Prepared for a changing world

14th April 1995 at 01:00
Development Planning for School Improvement, Edited by David Hargreaves and David Hopkins, Cassell Pounds 12.99, O 3O4 33103 1

Graham Handscomb on the importance of development planning. Development planning is very much in vogue. It is clearly the product of an age characterised by relentless external demands on schools and continuous change.

The editors of this international collection of articles have been in the vanguard of the development planning movement and define it as "a response to the management of multiple innovations . . . and the perceived need for a systematic and whole school approach to planning".

In helping schools to retain control and bring coherence to the increasingly confused educational world they inhabit, development planning has much to commend it. However, like most fashions it has started to develop a life and an impetus of its own. Comparatively little research has been done to establish exactly what difference development planning makes to a school and its capacity to improve itself.

This book is partly an attempt to remedy that deficiency. It works best when detailed research accounts question and challenge conventional development planning wisdom, but proves deeply disappointing where contributions merely serve as uncritical padding to perpetuate development planning rhetoric.

There are a number of important themes running through the book. Development planning arose out of the ashes of the school self-evaluation work of the 1980s, and Peter Cuttance cites the failure of this movement as being its lack of genuine whole school approach and insufficient emphasis on implementation.

Both of these are taken as key issues in a number of chapters. Staff participation and collaboration are held to be central to development planning, and Hilary Constable reports on some woeful practice in English schools. The examples are so crass that one suspects a narrow and somewhat caricatural selection, but it is difficult to judge as no research sampling information is given. Other writers interestingly take a critical perspective of the concept of collaboration. In their very readable case study of the experience of a newly appointed primary head teacher, Elizabeth Newman and Andrew Pollard provocatively portray the tension between proclaiming the rhetoric of development planning on the one hand, and the pragmatic need to exercise leadership power on the other.

In her New Zealand research account, Viviane Robinson develops this theme to explore school leaders' "difficulty of striking a balance between autonomy and the accountability of their staff", claiming that "the most common response is to tolerate, protect and avoid confrontation of the ineffective subordinate".

Such concerns lead a number of contributors to emphasis the importance of "managed participation" (Colin Biott et al), and to raise alarm at development planning being "explicitly . . . used as a basis for accountability".

Sadly little is advanced in establishing clear links between effective schools and development planning. Daniel Levine's attempt to show what makes some effective schools in the United States so successful is lost in tortuous verbiage. Equally flawed is the work of Janet Hodgson and colleagues whose somewhat naive portrayal of a higher education school support programme suggests that LEAs had already totally vacated the scene.

The most powerful contributions are those which are alert to the danger of the development planning written document and the yearly planning cycle becoming monoliths overshadowing the process itself.

In his call for emphasis on "effective flexibility" rather than on "rationalistic planning cycles" Mike Wallace genuinely takes thinking forward. For development planning to continue to be a service to schools rather than just another initiative to beleaguer hard pressed managers, it must retain a bias for action and a focus on the classroom.

As John Brathwaite cogently remarks in his article; "If schools are not encouraged or required to demonstrate how the links between school development planning and students' learning are made we may be creating another passing facade that does not achieve or promote educational effectiveness".

Graham Handscomb is deputy head teacher at Tabor High School, Braintree, Essex.

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