… as a result of…
Evidence from… showed us that…
Feedback from… resulted in…

Try to avoid the following language:

It seems like…
We are not sure why…
We think that…

In essence, writing your self-evaluation is an important leadership task in every international school. Your self-evaluation summary along with your school website are the first glimpses that those on the outside have into the reality that is your school.

By Tim Nelson

Tim Nelson is an educational consultant who has been a headteacher with a successful track record; his last school had a reputation for innovation and their initiatives have been utilised by others and presented internationally. School improvement has been at the heart of his career, working as an LLE, a School Improvement Partner, Professional Partner as well as an Ofsted inspector and mentor for trainee inspectors.