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School Development Planning – The TOTAL Approach

Schools, and headteachers in particular, spend a lot of time writing school development plans (SDP). Therefore the question that needs to be asked is, “Does the time spent writing represent good value?”. Answers are likely to vary. Some schools will say the SDP is the key driver of improvement, leads to fundamental change and that without it the school would stagnate. Other schools will say it doesn’t make much difference because nobody reads it! Given all schools have, and will continue to have, an SDP, it is essential for it to have maximum impact on the education and outcomes of the pupils. As such, there is merit in considering what For Schools calls a TOTAL approach.

A school development plan needs to be:


There are a number of areas to consider here. The priorities in the SDP need to be:

  • Few in number because it is not feasible or sensible to focus on too many different areas simultaneously. We need only look at the national picture to see the impact of implementation of too much change at the same time.
  • Focused tightly on issues which impact pupil outcomes most.
  • Evidence based. For example, as a consequence of data analysis, outcomes of monitoring and evaluation of teaching and learning, etc.
  • Focused on development. Many SDP are too long because priorities are more about maintaining existing practice than developing new practices.


Views differ about who should set the priorities. Some schools take a collegiate approach, which includes parents, to setting priorities. Other schools work on the basis that the priorities are best set by leaders. Whatever a school’s approach, it is imperative that the whole school community:

  • Knows what the priorities are and what success will look like.
  • Understands the rationale for the priorities.
  • Knows how they can contribute to the achievement of the priorities.


Too often, with the exception of the school self-evaluation cycle, the SDP sits in isolation of other improvement processes in the school. For maximum impact the SDP needs to be:

  • Overtly linked to subject and other action plans.
  • Threaded through the performance management targets of all staff.
  • A part of the conversation at parent evenings.
  • Related closely to aspects of the strategic plan of the governing board.


Ask staff, parents and pupils where the SDP is and what it looks like and the likelihood is many won’t know. There are some key strategies to make the SDP more accessible. These include:

  • Posting a version of the SDP on the website.
  • Communicating the priorities to parents through letters and/or texts.
  • Having a pupil speak version in all classrooms.
  • Making sure the SDP is free of jargon and acronyms.
  • Having a one page summary.
  • Having the SDP represented in large-scale pictorial form on display in a prominent part of the school.


For an SDP to be truly effective, it needs to be a live document. To be live it needs to be referred to frequently and in different contexts. Strategies include:

  • Regular updates in assemblies.
  • A standing item at governor and staff meetings.
  • Progress reports for parents on the website.
  • Discussions with the school council.
  • Reference to progress on school displays.

Typically, all progress updates are in the written form. There is mileage in considering using photos and videos, particularly for parents, which show how achievement of priorities is impacting the everyday school experience of their children. They are far more interested in this than knowing the staff have had training sessions on higher order questioning!

Using Lessons Learned to Inform Your SDP

Lessons Learned is an online system for storing and analysing all of your teaching, learning and performance management data. Used frequently, it can provide you with an instant picture of school-wide trends which can then be further broken down by subject, year group and more. Tables and graphs allow you to see where your school is performing well and which areas need more support.

To book a free online demonstration of Lessons Learned, please use our online booking form here.

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