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Writing a strategic improvement plan: ten top tips for your middle leaders

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At some point nearly all middle leaders will be asked to write a strategic improvement plan. Whether this is for a specific subject, a phase in the school or a department – the ability to plan strategically is usually a core requirement of the role. Below we outline ten top tips for your middle leaders to keep in mind when preparing and writing such a plan.

  1. Ensure there is synchronicity: Before embarking on your own plan, it is essential that you make yourself aware of what is in the overall school improvement plan, particularly as it relates to your area of responsibility. Any references to your subject / area of responsibility that are in the whole-school improvement plan should also be reflected in yours. Having a whole-school improvement plan and an individual subject plan which pull in different directions is a recipe for disaster. This is also a good opportunity to find out the amount of time and resources you are likely to be allocated to you. Will you be given the CPD time and resources you need to put your strategies into action?
  2. Write a Position Statement: Before you begin to consider your strategies for improvement, it is a good idea to write a short position statement. In this you should outline exactly how things stand in your area of responsibility right now. Where are the strengths and weaknesses as you see them? Be as specific as possible i.e. “teaching of fluency in maths is a strength, but developing our children’s problem solving skills is not yet well developed across the school.” Take the time to share this with senior leaders in the school to ensure they agree with your analysis. You then have a clear base from which to work, and against which you can measure your success.
  3. Write a vision statement: Next you should consider outlining your vision for your subject. Where would you like things to be in one, two and three years’ time? Again try to be as specific as possible e.g. “by the end of year one, monitoring will demonstrate that…, by the end of year two…” Not only will this help give you an overall sense of direction, but it will also help you to consider how to sequence the improvement plan over a two to three year period – you can’t achieve everything you want to immediately!
  4. Be specific: You will almost certainly already be aware of the ‘SMART’ acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound). It is a well-rehearsed, but useful approach to setting targets / objectives. It is essential that in your plan you outline some specific objectives that will lead to improvements “Improving outcomes for pupils in science” is too vague. How will you do this? By how much? By when? By sticking to the SMART principles you can’t go far wrong.
  5. Don’t try to do too much: A common mistake people make when planning for improvement is to try to do too much or to ‘over-promise’. You won’t be able to do everything at once or this will just lead to ‘initiative overload’. Equally you are unlikely to be given enough time to do everything you want to do. The key is to prioritise – which one or two things are most important right now? The lower priorities can remain on the plan but may not be addressed until next year or the year after.
  6. Consider your timescales: This is linked to point five. Once you have identified your priorities, start to map out when you see yourself acting on each objective. This can be broken down into half-terms, terms and years. Having a linked document that outlines when you will carry out each activity / launch specific strategies will give your planning an overall sense of coherence and direction. It is highly advisable to share this with senior leaders too to check that they agree with your approach. Be prepared to amend the timings to fit in with the bigger picture of school improvement.
  7. What will success look like? It is essential that you consider how you will know if your plan is working. This can be done overall, or for each specific objective you set. On the plan you need to outline your success criteria are so that you can measure progress against these. Again, precise success criteria are better than vague ones.
  8. Monitoring the impact: This is the ‘review’ stage of the plan-do-review cycle. You need to build in time to monitor how well things are working and the impact they are having on pupils. Monitoring can take a variety of forms from pupil conferencing to lesson observations. It is useful to have a short set of questions or lines of enquiry to pursue during the monitoring activity. This will keep your monitoring focused. When reviewing the impact of your work, it is important to keep an open mind, not just to seek confirmation that your strategy was right all along (although hopefully this will often be true). An effective leader knows when to stick to their guns, but equally has the courage to alter course or amend initial plans when the feedback suggests this is the best option.
  9. Budget Implications: It is wise to outline any budget or resourcing implications. This will allow you to see how much each strategy / action will cost and whether it offers value for money. It also reminds you to check whether the funds are available in the first place! Remember to include any training costs as well as resources. You may also want to consider the cost in terms of time here. How many staff meetings, INSET days will this require?
  10. Sharing the Plan: It is always advisable to share your improvement plan with as many people as possible. This has two benefits: 1. By making a public commitment, you are far more likely to follow it through, 2. If people understand the big picture of what you are trying to do, you are far more likely to achieve ‘buy-in’ from staff. They don’t necessarily need the intricate details at this stage, but it is important they understand the overall direction of travel and the part they will play within it. It also affords people the opportunity to offer their feedback before you embark on the plan.

On our website we have a template which you can adapt and use when designing your own strategic improvement plan, it can be accessed here.

Page Published: 06/03/2017