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Effective action planning: subject and departmental leads
Download our subject/departmental action plan template. Follow our guidance to find out how to write your strategic plan, and know what common mistakes to avoid.
Download our template
We worked with our associate education expert Terry Bailey to create this template.
Example of completed plan
Use the following sample action plan to give you an idea of how the details for one priority in a secondary English department action plan might be filled in. It is intended as an example only.
Writing your action plan
This is your strategic route map, writing it effectively will allow you to achieve the goals that you have set and successfully develop your subject/department.
If you're writing your action plan for the first time, or you've been writing action plans for years, follow our guidance below to give you the best opportunity to succeed.
Start by writing your context
Include key information about your subject/department such as:
- Changes in leadership in the last few years
- Changes in staffing
- Any factors that have impacted your strategic decision making
- Strengths, including any external validation
- Areas for development, including any Ofsted/LA recommendations or whole school priorities
Decide your subject/departmental priorities
This comes from your:
- School self-evaluation form (SEF) and subject/department SEF: highlighting identified weaknesses in your subject/department
- School improvement plan (SIP): key objectives that will address these weaknesses
Your SEF and SIP will help you to create your:
- Long term plan: what you hope to achieve over the next 2 to 3 years
- Priorities for the year: There should be no more than 2 or 3 and these will become priority areas for development in your action plan
Read more about linking subject plans to the school improvement plan.
Create SMART targets
Take your priorities and list everything you will need to do in order to complete it. This list will become your targets.
These targets should be SMART. This stands for:
Read on to find more about reading SMART targets.
Make sure targets are specific and directly connected to your subject/departmental priorities. Keep them simple, and to the point.
You don't need to add the detail at this point, just the key steps.
Measurable and achievable
Now, think about your success criteria.
How will you measure success in terms of:
- Milestones: what changes do you expect by which dates?
- Outcomes: what changes do you want to see in your subject/department once you objective is met?
- Impact: how will this impact your pupils? What will they see/experience differently once your objective is met?
Success criteria must be achievable:
- How do you know when you have achieved your objectives? What will it look like?
- If you're unable to list what the outcome and impact of your objectives are, then you need to re-think your objective
- Where possible, use statements from the Ofsted framework in your success criteria. If you are looking for an outstanding judgment, use the outstanding statements
Relevant and time-bound
Your actions are the smaller steps that need to be taken to meet each objective. These need to be clear, concise and follow a process.
Assign each action point to a member of staff in your team along with a set time frame.
What to avoid when writing an action plan
It's easy to get it wrong. A poorly written action plan can be the reason why you were unsuccessful in implementing your subject/departmental improvements.
Here are some things to avoid:
Prioritising is key! Decide on no more than 3 priorities.
If you're not sure, work with your SLT to help you to decide which priorities to choose. Every priority will need an action plan so the more you choose, the more work you will have to do.
Write your priorities in short, direct sentences. Complicated priorities will end up confusing you and are less likely to be achieved.
If they are clear and process driven, you will know exactly what you need to do and when.
You will only really know how clear these are when you start to follow them. If you need to edit/amend the plan mid-year, do it! Don't blindly follow objectives that are vague and unclear.
School improvement is a continuous process. While you're writing your new action plan, you're working on completing your current action plan.
If relevant, include actions that you're currently working on into your new action plan. This will allow your subject/department to transition from one action plan to another smoothly.
It also means that you start your new plan with some partially completed actions.
Lack of funds
Time your action planning phase to coincide with your school's budget planning phase. Your SLT will have allocated a budget to school improvement.
Your plan will be sitting alongside other plans all vying for the same pot of funds. Consider cheaper alternatives in case your budget is not agreed.
Buying new schemes, paying for experts are quick, expensive fixes but they don't always achieve the outcomes you want. Developing your own school curriculum 'in house' or learning/working collaboratively with other schools and experts can have a better impact and are infinitely cheaper.
Underestimating the time it will take to complete your action plan
Timing is everything! Be realistic, give yourself enough time to complete all you have planned.
Poor planning can lead to increased workload, pressure placed on staff and it can cause resentment towards your school improvement plans. You need realistic deadlines.
Be strategic and consider:
- Your team's performance management objectives: if an objective is dependent on a staff member attending training, make sure the deadline is planned after this date
- School improvement priorities: communicate with your SLT to check that there are no major school improvement initiatives taking place at the same time as yours
- Key assessment deadlines: end of stage assessments and report deadlines are not the time to be introducing new initiatives
Involving too many people
As a departmental/subject lead, assign actions to a small team of staff. The more staff involved, the more people you need to lead, and the more challenging this will be for you.
Working with small teams, share objectives and assign roles and dates.
Ask your line manager to monitor your actions. They are responsible for your performance management so by asking them to monitor your action plan, they are able to see the impact of your improvements.
Too many members of SLT monitoring your actions may cause you conflict and confusion.
Examples from schools
Thorney Island Community Primary School in West Sussex has published action plans for subjects such as maths, English and science.
For each key objective, it sets out desired outcomes and associated tasks.
Cranmer Primary School in Merton has also published subject action plans which outline:
- Key objectives
- Success criteria
- Persons responsible
- How progress will be monitored
Each action is red, amber, green (RAG) rated to indicated whether it has been achieved, partially achieved or not achieved.
As part of its school development plans, Amwell View School in Hertfordshire has budget action plans for different subjects, including:
Trevor Bailey has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years.
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