“School Development Planning is an ongoing process that helps schools as complex communities to meet the dual challenge of enhancing quality and managing change.” (DES, 1999:9, Online).
In recent years schools started giving more thought to how the planning and management of change need to be taken more into account and carefully planned. Decentralisation, a common characteristic of quite a few of the national educational systems worldwide – such as the USA, Canada, England and Wales (Anderson, 2005) and in Malaysia, Honk Kong, Singapore, China and Korea – has opened doors to “development and effectiveness” in schools (Bolam, 2006:77). Over the years, the education scene in Malta has likewise witnessed a paradigm shift from an essentially centralised system to one that encourages self-government. One of the most effective implications of this shift is that of a systematic and whole school approach to development planning enhancing “freedom [and] allowing institutions to shape the possibilities provided by greater autonomy” (Lumby, 2007a:86). Moreover, Bush and Coleman, (2006) argue that, placed in a competitive environment, self-managing schools have to meet the students’ needs efficiently if they are to achieve survival and success. While increasing autonomy (Karstanje, 1999), self-managing schools are encouraged to shoulder more responsibilities and promote their own identity and character. One of the most beneficial implications of this shift is that a School Development Plan (SDP) can be tailored by the same school.
Considering that, the Maltese Education Authorities are at present discussing at length the process and the implementation of a national reform in the education system, the topic seriously appears to be of great interest. This study may be expected to serve as an eye-opener to the strengths and weaknesses of the SDP being currently implemented at St.Helen Girls’ Secondary School. Consequently, the study might be envisaged to be an asset to the school, before it actually starts to negotiate the tailoring of a new SDP as will be suggested in the education reform to take place.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the SDP as an effective tool to enhance appraisal and collegiality among the teaching staff and to promote improvement among the learners. The Literature review shall briefly justify the need for and the process of development planning in relation to what literature has to say about the subject. Furthermore, the following research questions will be discussed and analysed, mainly: What is the importance of a SDP to the school? How is the planning process carried out? Who is involved in the planning process? Is the SDP opening doors to school improvement? After conducting a case study through qualitative and quantitative research, an analysis will emerge, based on a questionnaire distributed to teachers and an open-ended interview with the Head of School. The research findings will be analysed and compared to the literature findings.
Finally, suggestions will emerge in respect to what can be done in order to evaluate, maintain and/or change what has been done during the past seven years since development planning has started to be organised in an official way at St.Helen Girls’ Secondary School.
All schools should have a vision of where they hope to go and what they hope to achieve. This implies that a school plan should aim at leading the whole school community in the direction for improvement and growth. With its insistence on schools to have their own SDP, the Maltese National Minimum Curriculum (NMC) came into effect on the 1st of October 2000. Following is a brief description of the SDP both as a process as well as a product. It examines the concepts of development, improvement, collegiality and appraisal through effective planning.
What is the importance of a SDP to the school?
“A school without planning is like a boat without a rudder. We cannot achieve goals unless we plan ways and means of getting there.” (Bezzina, 1999:58)
In order to keep on course, schools require a clear sense of direction, expressed in vision and mission statements and aims and objectives, as well as an effective strategic plan and good efficient action plans (DES, 1999, Online). The SDP can be a great asset to the school in various ways. Bezzina claims that it:
- helps in giving the school a sense of direction
- establishes aims and priorities
- identifies the needs to be done in order to bring about improvement
- identifies staff needs
- monitors the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process
- evaluates the success of the changes made, and implements any changes to the planning cycle (1999:35).
The SDP is a means whereby the vision, believed by Jenkins to be ‘the strategic intent which guides planning’ (1991:38), is transformed into reality through clear priorities, targets and actions. It is an instrument, through which schools “are able to articulate their needs and also their priorities” (Ministry of Education, 2001:14). Moreover, it is meant to indicate the institution’s capacities and limitations and thus open doors to school improvement. An English publication defines the SDP in that:
“It will be based on the school’s analysis of current levels of performance, its assessment of how current trends and future factors may impact on the school and set out priorities and targets for improvement for the period ahead.” (DOE, 2005:1, Online).
