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Coronavirus: how to set your school improvement plan (SIP)
You still need to set the strategic aims in your school’s SIP for the year ahead. If you’re the chair, find out how coronavirus may (and may not!) affect this, what you should bear in mind, and what you can expect from senior leaders.
Follow your normal process
Discuss the school improvement plan (SIP) and set objectives as you would normally.
The main difference will be that you'll do this over a course of virtual meetings.
To recap, the process tends to be:
- Governors and senior leaders meet to review the past academic year and determine key areas for school improvement
- Governors set high-level objectives for the SIP
- The headteacher and senior leaders draft the SIP and present it to the governing board
- Governors interrogate the SIP
- Governors approve the SIP (the full governing board should do this)
- Governors monitor the SIP during the year
Your board might do things differently – for example, you may have committees or working parties which take care of some of the steps. However you do it, remind your governors how the process will work.
Here's the process above in more detail, and how coronavirus might affect things:
Review the past academic year
During the summer term, you'll meet with senior leaders to review the past academic year and determine the key areas of development for the coming year.
If you’ve been in regular contact with the headteacher, and have been keeping your board updated, then you should have an understanding of where the school is right now – this will help your board set realistic, challenging objectives.
What to expect from the meeting
As well as looking back at the first part of this academic year, your headteacher should give you a frank and transparent review of the period of school closure. Expect an overview of how:
- The school has supported the school community
- Leaders are planning to approach reopening – but don’t expect a lot of detail right now
- The school has approached centre-assessed grades (the way in which pupils, e.g. those taking GCSEs and A Levels, will be awarded grades), and what’s in place to ensure fairness and transparency
- The school is intending to address mental health, behaviour and achievement over the coming year, and how it's going to support pupils that have transitioned (reception and year 7)
Evidence you can expect
Types of data you might discuss with senior leaders include:
- Attainment and attendance data from before school closure
- Data from remote learning (not all schools will have this)
- Centre-assessed grades from teacher assessment (e.g. GCSE and A Level)
- Financial data
- Results of staff, parent and pupil surveys
- Previous SIPs and their outcomes
- The self-evaluation form (SEF) – remember this might look different to normal, as priorities and evidence would have changed quickly
Treat data with caution
The data you'd usually discuss might look a bit different this year. It might be:
- Out of date – for example, attendance data before closure
- Based on internal and possibly irregular assessment – for example, it may not be possible for leaders to provide much data about remote learning, as it'll be tricky to draw comparisons (some children may have submitted 10 pieces of work, while others none)
- Subject to moderation – centre-assessed grades will be standardised by exam boards further down the line
- Missing – for example, it's unlikely your school will have the percentage of pupils on track to make expected progress
- Limited – for example, your SEF may not cover impact as it usually would, as this'll be very hard to assess, and leaders may have had to abandon the usual RAG (red, amber, green) ratings
Bear this in mind if you're using data to set SIP objectives.
Set high-level objectives for the new SIP
Mix the old and new
You still need to use your SIP like you’ve always done – to focus on the significant strategic challenges facing your school to drive improvement.
Don’t let coronavirus dominate your SIP – but do bear in mind how the upheaval has, and will, impact your objectives.
Try to strike a balance between:
- Recovery (the actual process of getting pupils and staff back into the swing of school life)
- Developing new objectives based on what the school’s learnt from this situation
- Keeping or adapting existing objectives for long-term improvements (there may be some you can carry over because they're still relevant)
1. Short to medium term: recovery and learning loss
For the short to medium term at least, it’s likely you’ll have at least one SIP objective based on recovery and learning loss.
