Data: Making the most of your SEF

Written by: Matt Evered | Published:
Image: iStock

Matt Evered looks at how schools can use data from the published performance tables to support self-evaluation and more

Whatever your school’s circumstances, it is fair to say that the performance tables are a recognised point of contention: how, for example, can they fairly demonstrate a school’s work to parents and the wider public in light of on-going changes to assessment and accountability? But can schools also turn the tables to their advantage?

I have seen many examples of schools putting performance table data to good use within self-evaluation processes. Taken in context and used carefully, the published data can paint a helpful picture of what a school has been doing well and where it can improve, from the more obvious headlines to the finer points of pupil characteristics and progress over time. Here are answers to five common questions to help you get the most out of the published data for your school.

How can we use performance table data in self-evaluation?

Comparing your school to others on a local and national basis, and pupil performance between cohorts, can help you to measure progress. With the publication of the data you can re-assess and add evidence to your self-evaluation, and sharpen up your school improvement plan.

Identify any areas where you have performed well in comparison to local or national averages. Look for patterns that suggest strengths, asking questions such as “In which measures have we outperformed schools with a similar socio-economic intake?” and “Did any groups of pupils make more rapid progress in our school than similar groups nationally?”.

Similarly, look for weaknesses. Consider objectively questions such as “Which groups of pupils have underperformed against targets?” and “Are there year groups or classes that are making less rapid progress than the school’s average?”. Tackling these head-on should lead into planning for school improvement. Remember that one bad result is not a catastrophe – performance over time is what matters.

Briefly summarise the published performance data in your self-evaluation documentation to make it clear to all stakeholders what it shows about your school – but ensure you evaluate rather than describe it. Some schools also add a human touch with anecdotes from staff and/or pupils.

What else should our self-evaluation cover?

Evidence can come from many sources. While the performance tables provide one view of a school’s work, you may seek other external validation, such as reports from partner schools or the community.

Pupil voice can be valuable – but evaluate pupils’ everyday experiences, rather than using feedback from a small sample of pupils or a one-off event. It may also be useful to consider the school from different people’s perspectives: “What is it like to be a teacher here?”, “Would I send my child here?”.

Answering such questions, with evidence, can help you to see the full picture beyond, and behind, performance data.

Remember that self-evaluation is as much about looking forward as backwards. It should involve (and show) planning for future actions, to develop strengths and address weaknesses.

Must we present our self-evaluation in a certain way?

No. Ofsted does not prescribe a specific format for school self-evaluation documentation. Inspectors are interested in the rigour and accuracy of the evaluation itself, and how well it drives school improvement planning.

This means that your self-evaluation summary, including any performance data used as evidence, can be presented in whatever way is most helpful to everyone involved in running the school and ensuring its continual improvement.

How can we share performance data usefully with governors?

Keep it simple. Whether you are reporting on data from the performance tables, RAISEonline or internal assessment, governors will want to see the headline results and understand what they mean.

Summarise the results clearly against the school’s targets and your predictions from the previous year.
You may also find it helpful to contextualise performance table data against your latest internal data – for example, from termly assessments. Include the progress of individual year groups towards end-of-year targets.

You could also look at the percentages of pupils who are on track in different groups, such as boys and girls. Governors appreciate being shown the real picture in a quick and easily digestible manner. Make it easy for them to support you.

What can we say to parents about the performance tables?

Remember that parents are interested in the whole picture too. Give them an overall evaluation of what the data shows about the school, and, as with your self-evaluation, include your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Whatever the published data shows, parents will want to hear how the school can support and provide opportunities for their children.

If the data is not as you would have hoped, make parents aware of the wider work you are doing.

Answering questions for parents such as “What facilities does the school have to help my child?”, “How do children feel at the school?”, “How do I know that the school is moving forward?” will give them reasons to trust you, rather than be overly influenced by the tables.

If you think reforms to accountability and assessment have affected your data, remember that parents may not be up-to-date with the changes or aware of their impact.

The best way to explain any apparent disappointments is by making local or national comparisons – but keep it simple and honest, and avoid throwing too many numbers or research reports their way.

  • Matt Evered is a researcher specialising in school improvement at The Key – an organisation that provides leadership and management support to schools in England. The Key is hosting a one-day conference on raising pupil achievement at primary level on March 8 in London. For details, visit


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