Sue Cowley: Self-Evaluation – How To Reflect On Your Practice

Time to get everyone involved in the process.
February 6, 2019
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Self-evaluation is a vital tool to help ensure that your setting is as effective as it can possibly be for your children and their families.

Unless we take the time to reflect, and to consider what we could do better, it is easy to get stuck in a rut or to slip back over time. Self-evaluation does not need to be a burden and it doesn’t need to be complicated – it should simply be part of your ongoing process of discussion, reflection, and improvement.

Self-evaluation is not something that can be done once and then filed away until Ofsted arrive. To be effective, it needs to detail the self-reflection that you and your staff undertake all the time.


A setting is only ever as good as the staff who work in it – it’s the relationships we build with our children and families that are at the heart of everything we do. That’s why it’s crucial that self-evaluation is done as a team rather than as something the manager ‘does to’ the rest of the staff. A big part of the value that comes from self-evaluation is found in the process of your team reflecting together on all aspects of their work.

One way to ensure that you evaluate as a team is to set aside a short amount of time each week to reflect. We allocate time for this in our weekly staff meeting.

Once you’ve got an overview of where your setting is at the moment, it’s a good idea to focus in on just one area of your practice at a time, to evaluate and develop it in more detail.

How does self-evaluation work?

The process of self-evaluation follows a circular pattern, in which you decide what you will evaluate, you record your findings, you plan and undertake new actions, and you review how well those actions worked. Staff appraisals play a crucial part in self-evaluation, because they will help you work out what training or resources you need in order to meet your goals.

Choosing a format

When deciding on a format for self-evaluation, the most important thing is that it works for you and your setting. At our setting, we have changed our approach over time, in order to find a format that is right for us.

At first we used the Ofsted SEF , but we didn’t find it very user-friendly. Next we used The Bristol Standard, which was helpful in gaining an overview of how we were getting on. This year we are trailing a new self-evaluation tool, developed by our Local Authority, called ‘QUEST’.

Because the process of self-evaluation is ongoing, there is no need to worry about changing the format you use if you don’t feel the need too. Remember, this is not something that is ‘done’ and filed away until the inspectors arrive – it should form part of your daily practice. It can be helpful to send a summary of your findings to Ofsted so that they can get a sense of the process you are using before any visit. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of why you’re self-evaluating.

Gathering information

So you’ve got your format in place and your staff on-side. But before you can reflect on your provision, you need to gather evidence.

One useful way to do this is to use questionnaires for staff and parents. You need to think about your values so you know you are evaluating against. Be clear about your aims too so that you can work out how well you are meeting them. What is working well? What could be improved?

Gather lots of views to gain an overview of where you stand and try not to become defensive when you ask for critique. Even if you felt sure that something was working really well, if your families don’t agree you need to be open to changing it.

When we sent out a questionnaire to our families, one of the issues they identified was that they didn’t know what went on during the preschool day (unsurprisingly, their small children found this hard to articulate). In response to this critique, we started to publish a blog, giving information about what the children had done each week. We also created a board showing parents ‘What we are doing today’ and ‘What we are learning’ from it.

Strengths and weaknesses

Depending on your needs – and the confidence levels of your staff – it can work well to start positively, identifying areas of your practice that work well. Have a think about why you are confident in these areas – it often relates to how capable you feel, due to training for example.

When considering your weaknesses, look at areas where you’d like to improve and develop, and what needs to happen to facilitate this. For instance, one of our goals a few years ago was to create forest school provision. The key to this was for our setting leader going on a week-long training course so that she was confident and qualified to disseminate information to the rest of the staff.

Now that our forest school provision is in place, we continue to evaluate it in terms of how well it meets our children’s needs and supports their learning and development. These small tweaks that we have made over time have helped to improve the quality of what we offer.

Supporting your self-evaluation with evidence

When we think about ‘evidence’, we tend to think about spreadsheets or other forms of tracking data. However, evidence can just as easily take the form of training certificates, photos of an area of your setting ‘before’ and ‘after’ you have developed it, or feedback from parents about what you have done.

The more you undertake the process of self-evaluation, the more useful you will find it, and the more you will gain confidence. Reflecting on your provision is not only vital for continuous improvement – it can also offer a boost to staff morale when they hear great feedback from your families about how well you are doing for their children.

Sue Cowley is an author, teacher and trainer who has helped to run her local preschool for the last ten years. Her latest book is The Ultimate Guide to Differentiation.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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