How to write an effective SEF for your school

Written by: Ciara Lamb | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Are you about to tackle the school self-evaluation form? Ciara Lamb shares some tips for writing your SEF, so you can be confident it is set up to effectively support your school's development

As the end of the academic year draws closer, many of you will be starting work on your self-evaluation form (SEF). But how can we approach this important task to ensure that the SEF has a real impact on school improvement and development?

Be concise and evaluative

While there may be a lot you want to cover, make sure your self-evaluation summary is concise. Using bullet points will help, as they are easy to adapt as your school changes.

It is important that you are completely clear about the differences between attainment, progress, and achievement. And make sure all of your sentences are evaluative and none are purely descriptive.

When you have finished, go back through the text and remove any unnecessary details. You could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do the grades for each area of judgement link with each other? For example, do they show that the quality of education is “good” because the effectiveness of leadership and management is “good”? If not, have you explained the difference?
  • Do the evaluations match the criteria in Ofsted's school inspection handbook under the Education Inspection Framework? (Ofsted, 2019).
  • Have you been completely honest with yourself?

Describe the impact of actions

Your SEF should identify the impact of the actions you have taken. Make sure you are covering the following areas:

  • How has your school changed?
  • What do pupils and staff do differently now?
  • What does success look like?
  • Who has benefited from this?

Back up your statements with evidence

If you are saying that pupils enjoy coming to school, for example, you could support this using attendance data or pupil and parent voice activities.

There is no single set of evidence that you should use, as it will depend on the information you normally use to assess your school. However, you should take the following into account as a minimum:

  • Observations of teaching and learning.
  • Scrutiny of pupils’ books.
  • Records of SEN.
  • Child protection records.

You may also wish to refer to your previous inspection report, your most recent Analyse School Performance (ASP) report, your school improvement plan, and the Ofsted evaluation criteria (again, as set out in the school inspection handbook).

Ofsted has no preferred SEF format

Remember that inspectors evaluate the extent to which your leaders and governors evaluate the quality of your provision and outcomes through self-assessment.

However, Ofsted does not require you to present your SEF in a specific format. See paragraph 76 of the school inspection handbook, which states: “Ofsted does not require schools to produce a self-evaluation document or summary in a particular format. Any assessment that is provided should be part of the school’s business processes and not be generated solely for inspection purposes.”

So, what are inspectors looking for? Inspectors use your SEF to get a picture of how your senior leadership team and governing board see your school. It is therefore helpful to give them a judgement on your school's performance in each of the main areas of inspection, as well as an explanation of why you have given these judgements.

  • Ciara Lamb is a content editor at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via The advice in this article is taken from The Key Leaders’ resource Tips for writing your school self-evaluation form, written with input from David Driscoll, Gulshan Kayembe and John Dunne. Visit

Further information & resources

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.