Last reviewed 11 March 2013

Tony Powell advises schools on how on how to write a succinct self-evaluation statement (SES).


Self-evaluation statements (SESs) tend to be lengthy documents. This is because schools are not satisfied with making stand-alone evaluations — they want to explain the reasoning behind the judgment and also describe the actions they take. However, Ofsted inspectors criticise too much explanation. This is especially the case with short-notice inspections and inspectors are asking schools for a summary SES that they can easily digest the day before the inspection.

Ofsted and school grades

The Ofsted grade descriptors mean that the numeric grade is actually a best-fit judgment against set criteria.

Previous inspection

School grades

Overall effectiveness



Pupils’ achievement



Behaviour and safety



Taking into account: spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC)



Quality of teaching



Leadership and management



A simple table, such as the one above, can be inserted into the title page of the SES summary so that inspectors can see the school’s judgments at a glance. Remember that inspectors will have read the previous report so they will know the grades and the underlying reasons for them. Here the school is saying that it has improved from “good” to “outstanding”. Depending on the explanation in the report, an inspector would interpret this as follows.

In its last inspection the personal development outcomes for pupils were outstanding but academic achievement was good. This held down the grades for teaching, leadership and management and overall effectiveness. If the school can demonstrate that achievement is now outstanding and this is supported by inspection evidence, this provides a convincing argument that teaching, leadership and management and overall effectiveness are also outstanding.

Hopefully, this demonstrates that schools need to think through the story behind the grades: “As a school we judge our overall effectiveness as outstanding because …”.

Note also that the school has graded SMSC even though it is not one of the key Ofsted areas. There is no need to do this but SMSC is a very important outcome for pupils and, therefore, contributes to the judgments on teaching, leadership and management and overall effectiveness. The simplest way for the school to tell inspectors about SMSC is by including it as a section in the SES.

Reaching the best-fit grade

Remember that the grade represents a best-fit judgment. A school does not have to tick off every point in the “outstanding” grade descriptors in order to be outstanding. For example, one element could be “good” but improving rapidly. Note this particularly in the descriptors for achievement and do not look for some precise calculation and more and more evidence.

Go through your judgments in the following order: pupils’ achievement; behaviour and safety; teaching (over time); leadership and management; taking into account SMSC and overall effectiveness. For example, if you have judged achievement and behaviour and safety as “good” it would be very difficult to argue that teaching is outstanding unless they are improving rapidly.

Choosing the grade — step-by-step

In order to determine the grade and write up the summary go through the following process.

  1. Study the previous inspection report (PIR). Note the grade at the last inspection and the reasons underlying the judgment. Inspection reports follow the pattern of describing positive features with examples and then identifying elements that need addressing, such as consistency of marking. Highlight these and note particular features and phrases that could be useful for the summary.

  2. Identify progress since the last inspection. Think through the school improvement plan and changes in curriculum, teaching methods and resources. Have the strengths from the previous inspection been retained and built upon and have you addressed any negative comments and criticisms?

  3. Study the evaluation schedule and grade descriptors for the each key feature. Make sure the school does not fall into any of the descriptors for “inadequate”.

  4. Go through each of the descriptors for “good” and highlight them if they are met. Now go through the corresponding descriptors for “outstanding” and again highlight them. This may show that the school matches one or the other, but often there will be elements of both. Sometimes it is difficult to decide between them.


    1. pupils read widely and often across all subjects (outstanding)

    2. pupils read widely and often (good).

    Behaviour and safety:

    1. pupils’ attitudes to learning are exemplary (outstanding)

    2. pupils’ attitudes to learning are consistently positive and low-level disruption in lessons is uncommon (good).

    The first example can be resolved through considering the evidence, but in the second many teachers will hesitate over “exemplary”.

    Ofsted uses words in a precise way so remember that “exemplary” means “fit to serve as an example” and not “perfect in every way”.

  5. Take each of the descriptor statements you have decided best match the school and use them as headings for subsections within the SES summary. Do not worry about using the same words as the descriptors. Paraphrase or amend them slightly if this matches the school better.

    There is no point in trying to second guess the inspectors. If a school genuinely believes that it meets the “outstanding” descriptor it should say so. Inspectors may disagree but they may disagree if you choose “good” and this is incorrect.

  6. Some statements contain a number of criteria that need to be broken down, eg:

    • Pupils are fully aware of different forms of bullying, including cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying, and actively try to prevent it from occurring. Bullying in all its forms is rare and dealt with highly effectively.

    These statements could be separated thus:

    • Pupils have a very good understanding of all forms of bullying.

    • Bullying is very rare but always taken seriously and dealt with effectively.

    These statements can be presented as a set of bullet points for the SES summary. Essentially they are the school’s grade descriptors.

  7. Go back to the evaluation schedule and read through the guidance for inspectors before the grade descriptors. Identify the evidence for each of your judgments.

  8. Read over what you have written and the evidence and make a best-fit judgment on the grade. This can be triangulated by asking others such as individual governors to read through the statements and match them to the Ofsted grade descriptors.