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Clarify your plans and priorities

It is all too easy to get overwhelmed by plans. Most schools have them - usually a development plan - and some schools have quite a few different plans. Often it is the job of governors to comment on the content, suggest changes and, finally, approve a school's plan.

Plans also have their own language, with terms such as vision, mission, aims, objectives, priorities, targets, goals appearing regularly, as well as buzzwords and phrases such as "key performance indicators". Fortunately, in my experience in the voluntary sector and health, schools are way down the league table in terms of the number of plans they have.

Someone said to me at a recent governors' meeting, during an interminable discussion about the difference between an "aim" and an "objective", that he didn't care about plans so long as "the job gets done". It's an understandable view, but a good plan does have its place: it allows a school to clarify what it is trying to achieve and enables governors to monitor progress.

However, in assessing a draft plan, you need to know what to look out for. First, it is important that all governors and staff have a common understanding of the main terms. You need to know that when you discuss particular "objectives", you all mean the same thing, particularly as "activities" are often described as "objectives". An objective is to "improve the literacy of Year 5"; what you do to achieve this is an activity.

Governors also need to beware of endless priorities. Long lists of priorities usually indicate ineffective thinking and a difficulty in focusing on what is most important. So, instead of asking, "What are the priorities in the plan?", ask staff to tell you what isn't a priority.

Alan Wells, Chair of governors at a north-east London primary school and former director of the Basic Skills Agency.

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