Subject action plan: template and guidance

Once you’ve evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of your subject or department, you’ll want to turn that information into a coherent improvement plan. Download our template and follow our guidance to get the most out of your plan.

Last reviewed on 21 June 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 1294
  1. Download our template
  2. Use your subject audit and school improvement plan
  3. Decide on your priorities
  4. Set SMART targets for each priority
  5. Follow these tips for writing your action plan

Download our template

It has space for you to record:

  • The context of your department, including its strengths and weaknesses - if you're a subject leader, work with your head of department here
  • Your long-term plan over 2 to 3 years
  • Your priorities for the year
  • Each priority in detail, including targets, actions to take, resources, success criteria, how it'll be monitored, and a RAG rating

Example of a completed plan

Use the following sample action plan to give you an idea of how you might fill in the details for one priority in a secondary English department action plan. Please note that it's intended as an example only. 

Use our checklist to write a strong plan

It'll help you with each aspect of the action plan:

  • Deciding on your priorities
  • Choosing SMART targets
  • Identifying actions to take
  • Having a clear success criteria

When filling in your action plan, keep the following guidance in mind.

Use your subject audit and school improvement plan

Your subject action plan will be based on:

  • The strengths and weaknesses you've identified in your subject audit
  • Priorities in your whole-school improvement plan (SIP, also known as a school development plan or SDP)

Your RAG ratings in your subject audit can help you find areas to focus on - several amber or red sections might indicate a priority (see the section below for more on priorities).

However, you'll also need to take into account the priorities identified by your SLT (senior leadership team) in your SIP - if there are already a few essential areas your school needs to focus on, those might be a bigger priority for your subject to pick up.

For example, if literacy is identified as a focus point in your school, this will trickle down into all departments. As subject leader, you'll need to incorporate this as a priority into your action plan. As such, in a subject like science or geography, you might put emphasis on reading, writing and spelling within each unit of work. 

Writing your subject action plan is a dynamic, dual process where you'll be working up from your subject audit and down from your SIP. 

Let your SIP guide you

  • Use the same format as your SIP and cover the same time period - it'll make it easier to refer to and link the 2 together
  • Look at the improvement priorities identified in your school's latest Ofsted inspection report to see what you could feed into your subject action plan
  • If your school uses Ofsted criteria to rate the quality of lessons, you'll want to reflect this at your subject level too
  • Identify who in the senior leadership team (SLT) is responsible for leading objectives or actions in the SIP that relate to your subject, and make them responsible for monitoring the progress of your subject plan

Decide on your priorities

You'll want to look for common strands in your SIP and subject audit to identify:

  • Short-term priorities for the year - these will become priority areas for development in your action plan. You'll want to choose ones that can be dealt with quickly
  • A long-term plan of what you hope to achieve over the next 2 to 3 years

Focus on achievable priorities

Prioritising is key, so decide on no more than 2 or 3 priorities to keep your action plan manageable.

If you're not sure, work with your SLT to help you to decide which priorities to choose. Every priority will need a 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.

Use our discussion guide to help you

See our article on writing an effective SIP for guidance on deciding your priorities. The article is aimed at senior leaders writing a whole-school plan, but the points about choosing priorities should still be helpful for your subject action plan.

For example, it encourages you to consider:

  • What will happen if you don't address a particular weakness this year
  • The reason for prioritising a weakness this year rather than next year
  • Whether a weakness is more important for a particular cohort, e.g. year 6 transitioning to secondary school

Set SMART targets for each priority

Take your priorities and list everything you will need to do in order to complete them. This list will become your targets, which should be:

  • Specific 
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Like with your priorities, you'll want to make sure they're clear, direct and process-driven, so you'll know exactly what you need to do and when.

However, it's worth remembering that you'll only really know how clear your targets are when you start to follow them - this mean you might need to amend your plan mid-year.


Make sure targets are directly connected to your subject/department priorities. Keep them simple and to the point.

You don't need to add detail at this point - just include the key steps.

Measurable and achievable 

Now, think about your success criteria and how you'll 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 your target is met?  
  • Impact - how will this affect your pupils? What will they see or experience differently once your target is met?

To achieve a strong link with your SIP, include outcomes for learners in your subject plan. For example, you might specify that you're aiming for the proportion of pupils achieving top grades in GCSEs to increase by 25% in your subject.

It's also essential to include what success looks like for different pupil groups, such as pupils eligible for the pupil premium or pupils with special educational needs (SEN). 

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 an objectives is, then you need to re-think it
  • Where possible, use statements from the Ofsted framework in your success criteria. If you are looking for an 'outstanding' judgement, use the 'outstanding' statements

Realistic 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 timeframe.

Follow these tips for writing your action plan

Set aside plenty of time to complete your action plan

Be realistic and give yourself enough time to complete all you have planned - it's important to plan well so you can keep staff workload and pressure manageable.

You'll also need to be strategic. For example:

  • Set deadlines for your team's performance management objectives after they've had a chance to attend any relevant training, if that objective is dependent on the training
  • Communicate with your SLT to check that there are no major school improvement initiatives taking place at the same time as yours
  • When introducing new initiatives, choose a time in a year that's not taken up by routine priorities, like end-of-year assessments and report deadlines

Remember that school improvement is a continuous process

  • While you're writing your new action plan, you'll be working on completing your current action plan
  • If relevant, include actions that you're currently working on in 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

Involve only a select number of people, to keep things manageable

  • Assign actions to a small team of staff - this is because the fewer staff involved, the fewer people you need to lead, and the less challenging it will be for you
  • Ask your line manager to monitor your actions. They're responsible for your performance management so by asking them to monitor your action plan, they can see the impact of your improvements
  • However, remember that too many members of the SLT monitoring your actions may cause you conflict and confusion
  • You'll also want to identify a governor to oversee your subject plan


Our thanks to the following for their help with this article:

Trevor Bailey has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years.

Gareth Balch is a school improvement consultant with a background in secondary school leadership. He works in interim leadership roles and runs mock inspections and INSET training on a range of topics.

Jonathan Block has extensive experience of school leadership as an interim head and education consultant.


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