This implies that the concept underpinning a SDP is that each school would undertake, on an on-going basis, a limited number of small-scale development projects, which the staff identifies as significant priorities. The SDP has at its heart the learning of all students while raising standards of attainment. It is a process of learning and growth for all those involved in it. Moreover, it allows schools to organise their programmes of innovation and change with much greater efficiency and success (Hargreaves and Hopkins, 1991).
Furthermore, the SDP is highly beneficial for schools since it is worked out by those who “put their heads together in a common effort” to develop a “realistic strategy” as to how the educational goals are to be reached (NMC:85).
How is the process of School Development Planning carried out?
The School Development Plan Initiative (SDPI) in Ireland considers the Mission, Vision and Aims of the plan to be the ‘core’ of the SDP process (DES, 1999:16, Online). As depicted by Hargreaves and Hopkins (1991), Bezzina (1999) and Nathan, a SDP is made up of four stages, mainly:
- Audit – when the school analyses its strengths and weaknesses and assesses its own needs
- Planning and decision making – generation and evaluation of options
- Implementation – putting the plan into action, and
- Evaluation – checking the success of implementation and reviewing targets
This entails that the SDP works in a cycle. Furthermore, the SDPI suggests three features through which the SDP is accomplished, mainly through:
- Initiation: where the school decides to embark on school development planning, ensuring that there is commitment to it among members of staff and preparing for participation.
- Familiarisation: when the school community is learning how to carry out the whole process.
- Embedding: when school development Planning becomes part of the school life and of the normal way of doing things at school.
(DOE, 1999, Online).
The Irish Document (1999) further argues that the SDP process needs to be systematic, collaborative, ongoing, progressive, enhancing and flexible to work properly. It therefore involves a systematic approach to the planning work, which draws the whole school community together in shaping the school’s future. This needs to be an on-going process, rooted in a school culture where policies and plans are continuously being developed, implemented, evaluated and revised according to the school’s aims and the changes which continuously take place in the community. It is also flexible since it offers a framework for collaborative creativity and each school is free to adopt the framework to suit its own particular needs.
Who is involved in the planning process?
Nathan (1996) maintains that, to a large extent, the work entailed in the school plan is performed by the Head of school and the SMT. However, Bradley (1988) argues that a partnership in which people work together will lead to the successful achievement of their goals. This is also depicted in an English publication. The document highlights parental, pupil and staff involvement in the planning process as one of the factors that will help schools achieve high standards and improve the quality of learning and teaching (DOE, 2005:6, Online). Through partnership, the educational needs will be identified and action will be taken accordingly (DES, 1999:15, Online). Bradley (1988) further claims that partnerships are encouraged when they are willing to yield to some of their autonomy. Their sense of joint ownership strengthens and encourages partnership and is extended beyond the planning process into the actual implementation of the activity.
Parent participation is seen as very important in schools. According to Braithwaite (1994) 22 Actions are involved in the Australian’s SDP process, among which is parental involvement. The NMC (2000) claims that parents should be seen as partners in the education of their children, so much that it believes in site-based curriculum development, where teachers and administrators can work alongside with parents and the local community to be able to respond to the needs of that particular school. In explaining how a shared vision is achieved, Lumby (2007a:89) holds that notwithstanding the principal leading the planning process, “all staff [should] share in the re-creation and adjustment of vision”. Furthermore, Jenkins considers staff involvement as ‘the most useful part’ of the planning process (1991:38) in “not only arriving at plans but also in raising the chances of their successful implementation” (Lumby, 2007a:98). While being a threshold to school improvement, Newton and Tarrant declare that ‘Evaluation needs the co-operation of the whole organisation to be effective and accurate.’ (1992:33).
Is the School Development Plan opening doors to school improvement?
