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What I Have Learned About School Improvement Planning

Like most schools in Scotland, we are well into the process of school improvement planning, as we approach the last six weeks or so of the current school session. Today myself and the senior management team have been looking closely at the results of recent self-evaluation activities undertaken by staff and pupils. The results of these specific activities are put alongside the other measure we have been using since the start of the current session, in order to really inform us about where we are in terms of our development and progress, collectively and individually.

When we have considered views of staff, pupils, parents and partners we will then sit down and put together our School Improvement Plan for the next school year. This will be the fifteenth SIP I will have been involved in developing and writing and I thought this might be an opportune time to share the lessons I have learned about SIPs over the years. As usual, I offer these in the spirit of sharing and  perhaps to help your own thinking a little with your own school's plan, especially if you are new to such strategic planning.

Things I Have Learned About School Improvement Planning:

  • You need to have one. Seems obvious, but if you don't know where you are heading, how will you know when you get there? Having a plan allows you to map out how the school will develop over the next session and the steps you will take to get there. 
  • Keep it simple. When I first started writing SIPs they felt like books, and most were fiction! We put far too much into them and ended up achieving very little of what we put in to them. Expectations were unreal and we, and colleagues, would end up frustrated by all the things we didn't get done. A few well considered actions are more deliverable and achievable than too many, and are more likely to lead to sustainable and embedded change.
  • School development should be seen as a continuous process and each plan should build on from the one that preceded it. Most of our action plans begin with 'continue to .....' The transition from one plan to another should be seamless and the connections obvious. The outcomes of the previous one should inform the next.
  • Plans should be informed by robust self-evaluation processes. There really should be no surprises for anyone in the headline actions, as these should have been emerging over the session. Self-evaluation should also be a continuous process and embedded into individual and school practices.
  • Actions should match local and national priorities. We do not start with these, because the main driver should be our self-evaluation, but we make sure there is a link, that we can identify and articulate. If you are focused on learning and teaching, developing the curriculum, raising attainment and achievement, using assessment to support learning and partnership building, links to local and national agendas should be easy.
  • Impacts should be measured in terms of what has changed and improved for pupils as a result of developments undertaken. In the early days of development planning, we were perhaps not as focused as we should have been on the impacts for learners. Now, we measure everything by asking 'so what has improved for pupils, and how do we know?'
  • More often than not now, our actions connect and everyone can see how they connect. The benefits of this are that we ensure we are dealing with all that we can in a managed way, and in a way that allows us to be contributing to more than one action plan when we are carry out development work and activities. Good for staff moral and Headteacher sanity!
  • Always remember who the plan is for. It is for you and your colleagues, so you need it to work for you all. Keep the objectives real and achievable, and be realistic in your expectations of your staff and yourself. Plans should protect you from the instantaneous demands of others. If it's not in your plan, you need to be strong enough to say something will have to wait, or if it can't, you have to be prepared to remove an action if necessary.
  • All good plans should be flexible and adaptive. They need to be able to react and change to differing circumstances, whilst maintaining the direction of travel. We have found it better to identify the headline actions and then co-construct the action plans with colleagues when we are about to commence the work required.
  • Spread the load. You need to build your plan and actions around the rhythm of the school year. There are times when you can achieve and do more, and there are times when you need to slow down and back off a little. Do not load too much on to too few people, or yourself. Good plans involve everyone in helping to take the school forward step by step. To achieve depth slower is often better than faster.
  • Don't beat yourself, or your staff,  up too much if you don't get everything done. School development and change is complex and there are all sorts of factors that come into play. Embrace and accept the complexity but be relentless in your desire to improve, whilst accepting that need to readjust and extend timelines.
  • Lastly, remember that a good plan should be a working document and a tool to help you and your school develop. If you don't feel it is achieving this, change it.
I actually enjoy putting all the elements together to produce the school improvement plan. Like everything, the more you do the better you get, and the more you are able to keep a sense of reality and proportionality about what you are trying to do.  We don't do our plan to impress anyone. It is a tool that enables us to manage change and to protect and gatekeep on behalf of our schools and colleagues. It ensures we are focused on where we are heading and we have some idea on how we are going to get there. It also ensures we keep sight of who we are trying to improve for, that is our 

Good luck on planning the next steps on your own journey.

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