Why inspection frameworks should never be used as the basis for self assessment
When do you feel is the best time to evaluate your self-assessment strategy? In January, when you’re into the new year and halfway through your annual cycle? After Easter, when some begin to think about the annual ‘syphoning off’ in preparation for the end of the year (and when there’s still time to make changes)? Or October, when system architects are at their most aware of the challenges of this work?
I hope you’ll agree with me that self assessment is one of the most creative parts of any educator’s day job. To use a healthcare analogy, it’s the process we use to identify what’s causing us pain. The creative bit is the cathartic experience of developing suitable ‘therapies’ to resolve that pain. A rather blunt comparison, I know. We’ll be discussing all of this next Friday in the first open session of this new year: http:/ccqi.org.uk/sar.
The sad thing is, few people seem to agree with me on the ‘creativity’ bit, with many – particularly front-line staff – feeling an overwhelming sense of bureaucracy. There’s a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that they’re writing with someone ‘on their shoulder’. This begins when they write the opening section of the report. It’s the ‘scoping’ paragraph that sets out (for an external audience) what’s being covered in the report. If they were genuinely writing the self assessment for their team, they wouldn’t need to tell themselves what it is they do every day. An easy solution for this issue is to simply make this section an appendix. When this is the first thing you write, the tendency is to continue, however subliminally, writing for the third-party audience. Any opening paragraphs should be firmly focused on the team.
The second reason is often that staff know it’s going to cost them a lot of time, and probably hasn’t produced magical transformations in the past; so they may feel it’s a lot of investment, for little payoff. There’s a reason for this too.
Self assessment and development planning are too completely separate processes. If they are inappropriately linked, then the magic won’t happen, and quality improvement will be expensive, and likely unrewarding. There are a few indicators of this ‘inappropriateness’. The first shows up when people say things like: ‘The development plan is the most important document’. The second is the inclusion of ANY actions for improvement within the text of the self-assessment report. The moment you jump to actions, is the moment you stop looking for the root-cause issue. More on this in a moment.
Of course, the development plan is a catalytic document, but only if each improvement line begins in the correct way. Each line must begin with the root-cause issue that’s causing the adverse symptom you’d like to resolve. We can never, ever resolve a symptom directly. Just think how ridiculous it would be if your doctor prescribed you ever more paracetamol for your constant headaches without trying to find out what was causing them..
I do this test all of the time (you might want to have a go): simply write an ‘S’ or an ‘I’ at the beginning of each line of your development plan – S for symptom, I for issue. Here’s a few examples: ‘poor retention rates’, ‘poor high-grade achievement rates’, ‘poor attendance’. Are these issues or symptoms?
To avoid writing symptoms, self assessment must work its magic – it has to find, and output, the root-cause issues. The moment you begin to write actions in your SAR is the moment you stop looking for root causes – so the rule is: no actions in the SAR.
Another major issue that makes self assessment feel like it’s for someone else is the use of questions in the SAR proforma. If you include questions in yours, here’s the problem: staff will just answer them. Have you ever seen copy-and-paste text between answers, reports, or even years?!
So here’s the first illustration of how The CCQI Self-Assessment Strategy is both different and provocative. If you want to avoid the ‘answering questions’ issue, then take away the questions. There are no questions in our approach.
Here are a few other differences. It isn’t an annual cycle. It isn’t centred on an ephemeral document such as an inspection framework. It doesn’t require the quality team to strong-arm staff to dust it off three times a year. The development plan doesn’t get bigger as you monitor the actions. It is not a PR document – good practice is not simply ‘celebrated’.
By the way, how important do you feel Learner Recruitment and Induction are?
Here are some of the things our strategy does do. It gets staff addicted to finding root-cause issues. It produces creative problem solving. It choreographs a big conversation, captured on a simple form. The development plan gets smaller throughout the year. It produces specific learning from strengths. It also requires senior leaders to do something that, ironically, many rarely do: self assess their impact on learning, direct or once-removed.
If you’d like to look at the system in detail, do join us next Friday, October 7th in Zoomland. More details can be found here: http:/ccqi.org.uk/sar.. And do please tag any of your colleagues who might be interested, and/or share with your own networks if you’re able.
Here are a few comments that might give a sense of the impact this session could have:
- ‘I can see clearly now the EIF has gone!’ Abingdon & Witney College
- ‘Going on a walk and reaching a fabulous view point.’ Buxton & Leek College
- ‘Can’t be more impressed! Changing a long, dull, time-consuming, & painful process into a learning journey broken down into several steps & stages with simple yet effective tools & resources.’ OxfordSaudia Flight Academy
- ‘That feeling when you get new glasses and realise things have been a little out of focus for some time!’ York College
Hope you can join us. Thanks for reading.
PS The Ofsted EIF (and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for Estyn, ETI and Education Scotland too) does not ask you to evaluate the impact of Recruitment or Induction on learning. So if you use it, you may well miss out what are potentially the most important steps of the learner’s journey. But don’t take my word for it, do the test yourself.
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