Bush and Coleman say it quite simply: “The origins of school development planning lie in the move towards school improvement and effectiveness” (2006:75). The SDP enables the school community to develop a clear vision of what the school is about and where it is going, a shared sense of purpose, a common set of goals and consensus on the means of achieving them. It characterises the school as a learning organisation that focuses on meeting the professional needs of teachers in order to meet the educational needs of pupils. The Irish National Progress Report 2002, states that “This focus is essential if SDP is to achieve its core purpose: school improvement.” (DES, 2003:55, Online).
As seen by Law and Glover (2000), school improvement is the result of a three-stage process: establishing targets, planning to attain them and finally monitoring and evaluating them. Moreover, studies conducted by Gray et al. lead an improving school to be measured and defined as one that ‘increased in its effectiveness over time’ (1999:137).
It is also worth mentioning that, an English publication states that ‘Appraisal should support development planning and vice versa.’ (DES:1991) According to Jones (1993:12), improvement in the teaching and learning is guaranteed when appraisal is considered an integral part of the SDP. Likewise, through their research, Horne and Pearce maintain that integrating appraisal into the SDP resulted in ‘a way of improving the quality of education for the pupils and of raising standards’ (1996:62). One reason to which Davies attributes an “ineffective school” is to the teachers’ lack of punctuality resulting from “a low motivation” that keeps the teachers lingering in the staffroom till the last minute (1994:35). This implies that lack of appraisal may lead to low motivation in teachers, which in turn will result in ineffectiveness.
Furthermore, in discussing the issue about strategic planning, Sergiovanni compares the Traditional with the Alternative rule of planning. He suggests that the latter brings about school improvement in that it emphasizes first the ‘means’ – appraising people involved, then the ‘ways’ – allowing them to discern what needs to be done, and finally the ‘ends’ in that they themselves will decide on and attain aims (2009:95).
Dalin and Rust believe that:
“A good school is one which itself learns; it is a learning school, a living institution that changes in order to remain an institution that stimulates learning.” (1996:7)
This implies that, the changes that take place in a school, must support the preservation of what has worked well in that school, to be able to give it stability and reputation. The school’s SDP is a means of implementing change. It must, in the process, provide a way of dealing effectively with new developments so as to ensure school improvement whereby, all stakeholders are empowered to make decisions and engage in planning their own educational future.
The first part of this section presents the aim and objectives of this study. Some methodological considerations are then examined. Subsequently, the research instruments are considered. Finally, this section gives an account of the ethical framework considered, the school context, the procedure and the data analysis used.
The Aim and Objectives of this Research
This research was undertaken in an attempt to investigate the effectiveness of the process of school development planning of the school under consideration. Also, the research project has more specific objectives, mainly to investigate:
- the importance of a SDP to the school
- how the process is carried out
- who is involved in the planning process
- whether the SDP is opening doors to school improvement.
There are two approaches to academic research that can be adopted by a researcher – quantitative and qualitative (Bell, 2008; Briggs and Coleman, 2007). In this study, an ‘educational case study’ (Bassey, 2007:142) was used, conducted through both qualitative and quantitative research. According to Bassey, one of the strengths of case study research is that it is carried ‘in its natural context … [it] entails being where the action is’ (2007:143). The case study is aimed at improving ‘educational action’ (Bassey, 2007:142) and which has ‘theory seeking and theory testing’ as an end point (Basset, 2007:147). This leads to a theoretical structure that not only provides sound data and limits assumptions but also attempts ‘to tease out why a situation is good, bad or mediocre’ (Bassey, 2007:154).
In this research project, an interview with the Head of School was carried out in order to “seek insights rather than statistical perceptions of the world” (Bell, 2008:7). One should say that the major advantage of qualitative approach is ‘adaptability’ (Bell, 2005:157) as it emphasises direct human experience. On the other hand, the major disadvantage is that it is time-consuming and generalisation is much more limited (Bell, 2005:157).
In an attempt to take advantage from the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative approaches, Triangulation is used to “cross-check” findings (Bell, 2005:116). In this manner, the findings are compared “in order to determine the accuracy of information” (Bush, 2007:100) rendering them more reliable.
