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Preparing for Ofsted

Bin the SEF!

Chris Quigley Specialist in primary education, trainer and author

“Business as usual.” That’s what Ofsted want to see when they inspect your school, according to Mike Sheridan – one of its regional directors. The message is very clear: Please don’t prepare for inspection. This is an extremely important message in many ways, not least because it increases workload. Carrying out specific preparations solely for Ofsted increases the workload of already busy teachers and leaders and, in the view of Ofsted, “Is a waste of valuable time that could be better spent teaching children.”

Perhaps one of the biggest burdens preparing for inspection creates, from a school leader’s point of view, is the dreaded Self Evaluation Form (SEF). However, according to Ofsted’s Myth Busting site, this is not required. Moreover, there is not even a requirement to use the Ofsted framework to evaluate your school:

“Ofsted does not require self– evaluation to be graded or provided in any specific format. Any assessment that is provided should be part of the school’s business processes and not generated solely for inspection purposes.”

Is it, therefore, time to bin the SEF?

Self evaluation is, in itself, a useful process. It helps school leaders to understand two things: How well pupils do and why that is. In other words, outcomes and how–comes. Ofsted’s grading system, however, has limited use to schools. The grade ‘good’ doesn’t really mean anything other than ‘effective’ and effectiveness looks different in every school. There is, therefore, no universal ‘good’. The Ofsted grades are designed for parents to assure them their child goes to a good or better school, but ‘good’ in a small rural village school is not necessarily the same as ‘good’ in a large inner–city urban school. By over focusing on preparation for Ofsted, schools may be lured into the misapprehension that there is a check–list of what Ofsted looks for in a good school. This is a myth: Ofsted doesn’t look ‘for’ anything in particular. Instead it looks ‘at’ what schools are doing and judges its effectiveness.


To self–evaluate in a more useful and informative way, I have created a series of eight ‘leadership lenses’ for leaders to look through and explore the key reasons why outcomes are as they are and what will improve them. Instead of Ofsted grades I use a system called Magic Quadrants®

. High

clarity Low

expertise Expertise Low

clarity Low

expertise The Magic Quadrants® Low

clarity High

expertise use two axes

to form the quadrants: clarity and expertise. Leaders are asked to judge each indicator on each axis and this provides a visual and informative picture of effectiveness. The ‘magic’ comes from what it tells leaders. If there is low clarity, professional development, debate and discussion should be the action taken; if there is low expertise, training should be the action.


clarity High



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