The 5 most common issues with self assessment

I’ve worked on somewhere in excess of 4500 SARs and it’s still one of my favourite areas of work.

I wrote my first self-assessment report at the end of my first teaching year back in 1987-88, not because anyone asked us to, but because we knew we weren’t doing it right and so wanted to know how to improve. Ever since then, I’ve considered self assessment to be one of the most creative parts of our day job.

When I was a full-time lead inspector with both the Adult Learning Inspectorate and then Ofsted, one of my roles was to managed the ‘Preparing for Inspection’ events. These events were designed to ensure that providers weren’t tripped up by the process of inspection, but could engage wholeheartedly with it. And one of the main trip hazards nominees felt was waiting for them was their self-assessment report; ‘Was it fit for purpose?’ The first they’d really know was when inspectors arrived on their doorstep.

As a result, I designed a session to try to address their concerns. But after running the session week-in-week-out with hundreds of delegates, I remember reflecting to a colleague that everyone seemed to be making the same mistakes. It didn’t matter which FE & Skills remit they were from, there were five issues in most reports that significantly weakened the effectiveness of the quality improvement work. This was one of those revelatory moments – ‘Why don’t I design a session to enable providers to identify these five issues for themselves, show why they are making them, and so help them avoid them in future?’

The beauty of this work is that once you’ve adjusted your lens, you can’t unsee the issues. This is what we’ll be working on in this week’s open session: ‘Perfecting Self-Assessment Writing’, Friday September 24th at 1pm. It will be the first of three sessions on this topic over the next three Fridays. Each session is independent, but covers an essential part of the SAR process.

But why look at self assessment just as you’re about to sign off your annual cycle? There are a number of points in the year where it’s great to take a fresh look at your system, and now is certainly one of the hottest points as you’re likely to have expended a great deal of energy working on it, so will know your SAR well. We’ll use your new text to help you search for any sign of the five issues. If you find any or all of them, you may wish to do a little judicious editing, however, you may well decide to use your analysis to explore a completely different approach to the whole process – an approach that makes you avoid the issues in the first place. In week three of this series (October 8th) we’ll be working on just such an approach, but in week two (October 1st) we’ll look at the four main issues with development planning.

Full details can be found here: And a selection of feedback to give you an idea of the session’s impact can be found here: Here are a few of my favourites:

‘I have grown an extra finger on my hand.’
‘I am a rocket on the way to the moon.’
‘I have understood for the first time how to write an SAR.’
‘My SAR glasses were cleaned and polished (hell, the frames were changed too).’
‘Lateral thinking – back to purpose. This was excellent!’
‘I am in your debt because I don’t think I’ve ever received so much reflected glory for staging yesterday and having so many people, even the cynics, fired up!’

Do join us if you can, and do please tag a colleague or share this post with anyone who might be interested in a fresh look at this wonderfully creative process.

Best wishes



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