I’ve been involved in writing school improvement plans (SIPs) for a long time. My earliest real recollection of school improvement plans was as an NQT and being given a copy of the SIP by my then headteacher. I was told to read it, and become “familiar” with it, in case anyone asked. There was nothing in the document that meant anything to me nor anything that seemed to have a direct impact on my day-to-day work as a newly qualified teacher. So I thought little more about it.
The following year, I was again given a copy of the latest SIP – but this time I was told not only to read it, but to formulate an action plan to sit alongside it. The action plan was for art and design (the subject I was asked to co-ordinate following my probationary year) and I was to pick out key bits from the SIP to help direct me as to what actions I would take to develop art and design. I was given a proforma and off I went. I can’t really recall what I wrote down but I do remember the plan joining a myriad of other action plans from a myriad other teachers in the school which formed an appendix in the SIP. This created a mammoth document of such length it seemed to me almost impossible to keep it as a “working” document.
As I progressed through my career I encountered various models for formulating, writing and sharing a school improvement plan, some better than others, but the end result was usually a lengthy document. And inside the document were tables, grids, more tables and more grids.
A few years ago I decided to reflect more seriously on the school improvement planning process. I decided to start with a simple question: how do we know what we want to improve? The answer, it seemed to me, was that a very small well of sources informed us: our continuous school self-review and evaluation model (SSRE); data pertaining to standards, attainment and achievement; and what we were told by our partners and stakeholders – teachers, pupils, parents, the community and/or the government.
And of course, data feeds into our self-review and evaluation so they’re clearly linked, as is that which we are told by stakeholders and partners – another clear link. I decided to refer to these three aspects as the SIP drivers. These drivers would lead us to choose three priorities for improvement over the course of the academic year. And the SIP document would be a concise, strategic, big-picture tool which showed the steps which would be taken by the school as it moves to improve in the three areas identified.
My model begins with an SIP Overview, and at it’s heart sit the three key drivers. Each rose-coloured ring represents a priority objective for improvement as informed by one of the key drivers. The outer blue ring represents everything else that still needs attention and improvement – such as policy updates – but these factors are less of a priority than those represented by the rose rings.
For each driver’s priority, an SIP wheel is then developed. At the centre sits the priority objective – fed into on the left by the SIP driver and identified lead professional, leading out on the right towards detailed success criteria and monitoring arrangements.
Surrounding the priority objective are eight “actions” which will, if delivered, contribute towards meeting the priority objective. The rose-coloured segments identify (from outside going inwards) the action, the milestones and success criteria, the person responsible and the time-scale. This is in looser language than on my previous SIPs and deliberately so – remember this document is big picture rather than fine, minute detail. I’ve come to favour capturing these aspects in question form – its relevant and workable.
The blue coloured outer ring represents all the other factors contributing towards the objective.
Finally, as School Improvement Plans should ultimately lead to improvements in pupils’ learning, the impact of meeting the priority objective upon pupil learning is detailed to the lower righthand side of the wheel.
Take a moment to search for some school improvement plans online. There is some variety but almost all remain overly long whereas my model acknowledges there are lots and lots of plates being spun and new plates being added all the time, but it deliberately chooses a realistic number for priority and focus; almost all are a version of a grid or table with no sense of where objectives and goals are plucked from – my model uses three key drivers to help identify the aspects for improvement; and almost all are too unwieldily to work through, to share, to understand or to be engaged by, inspired by or drawn to. Thats all opinion, of course. But its an opinion which has helped me settle on this model which I find gives greater clarity when developing my SIP. You can see an example of one of my school’s SIPs here: Dhoon School Improvement Plan 2017-18
Sitting alongside this approach to school improvement planning is my firm belief that not all school improvement happens (a) because its on the school improvement plan or (b) because it is guided by some great strategic document or action plan. So much of what I can see happening across my schools are “little improvements” that occur without needing to have been mapped out on an official piece of paper. Although school improvement plans are still required to outline how the schools will tackle the key priorities for development or improvement, I don’t want these to be the “be all and end all.” There are so many other things that colleagues think of along the way and a whole host of other things that have been part of previous plans but now just continue to grow and develop through consolidation, tweaking and refining as they become more embedded and better established in our routines, expectations and practice. Put all of these extra improvements together and add in the refined and ever evolving ongoing work and the cumulative effect adds greatly to the sense of continuous school improvement. It makes school improvement more about process than outcome and refocuses aspects of it so that it becomes journey led rather than destination bound.
In an earlier blog I elaborate further on this notion that school improvement doesn’t have to be on the school improvement plan.
The impact of this model and my approach to school improvement planning is that things happen: its small enough to be manageable and big enough to make a difference. The visual element makes its easier to share and the introduction of improvement drivers allows everyone to see exactly why we are focussing on certain aspects and where the objectives have come from. Including “partners” or “stakeholders” as a driver is also a useful mechanism for making sure that everyone is included and that everyone can buy into it; I wanted to avoid that feeling of irrelevance that I encountered as an NQT.
The National College for Training and Leadership tell us that bringing about school improvement is both complex and challenging. It requires school leaders to establish clear processes that staff can understand and do not lead to either confusion or a morass of paperwork – so next time you sit down to write a school improvement plan ask yourself whether there is a different way. You might just find one.