The Research Instruments used for Data collection
The Interview with the Head Teacher (HT)
An approximately one hour-long unstructured interview was carried out with the HT. Although it takes a great deal of time to analyse, the unstructured interview was deemed best for this research as the interviewee is free to talk about what is of central significance (Bell, 2005; Ribbins, 2007). The interview consisted of ten questions aimed to elicit detailed information about the HT’s personal view of the SDP, how the process is managed and who is involved to participate and whether the SDP is opening doors to school improvement (see Appendix 1). The ‘face-to-face’ interview (Ribbins, 2007:212) served as a means of getting the real feelings of the HT, regarding the content, the process and the implementation of the SDP.
The Teachers’ Questionnaire
Quantitative research was also used in a questionnaire consisting of ten closed statements and one open-ended question (see Appendix 2). In order to select a group which is as representative as possible (Bell, 2005), stratified sampling was used (Fogelman and Comber, 2007). In fact, the questionnaire was distributed to eighteen teachers – one teacher from every subject being taught. The respondents were asked to tick one of three options: Yes, No, or Do not know. Statements 1-8 were intended to investigate positive perceptions on the SDP while statements 9 and 10 were intended to bring to light any negative perceptions, if any. Moreover, an open-ended question was set in order to give the respondents the opportunity to give their personal views on SDP matters at school. This question placed each teacher in a position to reflect and answer freely, thus reducing the interviewer effects regarding emotionality and free response (Cohen et al., 2000).
Procedure and Ethical Considerations
An appointment was made with the HT of St.Helen School (a pseudonym used to maintain confidentiality) and the date for the interview was agreed. Permission to carry out the research was informal, due to the fact that the investigation was carried out in one’s own institution. The interview with the HT was carried out “onsite” (Busher and James, 2007:110) and in the Head’s office. At the beginning of the interview, the Head of school was shown the set of questions prepared for the interview as well as other relevant material that proved the interview was required for the research. Though very time-consuming to transcribe, the interview was recorded to ensure data collection and maintain eye contact with the interviewee (Bell, 2005). The HT was given assurance of confidentiality.
It is also worth mentioning that the questionnaires were anonymised so as to assure protection to the participants. Moreover, the respondents were made aware of what the research was about and also of its purpose (Bell, 2005:156) (see Appendix 2). Consent for answering the questionnaires was granted freely and without force.
The School Context
The investigation was carried out at St. Helen Girls’ Secondary School – one of the 22 church schools on the island operating at secondary level. A profile of the school is given in the Table below.
ST.HELEN GIRLS’ SECONDARY SCHOOL PROFILE
Number of Classes
Average Class size
Pastoral Care Team
No. of Assistant Heads
Classroom Support Staff
Eco School Council
Table 1: School Profile
This section has served the purpose of describing and giving an explanation for the methodology used in carrying out this research supported with all the necessary ethical issues arising from the same research. Following is an analysis of the findings that emerged from the investigation.
This section includes the significant features that emerge from the Teachers’ Questionnaire as well as the Head Teacher’s Interview. Both research tools were based on the following research questions: What is the importance of a SDP to the school? How is the process of development planning carried out? Who is involved in the planning process? Is the SDP opening doors to school improvement? The presentation and discussion of the findings that follow, aim at providing answers to these questions.
Presentation of Findings – Teachers’ Questionnaire
The questionnaire, consisting of ten statements and one open-ended question was distributed to 18 teachers. All questionnaires were collected. Following are the results for statements 1-10 of the questionnaire.
The teachers’ questionnaire ended with an open-ended question asking the respondents to comment in general about the SDP at their school. Only 6 (33.3%) out of 18 respondents answered this question. Four respondents agreed that the SDP is of utmost importance both for the teaching staff as well as for the students’ improvement. They claim that at their school, the SDP is discussed thoroughly most especially during the Staff Development Days. However, they argue that it is hardly mentioned during the rest of the scholastic year. Another respondent states that more time should be allocated to see if everything planned has been carried out, and if not, why. Similarly, another respondent argued that the SDP should be more carefully monitored and evaluated, and that while it is frequently very cautiously planned, however, it is not adequately implemented.
