Sue Cowley offers tips on committing your self-evaluation to paper or screen, and explores the choice of quality assurance frameworks available for early years settings…
Your self-evaluation form (SEF) offers you a chance to highlight the great practice that goes on at your setting. It should also help you identify those areas where you know you need to improve, and show how you plan to improve them.
It works well to write your SEF using a mixture of narrative and bullet points as appropriate. This allows you to elaborate on any key points and also to give detailed evidence to support what you say. Use examples from your day-to-day practice to demonstrate your key strengths. Include enough detail so that someone coming into your setting can see exactly how you do what you say you do. Where you set targets for improvement, include information about who is responsible and when any planned improvements will take place.
You can use the three-step process, ‘Statement, Evidence, Develop’, to ensure that you include sufficient detail in your SEF about what you see as your strengths:
Give a statement: Make a statement of fact about one of your setting’s strengths.
As a setting we have an ongoing commitment to helping children build their physical strength and stamina. We encourage them to enjoy regular participation in sports, and in other physical and creative movement activities.
Support it with evidence: Support the statement you have made by giving specific evidence. If you use lots of approaches, this can usefully be done in a bulleted list.
As part of this commitment, we:
● have a weekly visit from a specialist children’s yoga teacher, in which the children learn yoga movements based around children’s stories;
● run an annual sports day, which is very well attended by parents and carers;
● have developed an outdoor area, with a space for playing on ride-on toys and room for growing plants;
● take the children to dig at our allotment area each week, where we grow our own crops.
Develop the point: Make links to other aspects of your provision, or talk about how you will sustain this strength in the future.
We are keen to widen the variety of physical activities that we offer, to match each child’s needs and interests. Following a discussion with children and parents about new sports they wanted to try, we are going to book a weekly visit from a qualified early years tennis coach for the summer term. A staff member will contact our local tennis club to identify a suitable coach (Action: SP to make contact by 21st March).
This process can also be used to write about what you see as your areas for improvement.
Evidence can take many different forms. It might be quantifiable data, for instance, responses from a parent questionnaire, in which parents grade your setting, or data measuring children’s progress. It could also be examples of things you have done at your setting to enhance your provision such as a visit you have arranged from an outside group. You could also use comments from parents in a ‘Comments Book’ or responses posted by parents on your setting’s website or blog.
In a busy early years setting, it is often tricky to remember all the great things you have done, so have a small SEF notebook, freely available to all staff, in which they can jot down a note when they do something interesting. If you don’t have the space to include all this information in your SEF, highlight your notebook to the inspector as another source of evidence.
It is not compulsory to complete a self-evaluation form, and as of 1 April 2018 Ofsted removed the SEF template from its website. Managers and practitioners do need to show that they are using self-evaluation to reflect on their practice and to make improvements to their provision. If you choose to complete a self-evaluation form to aid your reflection on the setting’s strengths and weaknesses, ideally, you want a framework that…
● encourages staff to participate in an ongoing process of reflection;
● gives a chance for all stakeholders to have an input;
● gives sufficient detail about your setting, but is still manageable;
● highlights your strengths;
● identifies your areas for improvement and helps you set targets.
The Bristol Standard is a framework for evaluating your setting, which is now offered by a number of local authorities. The Standard was first developed in the 1990s by a working party of early years practitioners, and it is currently in its sixth edition (February 2018). The Standard is based on a three-year cycle, with settings preparing a portfolio that is submitted to a cross-county panel for validation. One of the key benefits of the Standard is that the local authority allocates a mentor to the setting. The mentor helps to facilitate an initial staff meeting, and makes two more visits during the first year to 18 months of the process.
The ‘10 dimensions’ that the Standard asks settings to reflect on are as follows:
1. Values & Aims
2. Relationships & Interactions
3. Supporting Play, Learning & Development
4. The Physical Environment
5. Play & Learning Experiences
6. Observation, Planning & Assessment
7. Leadership, Management & Staffing
8. Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
9. Partnerships with Parents & the Local Community
10. Monitoring & Evaluation
For each of the dimensions, staff complete an evaluation which includes details of:
● Areas of strength
● Areas to focus on next (targets)
● Benefits for the children (of the targets)
● Tasks to be done in order to achieve targets