Don't relax after early success

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Lots of schools face challenges that involve turnaround
Lots of schools face challenges that involve turnaround. They can be to improve results, attendance, staff performance or funding. Effective turnaround addresses a specific challenge so that the focus is no longer an issue. This sounds simple, but often turnaround plans go wrong quite quickly because those responsible - the headteacher, staff, and governors - lose sight of what the plan is trying to achieve.

A plan is important. A good one contains a coherent strategy for achieving objectives and is more than a loose list of discrete actions. The best turnaround plans are simple, without too many aims and objectives, and have a clear timeline, which can be monitored by staff and the governing body.

Let me give an example. At the school where I am chair of governors, turnaround is crucial. Although we are described as a "new" school, we are, in reality, a primary school with a new name occupying the same site as a previous failing junior school. We have inherited historic but dilapidated buildings and the poor reputation of our predecessor. Through no fault of our own, we have also inherited a significant budget deficit that cannot be cleared in a single year. So we are faced with turning around standards, the inherited reputation and the budgetary position of the school.

We have made progress in a short time and believe we will succeed. However, in my experience, most turnaround plans eventually fail because early success lulls people into a false sense that not much more effort is needed. So actions slip and timescales have to be revised. Thus, when you appear to have achieved turnaround success, put in even more effort.

Alan Wells, Chair of governors at a north-east London primary.

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