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20/20 Vision: Looking back to move forward

In 2005 the DfES published the seminal Middle Leaders’ Self-evaluation Guide. So what have we learned about self-evaluation since then?

At iAbacus we like to review before making a plan. So, we were going through our archives recently and dusted off the document, Middle Leaders’ Self Evaluation Guide, published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2005.

Go on, hazard a guess as to who was education secretary at that time. And how many education secretaries we have had since then…? *

We digress – that’s not the point here…

Use of data

Flicking through the guide brought home how far we’ve moved in the intervening years. For instance, it states: “The use of a range of evidence including pupil progress data to monitor subject performance is still undeveloped in many schools.”

Hardly true today. We’re buried under data mountains! Even Ofsted’s 2019 proposed framework suggests it has swung too far the other way – questioning whether data is being used meaningfully and, crucially, stressing the importance of more qualitative evidence.

However, it’s obvious that the 2005 middle leaders’ guidance is still relevant. Perhaps because, regardless of the vagaries of successive secretaries of state, the key leadership characteristics of strong middle leaders remain the same.

That guide was crucial in establishing the concept of middle leaders to include subject leaders, pastoral leaders, key stage coordinators and cross-curricular leaders e.g. SEND, SMSC and PSHE.

It also set out three key contributions middle leaders make to whole-school self-evaluation:

  • judging standards

  • evaluating teaching and learning

  • securing improvement

Six elements of effective middle leadership

It goes on to list six elements of effective leadership by middle leaders:

  • there is a systematic approach to the monitoring of teaching and learning and of progress in implementing action plans;

  • departments evaluate regularly and pupil progress data is routinely analysed;

  • there are clear lines of accountability and the structures for performance management are known, understood and implemented;

  • senior leaders support departments with planning, training and observation;

  • analysis of pupils’ performance has improved and targets are set for individual pupils, validated against previous results;

  • underperformance is tackled promptly and rigorously.

A more scientific approach

The elements of effective middle leadership are as true now as in 2005. So, is the next question – How to go about accurately judging, evaluating and securing improvement?

20/20 hindsight means we can look forward from 2005. The performance data now accessible to schools has made the evaluation process more rigorous. However many schools also found that mining data by hand was impossible and that relying purely on computer algorithms rendered the process soulless.

In that time iAbacus has pioneered another way to approach evaluation – an emotionally intelligent and arguably more scientific way.

It starts from the middle leader’s initial and intuitive assessment, based on their own professional intelligence and understanding.

This professional nous of an effective middle leader creates hypotheses which, in true scientific method, refines and structures their search for both quantitative and qualitative data.

The data then validates and challenges the initial judgement. Even better, sifting the data in this forensic way informs and strengthens the analysis of factors affecting future action.

The iAbacus methodology and software is built around this process. It reveals the human insight behind a self-evaluation judgement – and it releases the wisdom of the professional in-situ as leaders build on evaluation to designs those, all important strategies and plans for securing improvement.

Wisdom means looking back before moving forward…

* Answer: Ruth Kelly was Secretary for Education and Skills in 2005 and, following her departure in 2006, there have been six more.


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