8 steps to help manage change in schools

The pace of change in education is increasing fast, with new structures, policies, funding formulae and technologies announced seemingly every month. This is particularly hard to cope with in schools who often have highly embedded, overlapping and complex processes which have been in place for years and never questioned. Top that off with a highly time-pressured environment and it makes change hard. “If you want to make enemies, try to change something,”  as the saying goes.

Change is tough but if done right can be transformational

However change is a reality that has to be faced if you want to improve, and rather than ignore it and try to batten down the hatches, Senior Leaders should take the time to learn about how to manage it. If change is well managed, and staggered so as not to overwhelm staff, it can improve outcomes for all stakeholders.

We thought we’d publish our guide for how to manage change (which we use for MIS implementation) so that Senior and Middle Leaders can borrow and adapt it for use inside your school or institution. It’s not meant to be a proscriptive series of steps to be followed, but rather a general guide to help you think through the process and tailor to your own school.

1. Establish a need for change (your “burning platform”)

Identify a compelling need for change with a sense of urgency to maintain momentum throughout the project. If you don’t make the need for change compelling or urgent enough, people won’t see the point.

2. Build up champions to drive through change

Identify champions who have the capability, capacity and positive attitude to help drive through change. It may start with you (it often does!), but it always helps to roll out within a school, department or team you know will have the best chance of success. Remember you can’t do everything alone!

3. Create a compelling vision outlining benefits for all

To get buy in you’ll need a compelling vision. Articulate what success looks like and the benefits this will have for each stakeholder (how much time they’ll get back, how their job will be easier etc). Ideally identify some metrics of measuring success (e.g. number of users logged in, amount of time/money saved, staff satisfaction).

4. Communicate the vision to stakeholders to get buy-in

Communicate the vision publicly to get buy in from your staff for the change and to help support the champions you identified. You’ll never win everyone over, that’s fine, but you’ve at least called out the issue and given it support. Change comes from the top, so you need to be seen to champion it.

5. Empower others to act on the vision

All too often we see projects fail in schools as change is not staggered so it combines with the pressures of daily school life to overwhelm staff. Instead try to phase in change, identify the right time of year for it, and try to get others to be seen to be successful. Staff will then feel empowered, not threatened or overwhelmed.

6. Create and celebrate short-term wins

Try to create quick, meaningful wins to demonstrate success and encourage buy-in. These should be publicised as success stories to galvanise support and overcome inertia. Keep a steady drip of success stories coming to maintain momentum and isolate the naysayers.

7. Measure success and embed change

Demonstrate success further by quantifying it against the success criteria you identified earlier, and publicising results. Use this credibility to change other more entrenched systems and processes.

8. Don’t let up!

Most change initiatives fail by assuming the job is done before change has taken root. Culture is a strong force that takes time to realign. To create and sustain change will require continued demonstration of success and ongoing dialogue with staff.

Evidence for Change Management Working

Arbor has gone through our Change Management process with our Group and Multi-Academy Trust clients. Our Impact Metrics and Net Promoter Scores show consistently high scores given by schools over time, showing that the Change Management Approach and system has helped to create a consistently positive impact, as shown below. That’s one way we measure success, but I’d be keen to hear how you measure yours!


Sample size for each survey  >=300

*positively indicates users respond “sometimes, often or frequently”