Developing your school's long-term strategic plan

Written by: Ciara Lamb | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

It is crucial that your long-term strategic plan helps you to sustain your school. Ciara Lamb outlines what to consider when deciding on your priorities and how to create a robust plan

Be clear on the difference between a long-term strategic plan and a school development plan

Your school’s strategic plan and school development or improvement plan (SDP) go hand-in-hand. However, there are key differences between the two:

  • A long-term strategic plan will offer a top-level overview of the direction of school improvement over the next three to five years. It will break-down how you are going to achieve your school’s vision or mission statement.
  • A SDP on the other hand will outline how you will achieve part of that strategy across a one, two or three-year period. It will include specific actions you need to take to meet your medium-term objectives and will keep you on track for achieving your long-term strategy.

Lean on school leaders/governors for expertise

To develop a clear strategic plan, every headteacher will need to collaborate with senior leaders and governors (and trustees and trust leaders where applicable).

However, how much input these individuals have will depend on your school’s context and the experience of those around you. To help you develop your plan, you may need to lean on others for their expertise.

You will want to involve your senior leaders, but who else you pull in will depend on any gaps in experience.

For example, you may need individuals who have experience in business strategy (members of your board) or a specific area of focus such as curriculum or wellbeing (school leaders with those areas of responsibility).
Your vision statement still reflects your aspirations

Your vision and values form the foundation of your strategic plan, so you will want to make sure you are still happy with your vision statement before you begin.

You likely will not need to review your vision statement in light of the changes over the past year and the issues that have been brought to the fore (staff wellbeing, inclusivity/anti-racism, sexual harassment) – if it is a broad general statement, it should stand the test of time.

However, if your vision statement is more detailed, ask the questions: does it still reflect what is most important to our school and where we aspire to be? Your governors are responsible for developing your school’s vision so speak to them about carrying out a review to assess whether it needs a refresh.

Hear from your school community to identify priorities for action

To understand what you need to focus on, you will need to be clear on the strengths and weaknesses in your school, taking into account any changes over the past year. Your self-evaluation form (SEF) and last Ofsted report will give you a good idea of what weaknesses you need to focus on, but you will also want to hear from your staff, pupils and parents.

You will not take forward every weakness you pick up on – this part of the process is just so you can get a feel for what is important to your school community and where they think the school needs to be. If you need more clarity on what you need to work on, use your usual methods for gathering insights from your school community, such as staff focus groups, informal gatherings with parents (virtual or in-person) and pupil, parent and staff questionnaires.

Check your priorities tie into your vision

With your leadership team, discuss your weaknesses as a school and decide which areas you will work on in the plan. Have around four to six priorities that are going to help you achieve your vision. You will probably have a good idea of what these are going to be, but be sure that each priority ties in with your vision statement.

If you have a longer vision statement, you could chunk it down into separate components and think about where each priority fits in. If your statement is more general, ask what will happen if we don’t prioritise this and what will happen if we do?

Write clear objectives and actions

To write-up your plan, you will need to turn your priorities into clear written objectives that give a short overview of what you want to do. Your objectives will need to be quite high-level. You are not trying to write a SDP at this stage, so these objectives might still feel quite big, but that is okay, as you will use your SDP to break them down further into specific objectives and actions.

You will need to use everyone’s experience about what good looks like to decide on your targets for your school. Make sure the objectives give a clear idea of what you want to achieve and that the targets are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound).

Map-out what you can realistically achieve

Plan carefully what you can do and when. For each of your objectives, you will likely have a range of actions – some will be smaller, quick wins and others will be bigger tasks that require more work and will take longer to embed.

Ideally, you only want to introduce one new concept at a time. For example, if one of your objectives is to provide exceptional teaching and learning, one of your actions may be to introduce a new assessment system. But do not do this at the same time as introducing another initiative, such as a new curriculum. Staggering initiatives will ensure staff are not overwhelmed.

Roll-out big initiatives gradually. Give yourself enough time to implement each new initiative. A template plan might involve:

  • Year one: Choose your new system and run a pilot in one key stage or year group.
  • Year two: Review what worked and improve your approach.
  • Year three: Roll-out across the school.
  • Year four: Review what worked across the whole school and improve your approach.

Also, identify anything that is time-sensitive. For example, if you are expecting an Ofsted inspection (e.g. in the next two years), make sure you focus first on the actions that could affect your grade, so you can show in your plan that you are working on the weaknesses previously identified.

  • Ciara Lamb is a specialist content editor at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. The advice in this article is taken from The Key’s resource “How to develop your long-term strategic plan”, which it worked on with Audrey Pantelis and Pete Crockett. Visit

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