In June 2016 (when this article was first written) several school leaders, experienced and new, commented to let us know how useful they'd found this article in preparing for the year ahead. In light of this, I decided this week to update it.
The link between self-evaluation and school improvement planning is well known and increasingly, school leaders are realising that making accurate judgements about their school’s performance can lead to highly effective planning for future improvements. Schools which have experienced a section eight inspection will have found out first-hand how important it is that school leaders can justify their judgements, and present focused plans for development and improvement.
This article focuses on how to write effective improvement plans for maximum impact on pupil outcomes. Robust school self-evaluation (SSE) should underpin the school improvement planning cycle, as it gives greater focus to gathering and analysing a range of evidence and making accurate judgements.
When should we write the school improvement plan?
The school improvement plan can only be written after the school has evaluated its performance and, most importantly, thoroughly analysed the outcomes which pupils have achieved. Usually that happens in late July or early September. When analysing outcomes, data about attendance and behaviour must also be considered. Critically, the analysis of data must focus on the outcomes of statutory assessments, examination and test results for all pupils and then for groups of pupils. However, the school’s internal data about different year groups and subjects must also be analysed before the school improvement plan can be drawn up.
That said, for it to be really effective, school improvement planning must also be cyclical; in other words there must be on-going review, updated planning, implementation and evaluation throughout the school year. Furthermore, just as leaders need training in how to make accurate judgements, the skills to draw up effective plans to address any areas for improvement will also require support and training for many school leaders.
What does a cyclical approach entail?
The school carries out an in-depth evaluation of its performance, identifying strengths and areas for improvement or development. These findings are then written up in a self-evaluation report. Using the report, school leaders should then produce an improvement/development plan ensuring that it matches the conclusions identified in the report and the actions which need to be taken.
The plan is then implemented, monitored and evaluated on a termly basis to assess the impact the school improvement plan is having on improving outcomes and performance. Findings are shared with governors and staff and the improvement plan is modified to respond to the evaluation findings.
What should an improvement plan look like?
The plan should be based around the four Ofsted judgement areas, as well as including details about how the school will deliver effective provision for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC). The plan is not a list of everything which the school will do during the year; instead, it is a list of the key objectives which school leaders need to address if the school is to remain or move towards excellent outcomes for pupils.
The plan should include:
- Overall success criteria (which will usually relate to pupil outcomes). Success criteria, which should be quantitative not just qualitative; this is absolutely essential to the success of the plan. Taking time to really think about what will be different after the plan has been implemented, as this will lead to focused actions
- Objectives and targets for improvement. These must be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed) and crucially, the majority must be focused on outcomes for pupils
- Details of the actions which will be taken and the outcomes which will be achieved as a result of each action
- Details of the costed actions required to achieve the targets
- Details of who is responsible for each of the actions
- A timeline for implementation with key dates and/or milestones. The milestones should be measurable, clearly identifying what will be achieved; for example at the end of the first term, then the second and so on
- Details of what, who, when, where and how the impact of the plan will be evaluated
- A space under each key objective for the impact of actions every time the plan is reviewed.
Download the proforma for a school improvement plan that schools I work with use successfully.
How do schools make best use of the SSE report and school improvement plan?
School leaders who make the best use of their self-evaluation report and school improvement plan are those who use them on a continual basis to drive improvement in their schools. The SSE report and the school improvement plan are seen as living documents which are frequently updated and regularly monitored. The school improvement plan forms the basis of senior leadership meetings and progress on priorities is monitored on a weekly basis.
In highly effective schools, the governors receive regular, termly updates on progress towards targets. These updates can be at committee level or at FGB meetings, or can be carried out with link governors. Some schools even include termly updates in the headteacher’s report on the progress of objectives laid out in the plan.
When reviewing the school improvement plan, one approach is to colour code the plan in red, amber or green. However, schools need to beware of RAG rating the actions rather than the outcomes and success criteria. Colouring all the actions green because they have been carried out is not an evaluation of their impact on the outcomes for pupils, which is what is required if the improvement plan is going to make a difference.
How should the plan link to other plans and to appraisal?
The school improvement plan is, in a sense, the master plan; and underneath it should sit all of the other action plans which detail exactly how the identified priorities will be achieved. The staff’s appraisal objectives should link to the priorities for the school, and the CPD programme should support these targets and objectives, whilst relating directly to them. The financial management side of the school should also reflect the targets and priorities identified in the self-evaluation and the school improvement plan.
What tools can support improvement planning?
There are some tools which can support schools with self-evaluation and school improvement planning. These include:
- A monitoring, evaluation and review policy which is shared with everyone. Leaders should not assume that staff understand why they are frequently monitoring and evaluating practice and pupil outcomes, so it is important to take the time to explain what, why and how evaluation will take place
- A monitoring, review and evaluation calendar or schedule which is published and shared with staff and governors. The calendar should link to the assessment policy and practice in the school. There is no point looking at the plan a week before data is collected or the week after the governors’ standards committee meeting
- Agreed formats for completing school improvement plans and action plans which are used by all staff, and include costings. There are many different formats which schools can adopt but if governors and staff are going to be able to track improvements, then it helps if everyone in the school is using the same format. However, when middle leaders take up their roles and are asked to write an action plan they will need training and support if they are to do it well
- A training or development programme for leaders, middle leaders and appropriate staff, which focuses on making accurate judgements that contribute to self–evaluation and improvement planning.
What about school governors and improvement planning?
The Ofsted handbook tells us that governors are expected to provide a balance of challenge and support to leaders, and to understand the strengths, as well as the areas needing improvement at the school. This is why it is so essential to involve them in reviewing the different parts of the school improvement plan. The different sections of the plan should be delegated to the various appropriate committees and progress on priorities and targets should be part of the meeting schedule. It is also very important that governors review their own performance. Chairs of governors should be encouraged to have a 360 degree appraisal of their performance so that they can be reflective and have greater impact.
With regard to governors self-evaluating their own performance, there are a selection of useful tools available including:
And finally, Pupil Premium Funding…
Schools are under great pressure to monitor and evaluate the impact of pupil premium funding, and the impact it is having on closing gaps in achievement and attainment between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. Leaders, including governors, should monitor:
- The level of pupil premium funding received by the school in the current academic year, and levels of funding received in previous academic years
- How leaders and governors have spent the pupil premium to address any barriers to learning faced by disadvantaged pupils, the rationale for their spending decisions and the intended impact of the spending on pupil outcomes.
The pupil premium review should focus on any improvements which have been made to the learning and progress of disadvantaged pupils, and how this can be measured and shown by outcomes data and inspection evidence.