Anatomy of a School Improvement Plan

School leaders creating school improvement plans are faced with pressing questions.

What should we prioritise? What goals should we set, and how? Where can we best invest our staff and leadership time? How do we discern the critical from the desirable? 

Here is an example of a school improvement plan I drafted a year ago.

The aim was to create clear priorities and clear goals. We also included owners, plans, trackers and reviews. 

What have I learned with the vantage point of hindsight, looking back after a year?


Some elements are worth keeping for creating future plans.

First things first

Starting with behaviour and disruption, and prioritising leadership development and teaching, put sound foundations in place for building the long-term future.

For *All*

Aspiring to support *all* staff and *all* students feels exciting and uplifting.



In hindsight, what were the inhibiting blind spots in this plan?

Overloaded, not prioritised

Four priorities and 22 goals is too many for SLT to effectively review and achieve within a year. 

Rigid, not emotive

Ultra-rational, unemotive plans, trackers and reviews lack narrative, excitement and humanity.

Avoidant, not forthright

Avoiding clarifying the biggest obstacles, such as underperformance holds us back.

Avoiding conflicts between goals like governors and staff wellbeing, or between SEND and attainment, meant these conflicts remained unaddressed.

Disconnected, not human

Neglecting the experiences and perspectives of students who find learning and school most difficult, means we missed opportunities for encouragement and support every day.


Looking back and looking ahead, here are some of the questions on my mind for how we can develop the ways we approach our school improvement planning.

  1. Story

What story and adventure do we most want to share together?

  1. Priorities

If priorities are more like arms than limbs (only having two rather than four), what are the two most important priorities to pour time, love, energy and thinking into? Why those and not others? What can we deprioritise, and deliberately choose not to do?

  1. Goals

What are the most important goals to achieve by the end of the year?

  1. Planning

What planning, systems, resourcing, development and problem-solving are required to maximise the chances that we’ll achieve these selective goals?

  1. Perspectives

Whose perspectives matter most above all – what staff and student ownership? How can we make our efforts cohere?

  1. Obstacles

What are the obstacles that are most holding us back?

  1. Knowledge-building

How can we get clear shared understanding on where we are in each area, without resorting to overloading or distracting monitoring and evidencing?

  1. Emotions

How can we connect together on a human level with emotions like pride, awe and love? 

  1. Threats

What are the greatest external risks and scenarios we anticipate? 

  1. Opportunities

What are the greatest opportunities for us?

  1. Involvement, Dialogue and Iteration

How could we best involve leaders, staff and students?

How can we best get ownership and alignment?

12. Adaptation

How can we best adapt as reality evolves?


Looking back, I feel abashed and chastened that the school improvement plans I’ve drafted keep falling into the pitfalls of overload, avoidance, rigidity and disconnect.

Looking ahead, knowledge-building, stories, priorities we love, emotions and dialogue might be better bets to help us create more exciting, more fulfilling school improvement planning.

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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