The best laid plans do make a difference

6th October 1995 at 01:00
School improvement needs planning; systematic, sustained effort on behalf of all those involved.

But what impact do school development plans really have on the management and organisation of the school, on the professional development of teachers and, on pupils' learning in the classroom?

We looked at nine primary schools in three very different local education authorities. What we found was that school development plans can be an effective way to help improve a school but not all development plans lead to school improvement.

There seemed to us to be four different kinds of development plan: o Rhetorical: a paper plan with no sense of purpose shared by head and staff; links between priorities and budget are missing and there are no evaluation strategies.

o Singular: owned by the head alone. Clear priorities make organisation more efficient but no involvement with staff and little focus on teaching and learning or staff development means little impact in the classroom.

o Co-operative: Head and teachers co-operate in school-wide improvement and staff development though evaluation often lacks rigour. Professional relationships improve but improvements for pupils less evident.

o Corporate: central focus on teaching and improving the quality of children's learning. Teachers, support staff, governors, parents and pupils unite to improve effectiveness.

The different types represent a continuum from the least effective, the rhetorical plan, which had a negative impact, to the most effective, the corporate plan, which had a very positive impact.

It is of particular significance that while five of the schools had a co-operative type of plan, which resulted in positive improvements in the management and organisation of the school and the professional development of staff, only two schools had a corporate type of plan, which lead also to discernible improvements in learning opportunities for pupils in the classroom.

There were three characteristics which marked out the corporate plan as the most effective: o commitment of all staff to the priorities for improvement.

o monitoring strategies and evaluation criteria were well developed.

o pupils were the focus for improvement.

We found that the corporate plan seeks to develop strong links between pupil learning, teacher development and school-wide improvement. This finding raises questions about the "pay-off" for pupils in respect of the time and money invested by schools in staff development programmes.

Our study has revealed that development planning is much more complex than many of those advocating its use have recognised.

Planning Matters - The Impact of Development Planning in Primary Schools by Barbara MacGilchrist, Peter Mortimore, Jane Savage and Charles Beresford is published by Paul Chapman.

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