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Blueprints for primary colour

Almost all schools now have a development plan of some kind, but what impact does it have on a school as a whole, the professional development of teachers, or pupils' learning? These were the questions we wanted to answer during the three-year research project we are just completing.

We looked at nine schools in three different local authorities, from small rural schools to larger suburban and inner city primaries. In each we interviewed the head, two class teachers, the chair of governors and a parent governor. We also followed the progress of 18 different classes over two years as well as collecting a wide range of documentary evidence.

Our initial analysis suggests that school development plans do make a difference. But just what kind of difference depends upon the type of plan in use. We found that development plans varied from one that was no more than a few words a piece of paper and had a negative effect, to one that had a significant impact on all aspects of the school. Plans differed in their purpose, context, content and the part they played in the management process, but overall we found four different kinds: The rhetorical plan In schools with this type of plan the headteacher and class teachers do not have a shared sense of ownership and purpose. Leadership and management of the planning process is weak and the written plan itself is not a working document. There are no links between the many priorities in the plan and budget decisions or the school's INSET programme.

Evaluation strategies are lacking and, not surprisingly, the impact of the plan is negative, particularly for class teachers who become frustrated and disillusioned with the rhetoric and distanced from their head. There is a limited sense of control over the plan and the planning process and doubts that the time and effort given to the plan will result in action and benefits for the school.

The singular plan This is owned by the head alone, who uses it for his or her own purposes. It is used as a management tool to improve the efficient organisation of the school. It helps to make the headteacher feel more confident and provides a means of accounting to governors. The management of the process is dominated by the headteacher but, like the previous plan, it is not a working document for the whole school and there is little or no financial and professional development to achieve the priorities set. The lack of involvement of class teachers and the lack of focus on teaching mean that this type of plan has a limited impact. It results in an improvement in the overall organisation of the school, but it does not have any influence on the work of teachers and children in class.

The co-operative plan Schools with this type use it for various purposes. The head and class teachers co-operate in an effort to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of the school.

The focus of the plan is school-wide improvement and the professional development of teachers. The management of the process is shared by some key members of the teaching staff, many of whom are members of the senior management team, and the head plays a strong leadership role.

While not all the teachers are involved in deciding the content of the plan, there is a general willingness and an opportunity to participate in the process. Unlike the first two types of plans, the written co-operative plan is a practical working document and money is allocated to support it. Teachers' learning is seen to be important and there is a linked programme of professional development. Implementing the plan tends to be the teachers'job alone. While there is a growing sense of control over the process, evaluation procedures often lack rigour.

This type of plan results in improvements in whole-school management, professional relationships and teachers' effectiveness. But improvements for children are less evident.

The corporate plan We found that it was this type of plan that made the greatest difference. There is a central focus on teaching and improving the quality of children's learning. Teachers and others, such as governors, support staff, parents and pupils, are involved in a united effort to improve both the efficiency of the school and its overall effectiveness. There is a sense of control over, and confidence in, the plan and the planning process. The written document is practical and open. Management is shared among the teachers. Money and staff development are clearly linked to the implementation of the plan. The continuous nature of development planning is recognised and monitoring strategies are good. All teachers have a sense of responsibility for the outcome.

The powerful characteristics of the corporate plan combine to produce an impact on the school as a whole, on teachers in classrooms and, most importantly, on the quality of learning. The school is a learning community in which the head and class teacher work together to improve their practice.

A key finding of this study then is that development planning can be used as a school improvement strategy. But not all plans achieve this aim. This means that self-management does not automatically lead to self-improvement.

* This ESRC funded project wasco-directed by Professor Peter Mortimore, director, and Dr Barbara MacGilchrist, dean of initial teacher education, at the Institute of Education. The full-time research officer was Jane Savage, a lecturer at the Institute and the project was also assisted by Dr Charles Beresford, an educational consultant.

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