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4 August 2022
By Chris Jacobs - Improvement Advisor

The Total Approach to School Development Planning

Estimated Reading Time - 4 minutes 30 seconds

Schools, and headteachers in particular, spend a lot of time writing school development plans. Therefore, a question worth asking is, "Does the time I spend writing the plan, represent good value?". Answers are likely to vary. Some will say the plan is the key driver of improvement, leads to fundamental change and that without it the school would stagnate. Others may will say it doesn't make much difference because nobody reads it and we deliver our improvement agenda anyway! Given all schools have a plan of some sort, it is essential for it to have maximum impact on the education and outcomes of the pupils. Therefore, there is merit in considering adopting a TOTAL approach to school development planning. It’s an acronym, so what does it stand for?

T - Targeted

There are a number of areas to consider here. The priorities in the plan need to be:

  • few in number. It is not feasible or sensible to focus on too many different areas simultaneously. We need only look at the national picture over the past few years to see the impact of trying to drive too many changes at the same time
  • focused tightly on issues which impact the academic and social development of the pupils
  • evidence based
  • focused on development. Many plans are too long because priorities are more about maintaining existing practice than developing new practices.

O - Owned

Views differ about who should set the priorities. Some schools take a collegiate approach to setting priorities. Other schools work on the basis that the priorities are best set by leaders. Whatever, a school's approach, it is imperative that the whole school community:

  • knows what the priorities are and what success will look like. This may well differ from year group to year group
  • understands the rationale for the priorities
  • knows exactly how they can contribute to the achievement of the priorities.

T - Threaded

Too often the plan sits in comparative isolation of other improvement processes in the school. For maximum impact the plan needs to be:

  • related closely to the strategic plan of the governing board and subject and other relevant action plans
  • threaded through performance management objectives
  • focused on what difference it will make to children, rather than the false separation of the areas covered in the inspection framework.

A - Accessible

Ask staff where the plan is and what it looks like and the likelihood is many won't know. An answer often goes along the lines of “It’s in a purple file in the head’s office and it’s very long.”. There are many approaches taken to make the plan more accessible. These include:

  • communicating the priorities to parents through letters and/or texts
  • having the plan represented in large-scale pictorial form on display in a prominent part of the school
  • having a pupil speak version in all classrooms, presented in a child-friendly way
  • having a one-page summary posted on the website
  • making sure the plan is free of jargon and acronyms.

L - Live

For a plan to be truly effective, it needs to be a live document. To be live it needs to be referred to frequently and in different contexts. Strategies include:

  • regular updates in assemblies
  • a standing item at governor and staff meetings
  • progress reports for parents on the website
  • discussions with the school council
  • reference to progress on school displays.

Typically, all progress updates are in the written form. There is mileage in considering using photos and videos which show how achievement of priorities is impacting the everyday school experience of their children. Parents in particular welcome this approach. They are far more interested in this than knowing the staff have had training sessions on higher order questioning!

So, what about the targets themselves? It has become fashionable to have at least one target for each area of the inspection framework. However, we know that this separation of one area from another is not how it really works. Leadership and management impacts behaviour which impacts personal development which impacts quality of education. The areas all impact each other in whatever order they are placed. Perhaps there’s merit thinking about the target more in terms of what will be the impact on children, and then identifying how each of the inspection areas impacts that.

For example, the objective may be ‘For Children To Become Brilliant Authors’. The challenge then is to identify what actions are required for this target to be achieved. The actions identified will almost certainly touch on all areas covered in the framework. However, this is the outcome of the process rather than the starting point, and secures logical coherence.

In summary, whatever the approach you take to planning, set yourself a challenge next term. Ask all the children and staff two questions:

  1. “What are we trying to get better at this year?”

  2. “In detail, what is it you’re going to do to make that happen?”

The answers you get may give you cause to consider your approach to school development planning.

About the Author

Chris initially started his career in West Sussex, undertaking a variety of responsibilities in a number of primary and middle schools. He also spent time in Ghana establishing an English Language Development Centre for rural schools with the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), before returning to West Sussex Local Authority where he worked as an SEN and behaviour advisory teacher. 

Since then Chris has worked in a variety of roles and settings building up over 20 years of successful and comprehensive leadership experience leading schools in challenging circumstances. He was also the lead inspector, and headed up the Primary and Secondary Behaviour Team for a London Borough.

Chris now works for The Education People, and utilises his experience, skills and knowledge as an Improvement Advisor within the Primary School Improvement Service.