How to write an effective school development plan

Maddie Kilminster - 7 June, 2021

Category : Blog

How to write an effective school development plan

School staff work hard every day to improve standards and student outcomes. But it’s the responsibility of School Leaders to bring staff, parents and the wider school community together behind core values and objectives which focus their attention and efforts. As students’ circumstances have changed during the pandemic, schools have had to be flexible with

School staff work hard every day to improve standards and student outcomes. But it’s the responsibility of School Leaders to bring staff, parents and the wider school community together behind core values and objectives which focus their attention and efforts.

As students’ circumstances have changed during the pandemic, schools have had to be flexible with their resources, making quick decisions in order to prioritise what’s best for students. In many cases, schools have made vast improvements to the way they work, faster than they would have before. More students now have access to devices at home, staff have gained extra digital skills, and school communities have been brought closer together.

Above all, Covid-19 has brought to light the students who need the most support, and schools now have the opportunity now to put objectives in place that will really help them long term.

What is a school improvement plan?

The School Improvement Plan or School Development Plan (SDP) is the central document in which School Leaders map out their strategic plans for the development of their school. Based around the school’s established values, it sets out the actions and resources needed to achieve priority objectives. It is often shared with Governors and published on the school’s website.

All other key plans, such as staff appraisal objectives and CPD programmes tie back to the SDP. The school’s strategic financial plan will also link closely to the strategic improvement objectives, in order to plan sufficient funding to achieve them. 

Every school’s SDP will look different, but the most important thing about an SDP is that it’s developed based on evidence of where the school is at, and what it can realistically achieve in order to best support its students. It is also a living document that’s reviewed and updated in an ongoing cycle.

How to write an effective school development plan

When you come to write your SDP, there are several resources you can draw on. First, refer to your four-year strategic plan which will provide the foundation of your key aims. Second, return to last year’s plan to assess what you’ve achieved and how your priorities might have changed. Third, your strategic financial plan (usually written in January) will show you where you’ve committed spending, and what still needs to be addressed as part of your four-year plan. 

Next, remember you’ll need to back up each of your objectives with evidence showing why you’ve identified each focus area, and what your actions will achieve. For this, you’ll need to first carry out a school self-evaluation (SSE) which will help you judge your school’s past performance, strengths and areas for improvement. Your SDP should then align with each of the points in your SSE report.  

Check out guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation on how to create school plans this year.  

Step 1: Write a school self-evaluation (SSE) report

The first (and arguably most important) step in creating an effective SDP is to really understand your school’s performance in depth, including the attainment gaps between different student groups and the factors that cause them. You should look at both summative and internal assessment data in order to build a full picture of how students have been doing this year compared to previous years.

Discover how Arbor’s free Insight performance reports could help you prepare your SDP.

In combination with your past performance data, you can also look at data from other sources, such as:

  • Centre-assessed GCSE and A Level predictions
  • Progress data during lockdown 
  • School context and demographic information (e.g numbers of Pupil Premium, Free School Meals and Disadvantaged students) 
  • Findings from any surveys to students during lockdown (e.g. how they experienced working from home). This could provide you with some useful qualitative data on the wellbeing of your students. 

Step 2: Challenge your data

Look critically at your performance data before writing up your SSE report. Ask questions like “Why did these trends happen?” and “Are they typical of our school?” These will help to make sure your judgments are not based on any bias or previous assumptions.

The best way to make informed judgments about your school’s performance is to benchmark against schools like you nationally and in your LA (local authority). Arbor Insight reports will help you with this, by showing you:

  • What happened last year, and in the last 3 years in your school
  • Whether it was typical for your school
  • What happened in schools in the UK, your LA and schools like you, and whether this was typical

But you still might not know:

  • Why it happened
  • Why it’s typical of your school
  • How to address the problems and consolidate the successes

You can take two approaches to help answer these questions:

1. The Socratic approach – Think about your data from various angles (e.g. “Do boys underperform in reading in all year groups?”, “How does this affect SEN pupils?”, “Should we look for another reason for this?”) to uncover any hidden assumptions you might have before taking action

2. Ask “why” 5 times – This single, repetitive question is a really useful way to dig deeper into the context behind your results and again, challenge your assumptions

Step 3: Consider the impact of Covid-19

A big focus of most SDPs this year will be how to get students back on track after lockdown. Your Governors will need to understand the impact of partial school closures on students’ learning and wellbeing to help them review your plans for recovery.

To understand the impact of Covid-19 on your students’ attainment, you might have carried out various baseline tests, and compared these results with where students were at before lockdown. Full and broad evidence of students’ prior performance will help you reliably understand what has changed and set the most effective goals for how to get students back on track. 

Think about other areas that have been impacted by the pandemic, such as students’ mental health and wellbeing. Find out how The Mead Academy Trust investigated how students’ vulnerability, educational needs and wellbeing had changed as a result of Covid-19, and the interventions they’re putting in place to support students.

Similarly, hear how Aspirations Academies Trust are banning the terms “catch-up” and “behind”, to focus on positive recovery.

What to include in your SIP

Schools should structure their School Improvement Plans (or School Development Plans) around Ofsted’s four inspection categories:

1. Quality of education
2. Behaviour and attitudes
3. Personal development
4. Leadership and management

Under each category, you should map out your key objectives with actions and targets associated with each of them. A good model to use is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed), which means making clear the associated costs, timescales and resourcing needed to achieve each of your objectives.

Get advice from education advisor, writer and speaker, Mary Myatt on how to carve out time for satisfying work on curriculum improvement

Check out these helpful articles in Schools Week about how to improve sectors of your curriculum: Science, Maths, RE.

School Improvement Plan template

If you’re a new Headteacher, it can be really useful to have a look at example SDPs from other schools, particularly those with similar sizes, cohorts, or in your geographical area. 

The Key for School Leaders has some great guidance and resources on creating your SDP, including a school improvement plan (SIP) template and checklists to help you implement and evaluate your SIP

Share it for feedback

As you’re writing your plan, it’s important to share your findings, judgments and reasoning with your Governors and staff, so you can work together to perfect it. Governors will especially have an eye on how you plan to close certain high-profile gaps in attainment such as disadvantaged students.

Track the success of your plan

As the school year goes on, the needs of your students may change (the world they live in certainly will!). That’s why your school improvement planning should be done in cycles; with ongoing evaluation throughout the year to help you figure out what’s working. 

If the objectives you set in your SDP are measurable, you’ll know what evidence you need to look at to work out if you’re on track. The most effective way to track the impact of your school improvement initiatives is in your MIS. Systems like Arbor give you a clear, visual view of how your students are doing at school or MAT level across behaviour, attendance and attainment. It’s then easy to problem-solve your student performance and understand the root factors using relevant information such as students’ background and personal circumstances.

This evidence will show you where you might need to tweak the focus of your objectives so they have a more meaningful impact.

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