1 Introducing the school development plan

Figure 2 The school development plan is a road map that sets out the changes a school needs to make to improve.

A school development plan (SDP) provides the basis for school improvement and should reflect the school’s philosophy and vision. It lists the priorities and actions for the next period of time – many schools make a general three-year plan that is supplemented by a more detailed yearly plan.

The SDP drives the next school self-review and demonstrates to the community that the school is working to achieve the best possible outcomes for its students. The first case study and activity illustrate why planning is important.

Case Study 1: Why development planning is important

Mrs Nagaraju is a school leader in an urban primary school. Like most school leaders she is very busy and has a ‘to do’ list each day to make sure she remembers what she needs to get done:

Each day Mrs Nagaraju has a similar list. Most of what she has to do is respond to issues that have arisen and complete the necessary administration.

Activity 1: Why plan?

Look at Mrs Nagaraju’s list for Monday.

  • Which items on the list are essential administration?
  • Which items on the list are responses to events?
  • Which items on the list are actions that could lead to improvements in teaching and learning?
  • If she is very busy, which items are likely to be left undone?

Write in your Learning Diary the advice that you would give to Mrs Nagaraju to help her manage her tasks.


You will have realised that eight out of ten items are essential administration or responses to events. Only two items – taking a learning walk (item 4) and checking the plans for the next cross-curricular day (item 8) – are things that have the potential to impact directly on students’ learning. The learning walk will enable her to gather information about learning behaviour, so that she is better able to support her teachers; ensuring the plans for the cross-curricular day are going well will help to make sure that the students have a positive experience. Items 4 and 8 are non-urgent, so could easily get ignored. But if Mrs Nagaraju is to make a difference to teaching and learning in her school, these items should have a high priority. Maybe there are some administrative tasks that she could delegate to someone else? Maybe the class teachers could take responsibility for items 5 and 9?

As a school leader, it is easy to be swamped by everyday events and administration. It is sometimes difficult to find the time to focus on bigger issues and solve complex problems. The purpose of the SDP is to help you be strategic, and to prioritise and identify actions that will ultimately lead to improvements in teaching and learning. The same will apply to other busy teachers in the school. The development plan will help all of you to remain focused on longer-term goals and prioritise tasks that will help you to achieve those goals.

Having carried out a review of the school, you and your leadership team (or fellow teachers) will have identified things that you need to do in order to improve your school. These could include:

  • increasing the number of students who can read fluently by the end of primary school
  • changing the structure of the school day
  • improving the use of continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) in the school.

The first step is to identify some priority areas. This will involve talking to stakeholders, and the priorities chosen should be consistent with your collective vision for the school. (The unit Perspective on leadership: building a shared vision for your school is also useful in combination with this unit).

Once you have a vision and priorities, the next step is to devise set of actions that are likely to bring about the desired change. For example, if the agreed priority is to change the structure of the school day, actions could involve:

  • identifying two or three options for an alternative school day schedule
  • consultingteachers, students and parents to identify the option that is likely to be the most appropriate
  • rewriting the timetable to fit the preferred option and then presenting it for approval to staff and parents
  • communicating the plan to students and deciding the date from which the new day will start.

You should identify someone to take responsibility for each action, a timescale for completion and some criteria that you can use in order to monitor progress. Activity 2 will help you to be specific. It is easy to write down things like ‘improve attendance among the female students’, but nothing will happen unless someone takes specific action.

Figure 3 Aims need actions.

Activity 2: Converting aims into actions

Consider the aim ‘To improve the attendance of female students in my school’. Write down in your Learning Diary four of five actions that would lead to achieving this aim.

Resource 1 sets out a template for an SDP. This will be considered in more detail later in the unit, but have a look at it now so that you know what you are aiming for.

The first step is to identify the priorities for the school (the first column of the table). The self-review will have provided plenty of ideas, but these will need to be discussed with your stakeholders.

What school leaders will learn in this unit

2 Working with stakeholders