Strategic School Development Plans Education Essay

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Two fundamental questions need to be examined in the evaluation of a school's development plan. These could be summarised in the words of Harris, formulated already in 2001: "What do effective schools look like?" and "How do schools improve and become more effective?" If strategic school development plans are given as the answer to her questions, further issues arise: Can the characteristics of a successful, strategically-focused school be identified, isolated and explained? And is it possible to translate the core purpose and the future perspective of a school into action by using a strategic plan? (Davies, Davies & Ellison, 2005) In the case of SIP 2005, the case is complicated by the 2001 Ofsted report which cited that the school needed to "improve further students" attainments and progress, improve the quality of the learning environment, meet statutory educational requirements, and improve the quality of provision and cost-effectiveness of the sixth-Form." (School Vision and Improvement Plan, January 2005,: p. 8) Moreover, "the school's 2004 PANDA Report highlights the need for intervention at the school, especially in the areas of English, Mathematics and Science.

Given the obvious need for improvement in very specific sectors of the school's performance as highlighted by two reports, the need for a development plan and changes to ensure the wellbeing of the school's students, is clear. The strategic plan should certainly enable short-term development as well as longer-term capacity building. And as advised by Davies et al Davies and Ellison (2005)" "the short-term strategy of a school must be taking place at the same time as medium and longer-term strategies are being implemented. Neither can exist in isolation from each other." (p.15) While the SIP (2005) does take into account both the purposes advised by Davies et al (2005) Davies and Ellison - it expresses both a vision of the school in 2010, and presents a "self review" - it does not expressly formulate action to improve the current situation and, concurrently, develop sustainability. Particular aspects of this failure are outlined in the following paragraphs.

Harris has noted that research by Coleman et al (1999) showed that much attention should be paid to the role played by "socio-economic and family backgrounds in facilitating educational success" (Harris,2001,:p.9), and the same is true of SIP 2005. It is essential that the plan also acknowledge the effects of background and family income. All students' educational needs, no matter their financial or cultural resources, should be included in the plan. This is consequently one of the strengths of the plan, as is outlined in general terms on (p. 6) of the plan - viz. "Attitudes, Values and Personal Qualities", "Care, Guidance, Support" and "Partnership with Parents."(p.6) SIP Development Priorities are keen to stress the legality of their aims, as if anticipating the reactions of their parent body (SIP, 2005,:p.10), rather than developing a clear strategy to "equalise" [writer's italics] the learning experience for students from all income groups, and cultures. The language used does not explicitly enable understanding of exactly how equality of opportunity is to be achieved. Some progress, nonetheless, has already been made, according to the plan to make sixth-form cost effectiveness possible. The school anticipates the success of the "Partnership Sixth Form" programme through an integrated curriculum and inclusivity, as well as a "flexible ... range of opportunities" (SIP, 2005,:p.4, 8)

The school hopes, also, that "all teachers will plan learning to reflect differentiated pace, success criteria and learning styles."(SIP, 2005,:p.10) Again, Davies, Davies and Ellison, referred to earlier in this essay, propose generally that implementation often causes the failure of strategic plans. (pp. 15, 36-38) Sergiovanni (1992) generally agrees that this is a hard task to manage, and this is especially true given the generalised nature of the statement in the SIP (2005).

Furthermore, Fullan (1992) also mentions that educational change often fails due to lack of implementation rather than poor planning objectives.

If teachers do not perceive, (1992) This plan, though, has some limitation in that the methods of implementation, and aims are not given specifics strategies to implement, it is likely they planned to include deadlines for achievement of the outcomes. This argument will failbe explored in more detail in implementation, no matter the quality of a strategy in (Section B).

Much is made of the current achievements of the school, for example: "The School has … become a calmer, less aggressive place … Arts College School and Community Programmes have flourished … areas of success include the Training School and Professional Development Programmes. (SIP, 2005,:p.8) and perhaps this is evidence of the school community's ability to implement its aims, but has little to do with future strategy.

