There are a number of factors that make a self-evaluating school excellent. Here, I have tried to list the most obvious ones, though there are many which could be included that I have omitted.

The children and young people who attend ours schools are probably the best placed to answer the question initially. They see the ‘bigger picture’, the other side of the learning and teaching process and all good schools listen to the pupil voice, whether as an individual or through a more formalised pupil council process.

Here are some examples of what they consider to make an excellent school:

  • Excellent teachers
  • Encouraging environment
  • Supports individuality
  • Everyone works together
  • Respect between pupils and staff
  • High expectations – achieve to your potential
  • Everyone listens
  • Learning is at the centre
  • A shared vision, aims and objectives
  • Teachers inspire
  • Good displays
  • Pupils and teachers have good working relationships
  • Young people have a sense of worth
  • Teamwork and sharing good practice
  • Strong links with the community
  • Mutual respect, honesty and trust
  • Engage head, heart and soul     

There are ideas too, from the professional community, which can be used to describe an excellent school:

  • Develop a common vision among young people, parents and staff
  • Foster high quality leadership at all levels
  • Develop a culture of ambition and achievement
  • Work together with parents to improve learning
  • Work in partnership with other agencies
  • Engage young people in the highest quality learning activities
  • Reflect on work and thrive on challenge
  • Value and empower staff and young people
  • Focus on outcomes and maximise success for all learners
  • Promote well-being and respect

Indeed, though the environment is important, one should reflect upon these lists and realise that schools are not about bricks and mortar, but people, ideas and relationships. They must enable all to benefit and they must value everyone’s achievements whilst promoting ambition and raising aspirations. Excellent schools develop understanding about other people’s culture and beliefs whilst developing concern, tolerance, care and respect.

They should provide all children and young people with confidence and the capabilities to contribute to society, both economically and fiscally.

Personally, we all have our own values and philosophy which define a school as excellent. Here are a few of my own for you to consider:

  • Pupils take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour
  • Schools must have a stimulating environment
  • Transformational leadership is distributed with senior leadership at the centre of the school
  • All staff have an open door policy
  • A good Headteacher sets the style and the tone, and in turn the ethos and culture
  • There is a broad curriculum where pupils have opportunities for both academic and vocational experiences and where attainment is an element of wider achievement
  • Learning and teaching is of the highest quality
  • There are sufficient resources to support learning and teaching
  • Pupil support and guidance is central to the success of all children and young people
  • All pupils must be given the opportunity to succeed to their potential
  • Education for life must be the goal – giving everyone the chance to contribute to the economy and wider society, locally, nationally and globally

The core business of any school can broadly be defined into three categories. The first and most obvious is learning and teaching. The second is built upon relationships and interaction between people; staff, pupils and the wider community. Lastly, leadership and management is crucial in supporting the core business and driving it forward under the auspices of continuous improvement. Self-evaluation is a powerful took when used correctly and even more so when there are clear actions taken from the reflection process. Here are some of the gains that a good leader can use to make a great school into an excellent one:

  • Professional awareness and a sense of control leading to development
  • Focus on the effects and outcomes of children and young people
  • Focus on improvement and raising attainment
  • Morale, self-respect and self-improvement
  • Develop strategic aims and objectives to inform the improvement plan – audit and promote
  • Target setting
  • Annual reviews (staff and Departments)
  • Involve staff (transformational leadership and ownership) in working groups
  • Hearts and minds – modelled behaviour and lead by example
  • Report back, review and acknowledge success

The whole self-evaluation process can be as complicated or as efficient as one likes. It should not be seen as a ‘bolt-on’ to the core business but rather a thread which is weaved throughout the culture and ethos of the school. Here, I describe some methods of self-evaluation under four headings; Quantitative, People’s Views, Direct Observation of People and Direct Observation of Documents.


  • Examination and assessment results
  • STACS and other related testing data
  • Value-added indicators
  • Prior attainment and pupil progress
  • Objectives, outcomes and target setting
  • Analysis of attendance, exclusions, punctuality etc

People’s Views

  • Interviews (individual and group) with staff, pupils and parents
  • Pupil Council
  • Group Discussions
  • Questionnaires
  • Working Groups

Direct Observation – People

  • Shadowing pupils and classes
  • Observe lessons
  • Swap classes
  • Co-operative teaching

Direct Observation – Documents

  • Pupil’s work
  • Reporting and profiling of pupils
  • Curricula documents
  • Progress reports on Department and whole school improvement plans
  • Standard and Quality Report
  • Course materials
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Policies and guidance

Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

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