- Curriculum – you might adapt an existing curriculum objective so school leaders can set a 'recovery curriculum'
- Attendance – you might focus on just getting pupils back to school, without a heavy focus on data
- Bear in mind, your school might have many children (and parents) anxious about returning, and will find the transition back very hard. This may be especially difficult for reception and year 7 pupils
2. Long term: seize the opportunity for new developments
Now might be a great time to re-evaluate and start afresh on some of your objectives. For example, you might want objectives which focus on:
- Pupil and staff mental health and wellbeing
- Using technology – your school may want to build on the remote learning it's been doing
- Community engagement – your school might want to think about how it continues any strong communication it’s had with the school community
Take the chance to look at what you’ve gained as a school after adapting to the new situation – there might be really great stuff to build on!
Some other topics to think about:
- Behaviour – having a consistent approach to incidents
- Safeguarding – how to enhance contact with at-risk pupils and support members of staff
- Attendance – how to encourage a long-term recovery in attendance figures
3. Long term: keep or adapt existing objectives
It’s also important to have objectives based on your normal way of working – albeit tweaked to take into account changes due to coronavirus.
For example, you may have had a building project due to start that was part of an objective – just make a note that this was delayed due to coronavirus, and by all means keep it in your SIP for the year ahead.
You can still have objectives based on outcomes
Just remember that this year's data will be based on internal assessment, and grades formally awarded this year won't be benchmarked or available nationally.
Bear this in mind when you're deciding on success criteria, as you might not be able to make like-for-like comparisons between 2019/20 and 2020/21 as you would usually.
Remember, school leaders draft the SIP
The objectives you set shouldn’t be actions, but much broader aims.
School leaders will actually draft the document, and devise all the nitty-gritty actions and details of how they’ll achieve the strategic objectives you set.
Interrogate the draft SIP: questions to ask senior leaders
When senior leaders have drafted the SIP, they'll present it to the governing board (usually at the start of autumn term).
Hold senior leaders to account for the draft SIP they create, but remember your job is also to support – be mindful of the toll school closure has had on the community.
Consider whether the objectives in the SIP have:
- Concrete actions
- Realistic timescales
- Someone responsible for each action
- Clear cost/resource implications
- Success criteria – make sure this can be measured
- Milestones towards success criteria
- An evaluation mechanism (governor committee)
Ask senior leaders:
- To what extent is the SIP influenced by school closure?
- Does this SIP need to be treated in phases?
- How's [this action] supposed to work?
- What do you expect the result to be?
- What particular problems do you anticipate if we do this?
- What other options did you consider?
- What support will you need to deliver the SIP?
- Are the objectives challenging or unrealistically high?
- Is there a plan in place for regularly assessing the milestones? (e.g. a termly red/amber/green (RAG) assessment system)
- Have we got the staff in place to deliver on this action?
- How does this plan help us achieve our vision for the school?
Approve the SIP
The full governing board should do this, even if you delegated the scrutiny of the SIP to a committee.
Hold a vote to approve the SIP, and make sure the clerk records all challenges and the vote itself in the minutes.
Monitor the SIP
How you monitor
The methods you use to monitor probably won’t change too much when schools reopen. Continue to link staff and governors to objectives, review the SIP regularly in committees and board meetings, and expect reports from the headteacher on progress.
But bear in mind that in the short term:
- Meetings between link governors and members of staff might still need to take place remotely
- Physical school visits might need to be re-structured (e.g. fewer visits)
Your board may also have additional roles, for example:
- Mental health link governor
- Bereavement liaison link
What you monitor
Be careful not to put too much pressure on your school leaders. In the short to medium term in particular, you need to be thinking more in terms of how everyone is adapting to being back in school. Recognise that mental health and wellbeing is just as important as what the children are learning.
And, while you and your teachers will want to find out where pupils are academically after this period of remote learning, don't expect (or demand) teachers to start testing pupils as soon as they get back to school.
Thanks to the following for their help with this article:
- Lorraine Petersen, education consultant. Lorraine was previously the chief executive officer of nasen (which promotes the education of young people with special educational needs), and a primary school headteacher. She's also a governor at a special school in the West Midlands
- Jonathan Rockey, principal of Wymondham High Academy
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