An achievable aim is noted in the SIP, and it is the writer's belief that, with some reservations, this will fulfil both short- and long-term requirements. The use of development teams seems both a sensible, and a potentially foolish strategy. Overall school leadership and departmental leadership are envisioned. This requires careful differentiation of the levels at which change is to be managed (Davies, Davies and Ellison, 2005,: pp. 34-36), something not effectively articulated in the SIP.

One such item offered as centralised change, key rather to the subject improvement planning section, is an emphasis on the need to "implement and evaluate a comprehensive programme of opportunities for the spiritual development of all students."(SIP, 2005,: p. 10) Although this is admirable, this author takes issue with its position as a whole school objective, rather than a subject-specific goal.

The writer's contention is that staff must be allowed opportunities to be part of the development of the school. (Fullan, 1992) An emphasis on issues related to staff development, generally, seems to be of more importance than spiritual development, particularly in these increasingly agnostic, and atheistic times. The school is certainly obliged to implement spiritual development to meet the National Curriculum requirements but this should not be over-emphasised, nor should it be loosely interpreted. This paper will present, in Section B, a proposition for the implementation of such spiritual development strategies. Here, the writer argues that the Personal Contribution section (Appendix Two) offers a far more compelling vision of change, more deserving of extensive focus within the plan.

Asking questions of the teaching body forces them to challenge their role in the school, fundamentally rethink their priorities, and consequently empower them, something that can only be valuable for inducing change in a positive manner. Educators' wants, needs and beliefs inform their practice and hence it is essential, in the view of this writer, to get the teachers' buy-in [writer's italics] in attempts to implement this plan. (Danielson, 2002) No mention is made of how this is to be done. Them, something that can only be valuable for inducing change in a positive manner. Teachers should be clear in their understanding of their roles: can and should they lead innovation and change processes? Do they want in-service training to enable them to implement change? Is the delivery of improved learning to each student important to them? Danielson (2002) proposes that "everything educators do to help their students learn must be based on what educators want (school, district, or state goals), believe (values and principles), and know (educational research)". The plan highlights the need to integrate ICT in teaching programmes and use e-learning extensively. (SIP, 2005,: p.5) While staff development needs are given a heading in the School Action Plan (see SIP, 2005, :p.18) a more general need may exist among staff in the area of computer literacy and use effectiveness, in light of e-learning and website maintenance being fairly specialised in 2005.

Finally, although some provision is made for a timeline for improvement, (Appendix Four) it seems more of an afterthought than a guiding principal. There seems little awareness from the school of when they want change enacted by and more attention should be paid to this, perhaps aligning the improvement plans with the Ofsted inspection. As Davies, Davies and Ellison define: "A strategically-focused school is one that is educationally effective in the short term but has a clear framework and processes to translate core moral purpose and vision into excellent educational provision that is challenging and sustainable in the medium to long term."(2005,:p.17)If such a timeline is not put in place, the momentum needed to enact change will drift away, leaving staff, leadership, governors, students and parents disenfranchised. Change must be wide-ranging, universal, and uniform if it is to be successful. The SIP (2005) does make some provision for agreed upon timelines (p.19) where staff is able to determine deadlines for implementation. A subsequent formal documentation of these timelines would be required.

The SIP (2005) is on some levels, an effective strategic plan. It does, however, not make the grade on others. It is skewed toward a positive reinforcement of the good things the school is currently managing, rather than a realistic view of what still needs to be done, as well as how to make that good practice sustainable. As noted in the external reports, (see Para. 1) the school has been advised to improve on very specific levels. Too much additional focus is added - the section "Our Vision for 2010" is unspecific and general in its description. The immediate strategies are perhaps appropriate in their attempt to empower especially teaching staff, but also parents and students, but the ongoing monitoring of strategies has not effectively been accounted for.

