A few people setting out complex and weighty aspirations is a recipe for failure. Felicity Taylor offers practical development suggestions which broaden participation while seeking measurable successes
In the current enthusiasm for planning it is easy to forget that most of a school's time and resources will be taken up with keeping the school on the road. As headteacher Kevin MacAleese says: "The key question in development planning is how, on the one hand, to preserve what is already admirable and fine in a school and, on the other, how to respond positively to innovation and the challenge of change."
Many school development plans are hopelessly overloaded, with the Office for Standards in Education is often to blame. Many schools have rushed to get in place the policies they think inspection team will want to see, regardless of whether these have been properly prepared or related to the real needs of the school.
That leads to the second factor in successful planning. Whether or not a development plan is effective depends much more on the process by which it has been prepared than on the statement of good intentions that it contains. A plan written entirely by the head and presented for rubber stamping to the governors, and as a fait accompli to the staff, stands less chance of being implemented than one in which all the interested parties have had their say.
Governors bring a different perspective and other skills to planning. Taking part in the process can help to establish new roles and relationships and improve teamwork, both in the governing body and in relations between the school and the governors.
Commitment to policies and plans is more likely when the planning process begins in working parties and committees on which both governors and staff are represented. This is not to devalue the importance of distinguishing between the strategic role of governors and the operational role of the head. Governors cannot themselves write the plan nor can they implement it. The skill and expertise of the professional staff is crucial for its success.
Consulting about school policy can often seem frustrating and time-consuming, but dispute and disaffection waste much more time and effort. An established framework for consultation that everyone knows can help avoid repetitive discussion.
One example of such a framework might be: * A draft is prepared by the relevant manager or committee; * It is circulated widely with a deadline for comment; * Comments are synthesised by the lead writer and referred back to the committee; * The committee reviews and if necessary revises the draft * This is then put up for final approval.
However, consultation should not be an excuse for woolly-mindedness and vague aspirations. Clear decisions must be taken about development and maintenance priorities. Objectives should be SMART - shorthand for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed.
Specific - because it is so easy to slip into apple pie aspirations such as "reading will improve throughout the school". Much more purposeful is an objective or target which states the level of improvement in reading standards aimed at for each year group.
Measurable because how else is it possible to know if you have achieved them? There are very few things that can't be quantified in a helpful way if you identify clearly the specific actions that will raise standards.
Achievable because people will soon become disheartened if the objectives are way beyond their reach. Success in achieving a few objectives is more likely to encourage more commitment and further success.
Relevant because the objectives must be appropriate. Although national standards can be a useful benchmark, they have to be tempered by knowledge of the school and its community. Governors should ask themselves how far the objectives bear directly on raising the quality of education. An objective could be chosen because it was easily identified and easily measurable, without having much real effect on learning.
Timed because it concentrates the mind wonderfully to know that there is a limit to the time available. A time limit also provides a focus for reviewing and if necessary revising objectives.
It is all too easy to forget the most important resource, the staff. All schools should carry out an audit of staff qualifications, skills and experience, and relate this to the shortfalls identified in the development plan. Appraisal should cover some of the plan's objectives. Developing people is just as important as developing the curriculum as it can change school cultures and staff attitudes.
The development plan should be a major factor when setting up an in-service training policy. There needs to be a balance between personal and professional development. Individual teachers and pupils have to understand what needs to be done to improve; know how to go about it and have the determination to do it. They can't do this unless the objectives are clear and reasonable.
How to set up a plan
Development plans can range from a 50-page booklet to a single sheet of paper, but the simpler the better. A summary sheet should have four headings - focus; lead person; start date; completion date - and a more detailed planning sheet for each separate area is easy to use. Drawing up the plan is the easy part: implementation and evaluation can fall by the wayside. So the governing body should be continually monitoring progress. The cycle involves aims, analysis, consultation and objectives. (See below).
Aims: improvement and change cannot begin without clarity about the aims of the school. The first stage before beginning any planning or policy making is to have some kind of consensus about what the school is for. Then it is possible to undertake the analysis and audit of where the school is now: Analysis: one approach is called SWOT analysis: reviewing school's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Consultation involves collecting information over a period, from discussions with staff, governors and parents, questionnaires, brain-storming and national and local initiatives. One school found that even casual comments from parents and visitors could be useful when systematically recorded and analysed.
Objectives should be concerned with target-setting and evaluation. Target setting is deciding what you expect to achieve, who will be responsible for each section of the plan, the time-scale, how results will be monitored and evaluated and what support and professional development will be given to staff.
Evaluation involves regular reports to governing body meetings and detailed monitoring of each aspect by the various committees. Some questions governors might ask include: Is it going according to plan? Are the outcomes generally useful? What effect has the work had on classroom learning? How do pupils, staff, parents and governors view the plan? Did the school take on too much? Do we know what factors, if any, hindered the work? What changes need to be made to the plan?
Everyone involved in the school should be aware of the plan and a report on its progress should be included in the annual report to parents. It is easy to get so bound up with the process that you forget to celebrate success.
Felicity Taylor is the co-director of the Institute of School and College Governors
Questions about planning and policies: * Are we doing as well as we should?
* Are we setting sensible targets for our pupils?
* What is the link between the SDP and levels of learning?
* Are the policies well evaluated and hard data being collected?
* Is the SDP a servant or a master?
* Is the school prepared to take a risk to do interesting things?
* Is the SDP the death knell for professional development that is liberating, inspiring and relevant?
* What are the plans for continuing current good practice?
* Have we planned where the resources are to come from?
* Are we using all the comparative data available?