Simple plans underpinned by hard work
It is a common criticism that schools are insufficiently proactive and plan only in the short term. In this book, Brian Fidler expands his earlier work on strategic planning in Effective Local Management of Schools and his workbook, Planning Your School's Strategy. He aims to encourage senior staff to participate in longer-term, systematic, strategic thinking; a process of analysis and planning which involves the entire scope of the organisation's activities and takes into account the school culture and internal and external factors.
The book starts with a concise, well-written introduction by Fidler on the theory of strategic planning followed by four detailed school case studies. These are designed to show the benefits two secondary and two primary schools have derived from strategic planning.
Fidler begins by introducing the reader to the concepts of strategy and strategic planning and then succinctly examines various strategies for school improvement and effectiveness. He presents three complementary models of strategic management, largely derived from non-educational experience. He then describes ways in which a school can organise strategic planning and provide the process with leadership. The chapters detailing the process of strategic analysis and strategic choice and demonstrating the importance of changing the culture of the school (its shared beliefs and values) are particularly well written.
General Eisenhower describing the strategic planning for D-day - the greatest amphibious invasion in world history - wrote: "The basic principles of strategy are so simple that a child may understand them. But to determine their proper application to given situation requires the hardest kind of work from the finest available staff officers. Behind the technical language was an immense amount of pick and shovel activity."
The descriptions of this groundwork in the four school case studies are the weakest part of the book. Although Fidler makes a spirited attempt in a concluding chapter to draw out overall conclusions from the case studies, regrettably they do not provide interesting material to match the quality of his moretheoretical chapters.
Falling rolls and intense local competition are the driving force for three of the schools. Maureen Edwards describes a five-year plan to increase parental involvement and improve "client orientation" in a Buckingham first school. Philip Mann's description of his approach to strategic analysis as part of the development of a plan for Bearswood Primary School, Wokingham, is the most interesting case study. He writes candidly and communicates a flavour of a committed hands-on manager implementing considered and realistic change. In contrast, Barbara Evans' action research, which reads like a rehashed MSc assignment, is an exceedingly dull narrative account of the development and "operationalisation" of the strategic plan for Richard Aldworth Community School, Basingstoke. The description by Peter Thomas of the remodelling of a comprehensive school's sixth form curriculum to match students' needs is little better.
This book will meet the requirements of senior school staff who want a theoretical guide to strategic analysis and planning to improve their school. It is probably a better book for teachers who want a well-written, clear, general introductory survey to the topic as part of their reading for postgraduate management qualifications.
The writer is headteacher of the Nobel School, Stevenage.