While the documentation for completion by staff may be desirable (SIP, 2005,:pp. 12, 13, 16 and 18-21), the completed documents should have been used in the formulation of the strategic plan. Should specific accountability be established, and the needs and wishes of the stakeholders more fully be taken into account in the final version of such a plan, it may be a more effective working document.

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PART B: An Action Plan for an improvement area

When a school plans it is evident that such planning must be school-specific and its goal has to be the improvement of student learning. The only reason, hence, for changing the school's organization, then, is to benefit the learning of students (O'Day's, 2002).

In her study, Jennifer O'Day (2002) suggested a plan that "takes the school as the unit of accountability and seeks to improve student learning by improving the functioning of the school organization." This plan will look more specifically at the improvement of three aspects of a school (although at times branching out to include other, impacted-upon areas). Although every effort should be made to make improvement plans as wide-ranging as possible, this discussion will focus on the SMSC section of SIP 2005, which includes spiritual education, student leadership and voice, and bullying and racism.

As acknowledged within the SIP (year) a plan, the mapping, implementation and "comprehensive programme" for the "spiritual development of all students" is necessary (p. 10). This school aims to have an "active, representative School Council" to influence decision-making and contribute to school improvement" (p. 10) and programmes for students and staff to engage on all levels to challenge "all forms of bullying and racism" (p. 10) are to be explored.

The implementation of spiritual development is, in the writer's opinion, a particularly sensitive area, as mentioned in Section A of this paper. Further, the democratic principles represented by a "representative school council" [writer's italics] are of fundamental importance, as this implementation can be both positively used to assist in the improvement of a school, but also abused by existing authorities within the school. Should student representation be token, and not considered seriously, the general student body will soon become disenchanted by it. If the council is used merely to "rubber stamp" (writer's quotation marks) decisions made by the adult leadership of the school, in order to gain credence among the student body generally, such student leadership loses credibility. Consequent loss of credibility for the school leadership may result. Leading on from democratic practice, the issue of bullying and racism within schools deserves, also in the writer's opinion, the most serious consideration.

In order to achieve these general aims, the school teams responsible for leadership in these areas will have to be the pastoral staff (including teachers, mentors, assistants, counsellors, and external helpers), subject teachers (in this case specifically General Studies teachers, Religious Studies teachers), the school's senior leadership (including headmaster/mistress, deputies, and policy makers). Out of the school's available human resources, however, the appropriate character type's teachers who are personally motivated and keen to take on such roles will need to be identified to take the lead in implementation of this strategy. While each of the staff members mentioned above will play a role in the formulation and implementation of any plans, a smaller development team, with an inspired and motivated leader, will have to direct the process of strategic planning. As Grint notes,

"Leadership is an invention. I do not mean that this implies leadership is a trick or is unnecessary or false in some sense - although it might be in any or all of these at times; rather I mean that leadership is primarily rooted in, and a product of, the imagination…to imagine 'what is not present' is to concern oneself both with what may be and what was but is no longer. It is not to look at what - the content of the vision - but also to consider where this will be achieved, when it will be achieved, and why it should be achieved. In other words, this aspect of the imagination can look backwards as well as forwards." (2007,:p. 97)

Certainly, in the case of setting up an improvement, this need to both look forward and backwards is central. Leadership is based around accountability and "accountability is not just another task added to the already formidable list of the principal's responsibilities. It requires new roles and new forms of leadership carried out under careful public scrutiny while simultaneously trying to keep day-to-day management on an even keel" (Lashway, 2000,:p.13).

Hence, to ensure accountability in leadership, new roles may have to be defined for teachers so that leadership is extended beyond principal or head teacher only this initiative should consider more than just the traditional roles within the school's hierarchy and not just add to the workload of school managers. Leaders of teams should be ready to take on the challenge of implementing unbiased, constructive strategies. They should also have been empowered within the school's hierarchy - perhaps with titles, perhaps with policy changes - to be able to implement the changes they will drive. Essential to this identification is the availability of the person responsible, in light of the demands placed on all educators in the classroom. Staff involved in the strategic planning of specific initiatives need to "want to" [writer's italics] fulfil the roles they have been assigned. The needs of the school must take priority - hence, for example, a strategy to enhance the spiritual development of students should not be driven by narrow, personal religious views. Rather the data researched from the community at large [to be discussed later in this essay] should inform strategies and evaluations of such programmes.

