is strategic planning, and why should all schools have a strategic
Strategic Planning is the process
of looking at all aspects of your school and planning how you wish
to move the school forward. It provides the ‘big picture’
of where you are, where you are going and how you are going to get
Strategic Planning looks at three main questions:
- Where is the school now?
- Where does the school want to be in 3, 5, 10, 20 years?
- How are we going to get there?
The point of a strategic plan is to improve your
school or organisation by outlining the direction you wish the school
to take, identifying issues impacting on your school and deciding
on the priorities for action.
All schools should have a strategic plan. Without
one, the school’s key stakeholders (parents, students, staff
and the community) don’t know where you are going. With a
strategic plan, everyone is working towards the same vision, trying
to reach the same goals, and building commitment to the organisation.
A Strategic Plan also makes everyone’s work
easier. For example:
- It reduces the number of decisions senior management has to
make since most decisions are made on the basis of whether or
not they fit the school’s vision and goals;
- It ensures the school staff focus on the essentials as determined
by key stakeholders;
- It provides direction so all stakeholders have a clear vision
of what the school is trying to achieve and some understanding
of the strategies agreed upon.
In some cases, a Strategic Plan is mandated by
government. In some countries and states, for example, a criterion
for school accreditation is provision of a written strategic plan
for school improvement; while many state governments require government
schools to have three or five year strategic plan/review cycles.
When should I do my strategic
Decisions about strategic planning should take
- The school’s stage of development
- The level of resources available
- The level of competence of the Board and senior management
in the area of strategic planning.
Obviously most schools have at least a business
plan and a building master plan in their first stage of development,
but often management is so busy providing infrastructure and trying
to increase enrolments in the early years it does not consider there
is time for formal strategic planning.
The worst time to do your strategic planning is
when your school is in crisis.
That is why we recommend undertaking formal strategic
planning no later than the second year of a school’s operation,
assuming, of course, the basic planning has been done in the establishment
phase of the school; and then repeating the process every three
to five years.
This does not mean that you can develop your strategic
plan and then forget it.
A strategic plan is worthless if it is so prescriptive
and rigid it cannot change to meet changing circumstances. This
is why the plan should be reviewed, internally, every year and why
annual operation/action plans need to be developed. But the formal
process, especially if the school is paying for an outside consultant,
probably does not need to occur any more than once in three to five
There are a number of reasons for this. Besides
the cost, change in schools takes time. Some experts in change management
suggest that changes in secondary schools take approximately 7 years;
and 5 years in primary school. If the strategic planning cycle is
too short, there is not enough time for initiatives decided by the
school to work.
Too frequent formal processes can result in strategic
planning fatigue. Some planning processes may take up to six months
or more. If a new planning cycle begins too quickly, people are
not over the fatigue of developing the first plan before a second
one is being considered.
However, despite the importance of having a plan,
there is one thing worse
than not having a strategic plan; that is spending all the time
it takes to develop then and then ignoring it, or finding it is
Strategic Planning –
Theory and Practice
In recent years, strategic planning theory in schools
has moved away from the traditional business model towards a ‘strategic
thinking’ approach. This is a strategy that is less a fixed
design and more a flexible learning process that relies on school
managers constantly listening and synthesizing what they hear and
learn from all sources.
This does not necessarily rule out a formal strategic
planning process, but it assumes that any formal plan is open to
change and refinement so the school leader is always open to responding
to rapid change. The strategic plan arises from pragmatic, flexible
strategic thinking that relies on judgment as much as on spelling
out action steps and the measurement of benchmarks.
The ‘strategic plan’ in this scenario
is simple and concentrates on very few targets over a relatively
short period of time. These plans may be developed using a strategic
thinking process which occurs over a series of faculty meetings
and a board retreat; and it may result in the development of a rolling
sequence of project-based reviews and change, focusing each year
on one or two departments, key focus areas or program areas.
The important focus in this type of planning is
the concentration on a few targets at a time. Schools have an approximate
10% window on students’ lives. By concentrating energy and
resources on the worthy goals that matter most right
now, we can make the most difference to the lives
of the students in our care. ‘Being truly strategic means
being clear about what the school is and what it isn’t, about
whom it’s good for and whom it’s not good for, about
what it can – and can’t become’ (Evans 2007)1.
The other critical element, is that the principal,
school Board and school staff must be ‘on the same page' when
it comes to strategic planning and thinking. That is, there must
be a shared understanding about the key areas strategic thinking
is going to concentrate on and both staff and the board must have
full confidence and trust in the principal to report accurately
about the school, its programs and trends in education.
Strategic Planning in practice then becomes a
simple process as follows:
- CLARIFY THE VISION
- COLLECT THE DATA
- IDENTIFY THE CRITICAL ISSUES
- CHOOSE THE STRATEGIES
- WRITE THE PLAN
TOOLKIT WILL LEAD YOU THROUGH EACH OF THESE PROCESSES.
1 Evans, R. (2007), The Case against Strategic
Planning, Independent School, Fall 2007,