7 ways to get school development plans back on track

When Covid is under control, how can you get long-term strategic thinking back on the agenda? This head has some ideas

Katie Tomlinson

Covid: How schools can focus on strategic school development

In 1940, when London was in the midst of bombings, fighting an invasion and dealing with the hopelessness of the Second World War, a small number of Education Board members set about planning a new school system. 

This was the makings of the 1944 Education Act which transformed post-war education in Britain. This far-sightedness was key and shows the values of strategic planning – even as all around you is chaos.

A similar situation has unfolded over the past year – and so just as those leaders in the 1940s showed, we must also look forward and think strategically.

Covid: Strategic planning for school development

Here are seven ways we can prioritise strategic school development to help us emerge stronger from the crisis:

1. Start with the positives

The pandemic has "forced" every stakeholder to think about learning on every level – so consider how you can use that as a springboard for new projects. What could, and should, be kept post-pandemic? Blended learning? Hybrid provisions? Remote parents’ evenings? 

It’s been a tough time but let’s not overlook what we have learned, what we have achieved and what is worth keeping for a post-pandemic world.

2. Make time

You will never find the time or have "spare" time so you will need to carve out time within busy schedules. Block time for strategic focus at least once a month and for no less than an hour.  

Ring-fence and protect this time, resisting the temptation to cancel because urgent matters arise. Consider having "future developments" as a set agenda item for all team meetings to ensure that you have a time and focus for forward-thinking. 

3. Return to your mission

Ask "big questions" and plan developments that align with, and work towards, your core purpose, vision and mission. 

What is it that makes your school special? What is important to you? For your learners? For your context? Don’t lose sight of what you were working towards pre-pandemic – it may be you were just starting something with real impact so revisit that when normality returns.

But, of course, the pandemic may have changed so much that returning to the way things were could seem a backward step now – don’t be afraid to ask if your mission is still relevant and, if not, consider how it can be realigned for the new era.

4. Look for ‘inroads’ with wellbeing and creativity

Development projects after a crisis should bring innovation, a sense of "new life" and re-energise the community – creative and wellbeing-orientated ideas could be key for this.

What about a project driven by the arts and linked with positive mental health?  Some schools are now working towards enriching their provision with artists and musicians in residence.

Others are planning a more structured move into practical learning, such as an apprenticeship programme in a primary school setting.   

5. Involve all stakeholders – including pupils

Engage all members of your community in strategic think tank opportunities. 

Children and young people generally demonstrate a flexibility in their thinking, which may lead to creative and innovative projects for everyone to work towards.

The joy brought directly from student ideas will be a welcome distraction for everyone.

6. Seek out the trailblazers  

Do you have staff who embraced the challenges encountered in a crisis and found new ways of working or problem-solving? Could they become early adopters for the next strategy and development plan?

Consider appointing project leaders based on how staff demonstrated their ability, commitment and flexibility whilst working online – is there a leadership programme that these staff can be fast-tracked into where their capabilities can be harnessed?

7. Be bold and look long into the future

Consider a development plan that takes you beyond the next academic year. What about a five-year plan?

The pandemic will not always be disrupting education so resist the urge for strategic conversations to be only about shorter-term items, such as the recovery curriculum, pastoral support on return and academic catch-up plans.

It may not pan out as you imagine but having an overall goal can help to inform decisions that need to be made in the future.

We all need something else to hope for, to think about, to steer us and to remind us that life will return to "normal", whatever that normal will look like.

Katie Tomlinson is head of primary Sri KDU International School, Malaysia 

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