An Approach to Analysing Professional Discourse in a School Self-Evaluation Project

By Neil, Peter; Johnston, John | Research in Education, May 2005 | Go to article overview

An Approach to Analysing Professional Discourse in a School Self-Evaluation Project


Neil, Peter, Johnston, John, Research in Education


A necessary part of providing high quality and learning in schools is the process of quality control. Self-evaluation in the school context is a powerful approach to auditing what is going on in a school with regard to teaching and learning, since it necessarily requires systematic collecting and analysing of information in order to form value judgements based on firm evidence. Traditionally the work of a school has been monitored by external agencies such as HMI or OfStEd. In more recent times, however, it has been recommended that the inspection process should allow schools to provide evidence of their own self-evaluation processes in addition to the external judgements produced by OfStEd in order to counterbalance the limitations of the inspection process as it currently operates (Ferguson et al., 2000). They note that inspection provides teachers with feedback which rarely impacts on their practice and it fails to foster skills of self-evaluation.

External inspection checks whether a number of legal prescriptions regarding education are being respected. It also examines the broader school context such as the school climate, the relations between different groups, etc. However, the inspectorate acknowledges and tries to convince schools that quality assurance is best ensured through a combination of regular external monitoring and internal self-evaluation. The power of self-evaluation in professional terms, in contrast to external validation, resides in its potential for helping people identify where they are going, how to improve the journey, and whether they have arrived (Herman and Winters, 1992, p. 9). It is a process for communicating, building support, and developing a shared vision among the school community. The more stakeholders are enabled to play a full part in the process, the more likely it will be that strong relationships will be forged which are conducive to lasting and sustainable action (MacBeath, 1999).

Self-evaluation involves reflection that is concerned with defining one's aims, establishing criteria for success, and determining the most appropriate methods for judging the effects of one's actions. Self-evaluation therefore entails careful observation and analysis of actions, interpretation of the consequences of those actions and learning from them (McLaughlin, 1991).

Self-evaluation has two aims (Buchanan and Jackson, 1998). One relates to the process itself, that is, an approach to analysing practice aimed at allowing teachers to take more responsibility for their own learning and make decisions about professional progress. Its second purpose concerns examination of the conditions for achievement of learning outcomes; in other words, the pedagogical knowledge, skills and strategies used during classroom teaching.

An evaluation study of self-evaluation involving sixteen schools across nine LEAs in England found the following positive outcomes for schools:

1 Involvement in the project brought about a change in the school culture and an openness to exploring different methods of evaluating practice in the school.

2 Professional development of teachers was encouraged by dissemination of good practice and by encouraging involvement with other training opportunities.

3 Head teachers were given a framework on the basis of which they could organise change.

4 Schools were able to develop their own agenda for self-evaluation, which brought about greater ownership of the self-evaluation activity among the staff.

5 Staff had a critical friend in the form of the LEA adviser or consultant who facilitated the process.

6 The process involved better community involvement, with parents, governors and students providing useful feedback on the school.

7 The development of self-evaluation packs could avoid the need for each school to reinvent the wheel and the presence of these instruments encouraged exchange of information across schools (Davies and Rudd, 2001, pp. …

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