Skip to main content

What to do when the school improvement plan goes wrong

The easy answer to the title of this post is 'to accept and embrace it!' Mind you I might have not chosen the most accurate of titles, because I have been writing school improvement plans for some sixteen years now and I have yet to produce one that went according to the said plan. Perhaps a more interesting title would be 'what to do when school improvement plans work' but, as I have little experience of this I might struggle to write that much that you might find helpful, or realistic.

School improvement plans can go awry for lots of reasons. Some of these are entirely our own fault, and some are the result of pesky circumstances. Sometimes you can put so much into a plan, even the most productive and focused of organisations anywhere would struggle to achieve its lofty aims. I have been there. Some of my early improvements plans had so many actions they could have been written by a choreographer for Village People! There were a variety of elaborate actions detailed but with little thought given to how deliverable they were by a small staff of very busy teachers, who were trying to deliver each day for all their learners. Some of my early improvement plans were almost of book length and couldn't have been much of a read as we never seemed to finish one. 

Moving on to my plan from last session. This was radically different to my first efforts, in that it was only a few pages long and had three main actions. I am now working across two schools, instead of one,  and with many more staff to help share the development workload. A doddle, you would think. But no, again circumstances conspired to prevent us from completing yet another plan. Staffing was a major issue last session. We had staff leave on secondments, two pregnancies, some long term illness and a succession of replacement teachers to cover some of our classes. Included in these were my DHT and myself having to teach classes at times when we found finding supply teachers rarer that vets who specialise in dental work for hens. Add to this was the fact that we had to host another school, it's pupils, staff and parents for over one term, and the further disruption ensued. Both factors had big impacts on the delivery of our development plan and prevented us from completing all we wanted.

This current session we have two main targets. We have a settled staff again and I am filled with high hopes that this could be the year. Already, four weeks in, we have made significant advances in both key areas. I have been able to release staff, because I planned to, so that they can collaborate to deliver improvements for all our learners. We have had a number of productive collegiate development sessions after school and I look forward optimistically to our next In-Service days in November. But who knows what lies ahead that may derail us from our metaphorical developmental train journey? The only certainty in school development is the uncertainty. 

I still maintain that such plans are a vital to school development. Plans help us to develop and move forward from where we are to where we would like to be. Without a plan how do we know what we should do and whether we have done it? A plan allows us to reflect on what we have achieved, as well as consider what we have not, and why. One plan is the starting point for another. We really do need to accept and embrace the fact that we might not achieve all we set out in our plan. Don't beat yourself up about the things you don't achieve, but celebrate all those you do. Plans are just that. Like Balderick in 'Blackadder' make sure everyone knows you have one, cunning or not, and what their part in it is. They are not set in stone, they need flexibility and realism built into them. Like all school development, the plan is part of a relentless process and they have to reflect the complexity of the challenges we face, many of which are unpredictable but can still be expected.

So to answer my own challenge in the title, accept it, it's going to happen. It's not a bad thing and it doesn't make you a bad person or a bad leader, or your plan a bad plan. Remember, shift happens!

Popular posts from this blog

Some thoughts on Scottish education

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
Our learners …

Structure and systems versuses learning, teaching and leadership

A couple of days ago Education Scotland announced that they planned to make changes to how they carried out school inspections as, 'the first step in a radical new way Education Scotland will work to support and drive improvement in schools.' This new 'radical' approach was to carry out more inspections, coupled with employment of new HMIEs and 'associate assessors' so that they could raise the number of inspections from the 180 expected to be undertaken this year, to a target figure of 250 for the following year. Amongst their stated aims was a desire to engage with every school in Scotland each year in order to support schools, teachers and school leaders and to drive forward improvement. They will also seek to include the 'younger voice' in inspections and include more use of learners in the inspection process, aiming to produce a How Good Is Our School (HGIOS) for young people to help them become engaged. (give me strength!) In addition, they will b…

A PISA My Mind

When John Swinney stood up in the Scottish parliament this week and described the performance of Scottish Education as making for 'uncomfortable reading' and that 'radical reform' was needed, he no doubt did this in the belief he was speaking from an informed position. He went on to pledge to bring 'an unwavering focus on improvement' and promised to carry out further reforms 'no matter how controversial.' His message was loud and clear, our performance is not good enough and he was going to change this. I wonder if he ever thought about the impact of his very public pronouncements had on teachers and school leaders as they were heading into their schools the next day? I suspect not.

So, what 'informed' Mr Swinney's assessment of the Scottish education system? Was it from the hundreds of visits he had made to Scottish schools since his appointment in May of this year? Was it from the conversations he had with thousands of pupils, teachers an…