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Last reviewed on 25 June 2021
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Learn about school improvement plans and your role in creating, approving and monitoring them. Use our flowchart to keep track of where you are in the process as you move through the academic year.

Thanks to Fred Birkett, Harry James, Mark Trusson, Keith Clover and Ian Preston, our associate governance experts, for help writing this article. 

Flowchart: governors' role in school improvement through the year

SIP cycle


What's a SIP?

Your school improvement plan (SIP) is a document that sets out all the actions that'll drive your school's improvement against your school's objectives over time - usually for the next academic year. It should focus on those significant strategic challenges facing your school. It's also referred to as a strategic plan or a school development plan.

Your headteacher and the senior leadership team (SLT) will draft the actual document.

Use it as a way of holding your school leaders to account. It's meant to be a practical tool for driving improvement and advancing your school's long-term strategy.

You can read more about the purpose and structure of SIPs in section 2.1 of the Governance Handbook.

How does my school's strategy relate to the SIP?

Your role in school improvement planning starts before the SIP is drafted. It starts with setting a strategy for the school, which is one of the governing board's 3 core functions. The strategy should set out where you want to be as a school in 3 to 5 years, and provide a robust framework for:

  • Setting priorities
  • Creating accountability
  • Monitoring progress

The objectives in your school's SIP should align with the school's strategy.

What role do I have in its creation, and when is it done?

You should set the high-level objectives - usually in the summer term

As the strategic leaders of the school, it's your role to move the school forward in a way that aligns with your vision and strategy. That's why you should tell the SLT where you expect them to be and when - i.e. the high-level objectives.

Have a meeting with the SLT (usually before the end of the academic year) to discuss school information and data that'll feed into these objectives, such as:

  • Pupil performance data
  • Financial data
  • Results of staff, parent and pupil surveys
  • Previous SIPs and their outcomes
  • The self-evaluation form (SEF)
  • Your last Ofsted inspection report

This meeting should determine the key areas for improvement and the objectives to set for the next year. 

Your headteacher and SLT draft the actual SIP document - they usually present this to your board in the autumn term

The draft SIP explains how the headteacher and SLT intend to achieve the objectives - i.e. the actions they'll take and those responsible for each. 

Setting the high-level objectives yourselves will also empower your headteacher to deliver real improvement. If you let the leaders tell you how they want to lead, then you can't effectively hold them to account. 

What's in it?

SIPs will differ from school to school, but many include:

Pupil information

  • Number of pupils on roll and context – is this increasing or decreasing?
  • Number of pupils eligible for the pupil premium
  • Number of pupils with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or education, health and care (EHC) plans
  • Percentage of pupils on track to make expected progress within core subjects, broken down by group (eligible for pupil premium, SEN, gender, most able)
  • Percentage of pupils on track to make more than expected progress within core subjects, broken down by group
  • Number of pupils currently not on track to make expected progress, broken down by group
  • Intake information per cohort (% of pupils with low, middle, high prior attainment)

School performance information

  • Most recent Ofsted grade, including for each area of the framework
  • Key Ofsted actions from the school’s last report
  • Key areas to improve from performance data
  • Key areas to improve from internal quality assurance of teaching and learning
  • Previous year’s exam results benchmarked to national data (attainment, progress, value added)
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) and information on how these are derived

Budget and staffing information

  • Staff turnover in the previous year
  • Key staffing areas of issue (temporary posts, staff receiving support, capability)
  • Brief information on budget (free reserves, in-year surplus, deficit)
  • Budgets allocated to SIP (CPD, consultant support, specific use of pupil premium funding)

For each objective

  • Actions
  • A realistic timescale
  • The name of the person responsible for ensuring the objective is achieved
  • Cost/resource implications
  • Success criteria
  • Milestones towards success criteria
  • Termly red, amber, green (RAG) assessment towards milestones
  • Evaluation mechanism (governor committee)
  • Termly summary of data against KPIs

Do I have to approve it?

Yes, you should.

Oddly enough, there's no formal requirement for the governing board to approve the SIP, though the Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that this should be a key part of your strategic function.

Read about the SIP approval process.

How do I monitor it?

Effective governing boards:

  • Link teams of staff and governors to each priority in the SIP
  • Have ‘monitoring progress’ as a regular item on committee meeting agendas
  • Have ‘review of the SIP' as a standing agenda item for committees, the full governing board or both
  • Receive reports from the headteacher and staff on progress towards priorities in the SIP
  • Delegate specific responsibilities for monitoring and evaluating the work of the school to working groups and individual governors, aligning this with the school’s improvement priorities
  • Ask for more information where it's needed; for example, before agreeing to a proposal presented by senior leaders

Read about monitoring progress for a deeper understanding of the process. 

This is according to Ofsted's report on effective school governance (see pages 6 and 8 to 9).

Examples of SIPs

Community primary school, Haringey

Risley Avenue Primary School's SIP sets out its key priorities for the academic year 2020-21 (click on 'our school' and then 'school improvement plan (SIP)' in the dropdown menu, and scroll to page 18). 

Each of the priorities has its own strategic plan. The plan has columns titled 'where we are now' and 'where do we want to be'. These columns include the role of governors presently, and how this will be developed.

Secondary academy, Suffolk

East Bergholt High School has published its school improvement plan. The school identifies it as a 'live' document that is amended throughout the year. 

It also explains that the local governing body (LGB) monitors progress and works with the SLT to set priorities for the coming year.

In the plan, each area for improvement sets out key priority areas, which are linked to key actions and their intended outcomes. What success will look like, and by when, are clearly identified. 



Fred Birkett is an experienced teacher and education consultant. He's been a governor for 20 years in primary and secondary schools, and a chair of governors for half that time, and is a national leader of governance.

Harry James is also a National Leader of Governance. He's currently chair of governors of a primary school in London, and is part of the steering group for an academic research project looking at school accountability and stakeholder education.

Mark Trusson is the director and chief executive of an academy trust. He has expertise in the innovative use of ICT with pupils, and leading church schools.

Keith Clover is a national leader of governance. He chairs 2 governing bodies within a multi-academy trust, and is an academy consultant for a diocese.

Ian Preston is a school governance consultant. He provides governor training to local authorities and other organisations. He has been a school governor for over 25 years in primary, secondary, maintained school and academy settings.

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