February 2013

The know zone

  • Warning signs
    The case of a BNP councillor who took his claim against unfair dismissal to the European Court of Human Rights is a warning to schools and colleges, says Richard Bird. More
  • Toil and trouble
    Changes to local and national funding formulae could be a recipe for a whole cauldron of bother, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Judy Garland, Kongzi, Ezra Pound, Felix Cohen and Thomas Fuller More
  • Home ground
    After 20 years away, Mark Stanyer returned to the school where he began his teaching career and is now principal of Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Stoke-on-Trent. More
  • Nourishing minds
    The Food for Life Partnership (FFLP) is revolutionising school meals by reconnecting young people with farms and inspiring them to grow food and cook. More
  • Keeping pedagogy on track
    Despite being in the midst of one of the most challenging periods in education Brian Lightman explains why he believes there are strong grounds for optimism in 2013. More
  • Adding value
    In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced two changes that will hit high earners, people seeking to boost their pension provision, and public sector workers who benefit from generous employer contributions. More
  • Quantitative easing
    Do you believe changes announced to the teachers’ pay structure will be beneficial or detrimental? Here, leaders share their views. More
  • Plantastic voyage
    Nothing solves a problem quite like a carefully constructed, conscientiously costed action plan. Just make sure that everyone has the correctly coloured stationery. More
  • Leaders' Surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Financial times...
    With changes to pensions announced in the Autumn Statement and proposals to change teachers’ pay published only days before ASCL Council met in December, it was no surprise that pay and conditions were high on the agenda. More
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Nothing solves a problem quite like a carefully constructed, conscientiously costed action plan. Just make sure that everyone has the correctly coloured stationery.

Plantastic voyage

Writing an action plan is never my favourite activity. I once had to do one for a pretend job. You know the scenario – you’ve applied to go on a course, ‘Moving to deputy head’, and they con rm your place but ask you to write a pretend plan for the pretend job. I wouldn’t mind but I would not actually have applied for this job in a month of Sundays.

I was once on a deputy head interview and was ensconced with the other  five candidates in a room with every report and piece of data the school could lay their hands on and asked to write a three-year action plan. I have to say I was rather  flippant in my response and then duly withdrew.

But the pièce de résistance was the action plan to end all action plans. The head insisted that five of us spent the first three days of the October half-term putting right all the wrongs and laying the foundations for all our work for the next two years. Why? We had had the dreaded Ofsted visit two days previously and they left us, ‘requiring special measures’. The silence
that greeted this judgement was deafening. Tumbleweed would have felt lonely. Even alcohol wouldn't ix it.

So to the action plan. The answer to all our woes.

Five senior leaders spent three days locked in a room writing down all the things we wanted to fix. Brand new action plan folders were purchased, and 40 minutes were spent arguing over who had which
colour and whether or not it was in their colour swatch. We then looked at all the policies because that would help; if it’s in the staff handbook, it will make a difference, won’t it? Here’s what emerged (more or less):

  1. Improve teaching and learning by looking at questioning and planning and don’t forget to reference it to any aspects of AfL or BfL or CfL. Success criteria? Lots of lesson plans with data sets for every class. Gather lots of observation evidence. Don’t forget to put it in the action plan.
  2. Student achievement must improve. Let’s plan to test them every three weeks so we can see if they are making progress or not. Genius. What if they are not? Test them again and don’t forget to put it in the action plan.
  3. Leadership and management – do more duties and monitor more lessons. What about the governors? Link them to each department. Isn’t that a whole section of the plan to itself? Easy peasy.
  4. Behaviour and attendance–let’s make more calls and send home more certificates, plus detentions with senior staff. Sorted. Bullet points 54-63 of the plan completed.

We must meet three times per week to see how the action plan is getting on. Make sure everything is measurable. It won’t work unless we measure it. How much will it cost to provide ‘1,000 starters for all occasions’ for all staff?

Or perhaps it is more important to focus on action rather than the planning of the action? What about being out there winning hearts and minds? Focusing on standards and culture? Talking and praising and leading and challenging?

My action plan in its new purple folder (sadly, I am old enough to be able to wear purple) is now currently being used as a doorstop. It has
been of some benefit at last.

The new head took one look at it and consigned it to the recycle bin. The replacement has been a one-page focus on culture, standards, emotionally intelligent leadership and common sense. It is used in most meetings and is at the heart of every conversation from the kitchen staff to the senior leadership briefings.

Bring on board a new chair of governors, revitalise demoralised staff (have a cake day) and hey presto – an Ofsted judgement of ‘Good with outstanding leadership’ in the space of 50 school weeks. Who needs 125 bullet points with costed success criteria cross-referenced to policies?

I knew all along that writing an action plan was a waste of time – pretend or otherwise!

  • The author is a deputy head in the south west

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

plantastic voyage