Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Improvement through Self-evaluation

The pivotal role of intrinsic motivation to self-improvement and advancement is well document in cognitive psychology and learning theories. According to Ryan and Deci (2000), this type of motivation is defined as:

the doing of activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence. When intrinsically motivated, a person is moved to act for the fun and challenge entailed rather than because of external products, pressures, or rewards.

By contrast, the concept of extrinsic motivation refers to activities, which are performed in order to “attain some separable outcome” (Ryan and Deci, 2000), for example, a certificate or another form of external validation. Research suggests that intrinsic type of motivation is most effective to achieving improved outcomes or personal growth. Therefore creating environments and situations which favour the development of intrinsic motivation are a challenge for us all. With reference to teaching and learning situations, this type of motivation can be achieved when tasks are well matched to the learners’ skills.

Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow theory (1991) and Dweck’s research (2012) focused on ability versus effort, defined in the terms of beliefs as mindsets (fixed and growth), also indicate the crucial role of intrinsic motivation in achieving improved outcomes and personal growth.

School inspections based mainly on external accountability measures depend heavily on extrinsic motivation to bring improvement. In these types of evaluations, the guidance for development is usually communicated through externally articulated recommendations for improvement. It is questionable to what extent these types of evaluations actually benefit organisational improvement. MacBeath et al. (2000) assert that exclusively external systems of school inspections, for example in England and The Netherlands, are mainly driven by control and the need for accountability even if they have an improvement perspective.

In contrast, robust and contextualized self-evaluation arrangements can visibly benefit organisational development by providing the right level of motivation to achieve higher outcomes (intrinsic motivation). Organisational development, where improvement is mainly driven through self-assessment, can be very effective with regard to growth. When fully embedded into an institutional context, the process of self-evaluation becomes almost self-managing in productively meeting institutional objectives and success performance indicators.

Indeed, some of the most successful educational systems in terms of outcomes for young people, for example Finland or Singapore, where school audits are focused only on financial control, are not subjected to external evaluations of their performance.

In England, the most successful schools consistently self-evaluate their own performance against their own challenging and evolving performance indicators. To add greater rigour and challenge to their arrangements, some institutions validate their self-evaluation processes through peer-reviews. These encourage the right level of professional dialogue leading to further improvement.

At this level, success does not happen by chance. At the heart of improving education for all children, is school improvement. The outcomes for all children matter, regardless of their postcode or birth. If school improvement can be achieved through a more effective system of performance evaluation, I think it is worth a try. Perhaps the next stage is to examine the effectiveness of the current inspection framework: to what extent does it directly benefit school improvement in terms of pupils’ outcomes?

On the impact of the inspection regime on school improvement, former Chief Inspector, David Bell, said, “I have always been cautious in saying that inspections cause improvement because, frankly, we do not”.

A Government Select Committee Report in 2010 concluded that “true self-evaluation is at the heart of what a good school does” and that:

Self-evaluation – as an iterative, reflexive and continuous process, embedded in the culture of a school – is a highly effective means for a school to consolidate success and secure improvement across the full range of its activities.

Research literature indicates that external evaluations are most effective when they are focused on improvement and collaboration. Arguably, new inspection arrangements conducted within the spirit of a peer-review process focused on schools’ self-evaluation, is perhaps what is needed to improve education for all. This type of peer-review would focus to a greater degree on the school’s own objectives rather than on the standard pre-determined criteria. Although self-evaluation can play a part in some inspection systems, it is not always a requirement. I feel, that putting self-evaluation at the centre of the inspection process and shifting the focus from external accountability to internal accountability measures against the school’s own objectives, would lead to greater school improvement for all.

Evidence-based data suggest that intrinsic motivation is most conducive to achieving greater learning gains. By analogy, if the same theory is applied to institutional development, for example school improvement, the importance of contextualized self-evaluation and its value in the school evaluation system is perhaps worthy of a longer discussion.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY, Harper Perennial.
Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. UK, Robinson.
MacBeath, J. et al (2000). Self-evaluation in European Schools. London, Routledge.
Ryan R.M., Deci E.L. (200). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 25, 54 – 6710.