The Head Teacher’s Interview
Following is a summary of the Head Teacher’s responses to the Interview (see Appendix 1).
The Head Teacher (HT) of the school under investigation holds that the SDP – conducted since 2002 – plays a very important role in the life of every school. Asked about who is involved in the process, the HT mentioned various stakeholders. Regarding the process, the HT states that it takes place in different stages. The difficulties encountered during the process are time and the staff’s interest and cooperation. However, since the latter has become an annual process, nearly all teachers help in formulating objectives and action plans. The HT declares that the SDP definitely provides a framework for evaluation and improvement; otherwise it will be of no value. Finally the HT expressed her hopes that the SDP will lead to open wide the doors to school improvement.
Analysing the Findings
The following section is an attempt to go into the main concerns and interests raised during research. After being collected and classified, the research findings will be discussed and analysed in relation to the research questions and compared to the literature review.
What is the importance of a SDP to the school?
As shown in Table 2, all 18 teachers interviewed consider the SDP as important to their institution. Moreover, in an attempt to answer the open-ended question at the end of the questionnaire, one teacher claims that the SDP is of utmost importance both for the teaching staff as well as for the students’ improvement. As suggested by Bezzina (1999), another teacher claims that the SDP is important to enhance the students’ potential and that it must be used to tackle all their needs. While Bezzina acknowledges that a SDP encourages “team effort” (1999:37), the Irish document holds that it is a great benefit to the whole school community (DES, 1999, Online). Similarly, the HT holds that:
“It is a great opportunity to enhance teamwork, collaboration and collegiality among the whole school community, that is, the Senior Management Team, the staff, the students and their parents, and all those who rightly give their share.” (Interview with HT).
Also, this implies that the style of leadership of the HT at St.Helen is “participative” (Coleman, 2005a:18), as the issue of decision-making is shared with other stakeholders. Moreover, the HT confirms what is suggested in the DES document (1999, Online), mainly that the SDP gives the teachers a sense of direction as “They all know what the school is after” (Interview with HT).
Who is involved in the process?
Bezzina claims that “A SDP calls for a co-ordinated effort, a belief in each other’s worth, and a sincere willingness to work together to achieve set goals” (1999:36) Similarly, Lumby maintains that even though the principal may lead in the process, all staff is responsible for the recreation and adjustment of vision on a daily basis (2007a:89). This is evident at St.Helen, so much that the HT mentions the following as stakeholders: Staff Members, P.T.A Members, Ladies’ Circle, the School Handyman, Parents, Students’ Council and Students. Moreover the participation of groups such as the Pastoral Team, The Green/Eco-School Team and Discipline Team is encouraged. The HT claims that, “All these groups give their contribution. Different meetings are held with different groups on different topics; they all do their utmost to achieve goals.” (Interview with HT)
Although “The Principal plays a prominent role in the leadership and management of the planning process” (DES, 1999:26, Online) 83.3% of the questionnaire responses claim that teacher’s participation is encouraged in the planning process. Researchers like Bush and Coleman (2006) and Lumby (2007b) hold that the involvement of staff might cause difficulties. However, Early (2007) maintains that staff involvement in becoming increasingly important for school success. Moreover, the above mentioned Irish document states that “The whole-hearted participation of the teaching staff is crucial to the success of the planning process” and that “the whole staff should be actively involved … to enable all members of staff to participate in discussion and decision-making” (DES, 1999:27, Online). In fact, 55.6% of the responses show that the teaching staff is committed to the SDP.
Also, this implies that the staff should be made aware of what the SDP is, why it is inevitable and how it is to be organised. If not, there will be the risk of having staff members who are “uninterested, sceptical of the whole process and determined to resist change” (Lumby, 2007b:97). In fact, this might be the case with a couple of teachers who joined the school only recently and who in the questionnaire (11.1%) expressed their doubt whether the SDP is threatening to the school or not, while another (5.6%) does not know whether or not the SDP is an added burden to the school (see Table 11). This implies that while the rest of the respondents (94.4%) are rooted in the three features constituting the SDP process (DOE, 1999, Online), these newly recruited teachers are not.