These principles should similarly apply to leaders of teams tasked to formulate plans for student representation and to face the challenges of bullying or racism.

The ultimate objectives of the plan for a school as suggested by the writer are:

To teach students an appreciation of spirituality while respecting their own religions, cultures or belief-systems and those of others.

To establish a democratically elected and representative student body for consultation and input on school policy and strategy decisions.

To ensure a safe environment for all students, free of bullying and racism.

Essential to the implementation of this proposed action plan, is the research that will have to go into the preparation of the strategies.

Therefore, any plan must focus primarily on data collection. Leadership cannot be conducted blindly and a complete set of data, from students, staff, and parents is necessary to proceed. The obvious way of doing this is with a questionnaire. One should be sent to all parents to understand what they feel the school should offer in terms of spiritual advancement of their children. In the UK, the case is somewhat complicated by the need to have some religious instruction, up to Key Stage 3. After this stage, the school is empowered to tailor spiritual guidance to its community needs. Any questionnaire needs to focus on those things important to those filling it out. For parents, this will include how much spirituality should be taught at school, the nature of that religious study, and the consequent pastoral care or further involvement of the school, based on spirituality, they expect for their children. For students, it should question what they make of their current teaching in religious studies, the pastoral care they receive, and what areas they would like to see improvement in.

Again, the same general outlines for questionnaires relating to the areas of student representation and decision-making, as well as the implementation of programmes to challenge bullying and racism, would apply. Modifications to suit the particular topic being researched would be necessary. For example, the perceived prevalence of bullying in the school may differ significantly if the researcher polls only students, rather than all stakeholders. Students may also feel that they require peer, rather than school authority-based strategies to expose bullying and racism. Parents may be able to suggest effective strategies in this regard based on their experience of the workplace. Likewise, students would, presumably, desire a strong voice in the school's leadership decisions, whereas parents and especially teachers may see this as threatening or unnecessary. The balance of the needs of each stakeholder is essential in each of these areas.

It is vital, also, to maintain communication channels and ensure the effectiveness of these throughout such data-collection processes. The strategies need to be transparent and ongoing, with school leadership open to valuable contributions from any of the stakeholders. (Creemers, B. & Reezigt, G. 1997:pp. 396-429)

Nonetheless, for a leader, the need is to enact change for those they are leading. And consequently, any questions for staff need to be carefully thought out and made relevant to their needs, both professional and personal. As Thrupp (2005,:p.23) notes, parents are increasingly being viewed as 'consumers' rather than 'parents' which may imply that teachers consider the interests of parents before the learning benefits for their students. Since these plans are for a school, and will rely heavily on the "buy-in" [writer's italics] of the teaching staff, the perceptions of the teaching staff as a whole will have to be carefully considered, as noted earlier in this essay. Teachers must be aware that their first duty is to benefit the learning of students.

Following from any questionnaire, a plan needs to be made that addresses the major themes of the data. A focus should be made on planned outcomes: what exactly the changes hope to engender. In the case of SMSC, these will include parental views, and how their views can be written into the plan. There needs to be a clear progression from identifying problems through to acting upon them. However, the outcomes need to focus on the needs of the students: how will the plan have a positive effect on the needs of the children. For example, if it has been identified that there is a need for more pastoral care, in order to eradicate bullying and racism, how can staff be reorganised to address this within budget and without impacting on the pre-existing conditions? A more complete after-school care programme for parents may be formulated as an objective based on the needs of parents adversely affecting teachers and the school's budget.

