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What is Appreciative enquiry (AE) and how can it be used as part of a whole school QA review?

It is necessary to carry out quality assurance (QA) reviews of schools as a key component of school improvement and to ensure that the highest standards are continually met. As part of the review, questions are asked in order to offer insights and reflections on the current state of the school. This process is used to identify areas where the quality of education could be improved. Once these areas have been identified, action plans can be developed to address them.


Appreciative enquiry is a form of QA enquiry that could be used to bring about change and improvement in schools. The process takes a strengths-based approach by asking questions around ‘What’s strong, not what’s wrong’. It is based on the premise that organisations are more likely to improve if they focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.


Taking this approach helps to create a positive environment. Staff feel like their views are appreciated and are motivated to continue doing their best as part of the change management cycle. It can also help to improve communication between staff and management.


As a new leader, appreciative enquiry is a great way to ensure that staff buy into your vision and make it a shared vision.


In addition, using appreciative language can help school leaders to gain deeper insights into how things are going across all levels of a school without making assumptions about the current issues. This helps create an atmosphere of trust where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions.


What is appreciative language and why use it?


Appreciative language is a way of expressing positive statements and feedback that can be used to build relationships and increase cooperation. It provides benefits such as improved communication, increased confidence, stronger relationships and improved buy-in to whole school plans, a leader's vision in particular, by using language that is complimentary, supportive, and genuine thereby encouraging an atmosphere of growth.


The goal of using appreciative language is to build relationships by highlighting accomplishments, strengths, and positive experiences. Rather than dwelling on mistakes or issues. By emphasising successes rather than failures, staff members are more likely to be open to constructive criticism and be more confident to share their ideas for improvement.


How is it done?


Appreciative enquiry can be done through a series of questions. These can be used in a variety of settings and individually with staff around personal goals.

The questions can be adapted to suit the specific needs of the organisation, for example, if have already identified particular areas that need improvement, you can focus your questions around that. This information can then be used to develop more detailed action plans that aim to improve areas of weakness and build on areas of strength.


It uses questions such as-


1. How can we build on this?


2. How can we make the best of this?


3. What's the positive here?


4. What other opportunities are there from this?


5. How can we learn from this?


6. We know what’s working well, how do we make this even better?


7. What can we do differently to improve this even more?


8. How can we make sure things keep getting better?


9. How can we build on our successes?


And starters such as-

1. What are our strengths in ___________________?

2. What do our ______________ love about our ____________?

3. What do ___________ say they appreciate about our school?

4. What areas of our school are most in need of improvement?

5. How can we better meet the needs of all our ________________?

6. What can we do to improve _________________ between home and school?

7. How can we ?

8. What can we do to reduce _________________problems in our school?

9. How can we improve the quality of our _______________


Start off generally


Share with staff the nature of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the information will be used for.


Use language around WWW/EBI (What works well/Even better if) to ask general questions.


Personalised Enquiry


1. What do you enjoy most about your job?

2. What do you feel are your strengths in your role?

3. What do you feel makes your school unique and special?

4. In what ways do you feel you make a difference in the lives of your students?

5. How do your school make you feel valued?


General enquiry questions about your school


1. What are our school's strengths?

2. What do we do well? What could be even better?

3. What makes our school unique?

4. What do our students love about our school?

5. What do our parents love about our school?

6. What do our staff love about our school?

7. What do members of our community love about our school?

8. How has our school improved over the years?

9. What challenges has our school faced and overcome?

10. Who are the unsung heroes of our school?

11. What makes our school a great place to work?

12. What makes our school a great place to learn?

13. What makes our school a great place to teach?

14. How does our school make a difference in the lives of its students?

15. What 1 thing about your school would you recommend other schools do to so they can be just as good as yours?


It is likely that staff will then mention areas that you haven’t considered and many of them will be ‘quick wins’ and simple to change. You can ask them to list these using WWW/EBI on post-it notes or through a shared document.


For example-


WWW- It’s good that we are provided with refreshments

EBI-Not many people know how to use the coffee machine.


Make it solution focused by asking- ‘And so what?’ What are the next steps, and what would they like the outcome to be?


You can then add questions around specific areas that you have identified as a leadership team and ask for feedback on those areas in particular.

It is a good idea to break these down by using the Ofsted inspection/independent schools inspection framework for ease of reference and tracking. This has been done for you below.


Ofsted Focus Areas


Ofsted reports on a school in five separate areas, which are:


1. The overall effectiveness of the school


This is where the inspector uses all evidence gathered to determine the real-life experience of attending the school. The inspector will consider their evaluation of the four other areas prior to coming to this conclusion.


