Adam Reed

Director of School Improvement

  • Experienced Middle & Senior Leader
  • Specialises in data, curriculum and leadership training

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Your School Development Plan checklist

It’s that time of year again… the best schools write school development plans that mean something, go somewhere, achieve something.  Some heads don’t write one at all!

Beyond school development plans, there is much talk in education of the ‘why’ recently.  In maths, we are increasingly focused on reasoning and conceptual understanding (the ‘why’ of maths), in OFSTED preparation and curriculum design we are focusing on Intent (the ‘why’ of our curriculum), and in wellbeing and pupil cognitive development we focus on the ‘why’ of learning and the ‘why’ of emotional response.  So what’s the ‘why’ of your School Development Plan?

  • Sharing the direction of travel

Staff, leaders, governors – all need a clear understanding of what their key priorities are.  This is one way of making sure we ‘keep the main thing the main thing’, and don’t get distracted by new initiatives or shiny new developments.

  • Delegation by Design

A clear SDP allows us to really clearly see how delegation can not only be used to manage workload and therefore wellbeing, but also how the SDP can be used to develop staff by giving them new opportunities to explore and excel.  The SDP is a working record of this.

  • Common language, common goals

By centralising the core actions for all employees, we have a chance to make sure that everyone has a clearer, deep understanding of what it is we are hoping to achieve, how and why.

  • It is both a monitoring tool as well as a planning tool

Leadership vs Management – a common dichotomy.  But perhaps we’d do better to view them both as essential.  On our leadership courses I refer to these two elements as complimentary parts of whole (“All leadership and no management is just a dream, all management and no leadership is just a nightmare!” [Anon]).  When we write our SDP, we are also writing the map for what each person should be doing at each stage of the coming year – so let’s make sure it fits with our monitoring and performance management practices.

So, to help us towards a SDP checklist, allow me to turn to the work of Rudyard Kipling:

“I KEEP six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who." [R Kipling]

This gives us an excellent view of a simple structure that we can use to set out our SDP areas.  If we can answer those 6 key questions from Kipling, we will be well on the way to setting in motion clear actions and intended outcomes to move our school forward.

Next, let’s turn to the world beyond education in terms of setting a number of priorities:

If everything is a priority, nothing is.” [Karen Martin]

In short, this means find two or three KEY drivers and actions for the whole year.  This might mean enlarging some previously separate ‘actions’ to give fewer, bolder action points that more people have an input into.  In this way, we do several things: we get people working collectively rather than individually.  We remove the impact of Goodheart’s Law on one person, one action, one target, one measure.  We also ensure that everyone in our school knows exactly what everyone is focusing on, giving greater feeling of community, connectedness and shared ownership of goals.

Finally, in line with our Path to Success, we need to connect our thinking.  A SDP that is isolated from IDSR, Performance Management, CPD planning, monitoring plans, SEF, pedagogy and practice expectations etc. is arguably no SDP at all.  It becomes a rubber-stamped document that has little impact on anyone – most importantly, no impact on our pupils.  Therefore, we need to ensure that the language, the tone, the actions and – most of all – the impact of our SDP are common across all of the documents and areas of work I’ve outlined above.  If we don’t do this, then what’s the ‘why’ of our SDP?

Perhaps using a coding or colouring system we can link areas of SDP to individual PM targets, or to subject action plans, or to leadership termly actions, or to governance visits.  If we find a way of coding and connecting, then surely our approach will become connected, cohesive and, therefore, IMPACTful.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to writing the ‘perfect’ SDP.  But in the hundreds of schools we have supported across the UK, the above guidance has helped experienced leaders to review, clarify and then communicate their vision and journey for growing, successful schools.

A quick review?

Remember your Kipling

Remember Karen Martin

Remember to keep the main thing the main thing

Remember to connect

Remember to communicate the ‘why of your SDP

If you’d like to know more about how we can support your school in finding more effective ways of connecting your SDP to your school’s journey towards excellence, please do not hesitate to contact us.