Successful strategies would be identified by their being adopted into the culture of the school. Once a development team for religious studies, for instance, stages its first inter-religious school meeting, and that is widely positively received by the students, it could be argued that the strategy has worked. In the case of a school student leadership body, the election process would need to be evaluated in terms of the student body: how many students voted? Is the leadership body representative? A fully representative group, voted in by a majority of their peers, who take their role seriously as individuals and as a group, and who regularly attend and contribute to school management meetings, could be viewed as successful. When a clear process of remediation for both the victims and the offenders in cases of racism or bullying, not subject to value judgements, and accepted in its interventions by staff, students and parents is in place, the objective of a fear-free school could be seen as successful. In remediation, the danger of personal prejudices influencing even the people enacting remediation must be considered. A student victim of bullying may be perceived as weak or unassertive, and hence an obvious target. It is also often believed that victims exaggerate their suffering - hence the sometime reluctance of victims to name their aggressors.

Once again, however, any such plan needs to be done with the full cooperation of the student body, teachers and parents. In this sense, much discussion beyond the developmental team level is needed so that every person involved in the process is fully aware of their role. Melissa Horner (1997) argues that school leadership has to understand the culture of their school and be prepared to adapt and modify the school's organization as the culture of the school undergoes changes. This is important to bear in mind when trying to lead a change in a school. In a hierarchical, rigidly managed school, it is difficult for anyone to embrace change, no matter how much they might believe they want change.

For schools in Queensland, the planned outcomes were clearly identified and integrated with a strategic plan of how best to achieve them (High Reliability Schools' website). Accordingly, the plan needs to include evaluative elements. The SIP (2005) suggests development teams, and, with appropriate leadership, as discussed earlier in this essay. These may present an effective strategy to implement objectives, in this writer's view. In the ongoing evaluation of draft and final objectives, such teams would be able to implement further research if required before objectives are adopted into a larger strategic plan and then monitor the ongoing effectiveness of the plans, as they relate to the achievement of objectives.

Throughout, this writer has stressed consultation and cooperation as the most important means of enacting change, and the same is true here (Freiberg et al Prokosch, N., Treister, E. & Stein, T. 1990,:p.6-9) accordingly, staffs need to be aware of how each step along the way will affect them and how they should act accordingly. What seems clear is that teacher involvement and empowerment is key and, in order to feel empowered and involved, teachers need clear guidance as to how these changes will be made. A chronology for changes is necessary, a progressive, step by step guide as to how each step will be instigated with checks and balances to evaluate the success of those steps must be fixed and universally communicated. In order to do this, a body should be established to oversee the changes. The body should be comprised of school management, teachers, and parents and, in the writer's opinion, students. This representative body would be tasked with keeping track of the changes being made, and evaluate how successful they are. By incorporating various agents in the process, the improvement schedule would be more democratic, transparent, and ultimately accountable. Finally, an independent review should be conducted of the improvement strategy, such as an Ofsted inspection, that can independently arbitrate whether or not the improvements have been made successfully, and within budget and timeline.

As the Reigate St Mary's Development plan noted, "Development plans focus on the management and leadership within the school, the balance of the curriculum, [students'] personal and social development, the school's partnership and relationship with parents and the wider community, and on buildings and facilities."

The same is true here. An emphasis on the need for cooperation, will allow successful change to be implemented. Leadership needs to incorporate all stakeholders, carefully collect appropriate data, be certain of the desired outcomes, establish a clear timeline for completion, and set up means of continually evaluating the scheme once finished. Nonetheless, the purpose of any strategy for the development of the school must, ultimately, ensure the best learning experience possible for all.

Strategic leadership, characterised by a thorough commitment to planning for improvement, will ensure successful change in the performance of a school. Although the Head of the school is instrumental in such change, the buy-in of the entire school community must be ensured. The Head is required to encourage and empower staff, students and parents to assist in the implementation of change strategies. School leaders able to facilitate change for improvement will ensure current and sustainable success for their institutions.

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