The following questions may be helpful-


  1. What are the school's strengths?

  2. What makes the school unique?

  3. How does the school create a positive learning environment?

  4. How are teachers encouraged to continue their professional development?

  5. What curriculum and instructional materials are used at the school?

  6. How does the school assess student progress?

  7. What opportunities are available for students to get involved in extracurricular activities?

  8. What do parents and community members think of the school?

  9. Are there any areas in which the school could improve?


2. The Quality of Education (Teaching, Learning and Assessment) –


Inspectors will consider the curriculum and how this is taught, and the outcomes that pupils achieve as a result of this.


1. What do you think makes our school a great place to learn? What could Make it even better?

2. What do you think our school does well when it comes to teaching and learning?

3. What do you think our students learn best at our school?

4. What do you think makes our teachers so effective in the classroom?

5. What do you think makes our curriculum so engaging for our students?

6. What do you think are the benefits of having small class sizes at our school?

7. What do you think is the biggest strength of our school’s education system?

8. What do you think is the most positive aspect of our school’s culture?

9. What do you think sets our school apart from other educational institutions?

10. Add your own more personalised question here


3. Behaviour and Attitudes – This explores how teachers create a calm and positive environment for their pupils.


1. What do you think is working well in relation to pupils' behaviour and attitudes in our school?

2. What do you think are the main reasons why pupils behave and feel positively about themselves and others in our school?

3. What do you think are the main reasons why some pupils behave and feel negatively about themselves or others in our school?

4. What do you think we could do to help pupils who are struggling with their behaviour or attitudes?

5. What do you think we could do to further promote positive behaviour and attitudes among all pupils in our school?

6. What do you think are the benefits of having positive behaviour and attitudes in our school?

7. What impact do you think negative behaviour and attitudes can have on our school community?

8. What do you think are the consequences of not addressing poor behaviour and negative attitudes among pupils in our school?

9. Do you have any other thoughts or suggestions about how we could improve pupils' behaviour and attitudes in our school?

10. Add your own more personalised question here



4. Personal Development – Inspectors will consider the steps that schools have taken to create opportunities for personal development in their staff and pupils.



1. What do you think are the most important aspects of personal development?


2. What do you think are the most important factors that contribute to personal development?


3. What do you think are the most important things that you can do to promote personal development in our pupils?


4. What do you think are the most important benefits of personal development for our pupils?


5. What do you think are the most important skills that have been developed through personal development?


6. What do you think are the most important attitudes that have been develop through personal development initiatives within the school?


7. What do you think have gained through personal development?


8. What do you think are the most important resources that you have been able to access for personal development? Why have they been successful?


9. Who do you think have been the most important people driving personal development initiatives in your school?


10. Add your own more personalised question here



5. Leadership and Management – How school leaders ensure the school has a positive impact on pupils.


1. What are the school's strengths in leadership and management?

2. What are the most effective initiatives in the school's current system of quality assurance for leadership and management?

3. What positive impact has recent changes in leadership and management had on the school?

4. How are leaders and managers developing their staff well?

5. How has communication between leaders and managers, and between leaders/managers and staff been made more effective?

6. How have the roles and responsibilities of leaders and managers been made clear?

7. How are effective decisions been made at all levels within the school?

8. What could be done to further develop the school's systems of quality assurance for leadership and management?

9. Add your own more personalised question here


Individual Context


You could think about your own context based on a case study of your school, recent inspection reports or past QA reports.

You can also look at topical areas, for example, if you know that there is an issue pertinent to your area/LA/ trust or following a parent concern.

Ofsted often publishes reports of things that they are concerned about within a given context such as its post-covid research.


For example, (using positive language).


1. What's strong about our school website? How could we improve engagement?


2. What's good about our communication with parents and carers? ,How could this be improved?


3. How do we involve parents and carers in their child's education? How can this be improved?


4. How well do we use data to drive improvement in our school? Could we improve the way it is gathered?


5. What works in the ways we use technology to support learning in our school? How could this be better?


6. How does the physical environment of our school meet the needs of our pupils? How can this be enhanced?


7. What do we do to promote health and well-being in our school community? What else could we be doing?


8. What else could we be doing to reduce inequalities in outcomes for different groups of students in our school?


As a reminder-


Appreciative enquiry is an ongoing process, and questions should be asked on a regular basis in order to maintain its effectiveness. It is just one part of a whole school strengths-based approach that also includes performance appraisals, training, classroom practice and staff development programmes.


All members of the school community should be included in the review process, including teachers, support staff, students and their families.

Involving all stakeholders in any change cycle makes it more likely that any changes will be successful and sustainable.






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