According to the HT, the teachers are called in for SDP consultation through questionnaires and also on Staff Development Days. In addition to this, some teachers “volunteer to work together in teams and in collaboration with the SMT in order to analyse audit results as well as to prioritise and draw strategic plans” (Interview with HT). The response of 83.3% of the respondents shows that at St.Helen teacher participation is quite evident. Nevertheless, the HT feels that some teachers still need to be reminded to give their contribution. Also worth mentioning is the fact that, once a month or twice in a term, the HT holds subject meetings with teachers “in order to sustain continuity and on-going monitoring” (Interview with HT).
Epstein (1992) states that parental involvement is an asset to their child’s education in that the school equips them with the necessary tools to help them. While learning more about educational programmes they also get familiar with how the school functions. The NMC also holds that “parents or guardians” should be involved as partners in their children’s education (NMC 1999:31). Although this idea is confirmed by the HT, however it is not so in style with 44.4% of the teachers who have doubts as to whether or not the SDP has brought about greater parental involvement (see Table 8). This also implies that the teachers at St.Helen are not yet ’embedded’ with parental involvement in the SDP process (DOE, 1999, Online).
The HT believes that “feedback from students is an essential input to the school” (Interview with HT) so much that Hargreaves holds that “they play an active role in implementing the plan and have an interest in the outcomes” (1989:17). This implies that the students are to be involved throughout the whole process. This is likely so at St.Helen where the SMT takes into great consideration any suggestions proposed by the student council especially when they have to do with any aspect of the SDP. Also, a questionnaire is distributed annually to the students so as to ascertain their views (DES, 1999, Online).
How is the process of development planning carried out?
The HT gave very vivid and clear explanations of how the school goes about the process of development planning. As expressed in the Irish document (DES, 1999, Online), the HT maintains that it takes place at different stages, mainly at three Staff Development Days together with monthly afternoon staff meetings. On such days, the teachers are grouped according to their subject, interest or specialisation, and so they are more motivated to contribute to the discussions which usually focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the targets implemented. From these elements, decisions are taken as to what the school will be tackling as aims. Moreover, these meetings offer the SMT and the Staff an ideal opportunity to audit and evaluate progress. Furthermore, the HT asserts that, speakers who are authority on different subjects as well as Personnel from the Education Department also give their contribution during these meetings.
Most of the teachers feel a sense of ownership and commitment when carrying out the SDP tasks assigned to them. This emerges quite plainly in the questionnaire with 83.3% of the respondents considering the SDP to be an on-going process while 55.6% believing that the school community is motivated to implement plans.
According to the HT, the SDP establishes a clear programme to follow; it defines targets, implements strategies, time limits, necessary resources and evaluation procedures. Similar to what Hargreaves and Hopkins (1991), Nathan (1996), Bezzina (1999), the Irish document (DES, 1999, Online), and Bush and Coleman (2006) suggest, the HT identifies four main processes to SDP in St.Helen, mainly, the Audit, Construction, Implementation and Evaluation. This implies that St.Helen Girls’ Secondary is meeting the standards that are required by the SDP.
Is the SDP opening doors to school improvement?
Sammons, Khamis and Coleman state that “The normal measurement of effectiveness is usually to do with better than expected academic outcomes” (2005:137). Consequently, 77.8% of the questionnaire responses show that the SDP promotes improvement among students. Following are three “positive outcomes in addition to the acquisition of examination results” (Ouston, 1999:176) and as elicited from the HT’s interview, in which the process to SDP implemented at St.Helen proves to be fruitful in being effective and in bringing about improvement.
Improving the attitude towards Literature
‘Literature is Fun’ is one of the target-titles listed for implementation in this year’s SDP. The HT argues that after finding that Literature and Culture of Languages was weakening, the management provided a ‘Literature Room’, which h
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