School Development Plans: Reach for the stars

Written by: HTU | Published:

Headteacher Helen Frostick discusses using yearly themes to help drive your school development and improvement plans.

How can you deliver a school development plan to the whole school community to make it an exciting and dynamic project rather than a word processed document filed away on the highest shelf?

At St Mary Magdalen’s our yearly themes are eagerly anticipated and welcomed by pupils, staff, parents and governors alike. What started out as a focus to improve just one area of school life has now developed in to a means of communicating strategic planning even to the youngest of our pupils.

Over the past few years, examples of our themes have included: the year of shiny shoes and smart attire, the year of good manners, and the year of first time personal bests.

Most recently the year of “going for gold” inspired by the London Games 2012 was particularly stand out in its effectiveness.

In 2012/13, the year of going for gold made sense to the children. As a London school we had embraced the learning opportunities the Olympic Games had to offer. We gratefully received complimentary tickets to the Olympic badminton competition and the build-up to the Games in school incorporated our own Olympic-themed sports day and an enriching study of many of the cultures of the countries taking part. We also took part in an Olympics Dreams project for the creative arts organised by our borough.

However – where do you go to from gold? The school had the most exceptional year in its history and, as a result, the governors were keen to work with the senior leadership team to formulate a five-year plan to build on the school’s successes and to avoid a complacency that might come from a feeling that the “Golden City” had already been reached.

It was decided that the INSET day in January 2013 would be dedicated to formulating a strategic plan. To facilitate this work, an external consultant was commissioned to lead the planning session. After three hours of intensive work reviewing the school’s strengths and weaknesses, a five-year plan was drawn up in terms of bold headings:

  • To become a centre of excellence.
  • To harness technology for exceptional communication.
  • To further develop inspirational teaching so the vast majority becomes outstanding.
  • To develop pupils in to independent, motivated and highly effective learners well prepared for the next step of their educational journey.
  • To set up our own St Mary Magdalen’s nursery.

The senior leadership team went on to draw up these five areas into a detailed School Development Plan. From that point the dynamic work began – how to bring this new plan to life for the pupils?

After all of the successes of the going for gold year in 2012/13, the obvious next step, in terms of themes, was to go for platinum. However, we feared that the children might not relate to a silver metal being of a higher value than gold.

Hence the concept Planet Platinum was born. The school development plan was given a space theme. The journey would be longer, five years rather than one, and each year would be broken down in to missions for the year.

In my first headteacher’s assembly I introduced the children to the theme of Planet Platinum. The parallels between space missions and learning missions were illustrated via video footage of the first landing on the moon. The teamwork involved in launching a rocket and astronauts into space was an excellent introduction to galvanise the school into our very own voyage to the stars.

In the “meet the new teacher” morning that July, the classes came up with space themed names:

  • Little Bears (reception class).
  • Eclipse (year 1).
  • Shooting Stars (year 2).
  • Aurora (year 2).
  • Apollo (year 3).
  • Galaxy (year 4).
  • Curiosity (year 5).
  • Voyager (year 6).

Each class researched their namesake to present to the rest of the school in assembly and to parents via the weekly newsletter. This was learning for a purpose and learning in context that reached the whole school.

The parents facilitated our theme by funding, via the Parent-Teacher Association, a visit to school by the London Planetarium for both key stages and for every child to enjoy.

School funds were found to pay for inspirational visual displays of the space theme. The children were excited to see themselves depicted on the plan with images of their space names.

Up the staircase a “platinum” mirror with “You can go for Platinum!” reminds the children of the theme and how they can do their best to reach platinum. This visual is echoed in weekly certificates with star trooper stickers awarded to the platinum pupils of the week.

A company called Leaps and Strides is behind all of our engaging visuals and it is money well spent to have high class illustrations to bring the School Development Plan to life.

In terms of memorable education the Planet Platinum theme has delivered on every level.

At our recent “Night at the Proms” the orchestra played their homage to Holst’s Planet Suite and the key stage 2 children sang out Reach for the Stars by S Club 7 with gusto. The overall feeling sitting there in the audience was that 2013/14 has indeed been a Platinum year.

In a further four years we should have reached the moon and the sun as well as the stars.

  • Helen Frostick is the headteacher of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in south London.

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