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Last reviewed on 9 April 2021
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Long-term strategic planning will give you an overview of the direction of your school improvement over the next 3-5 years. Find out how to develop a robust plan that will help you achieve your school's vision. Plus, download our template plan to save you time writing your own.

How is a long-term strategic plan different to a SIP/SDP? 

A long-term strategic plan will: 

  • Outline a top-level overview of the direction of your school improvement over the next 3/4/5 years
  • Help you break down how you're going to achieve your school's vision

Whereas, a school improvement/development plan (SIP/SDP) will:

  • Outline how you'll achieve part of that strategy across a 1/2/3 year period
  • Include specific actions you need to take to meet your medium-term objectives
  • Keep you on track for achieving your overall long-term strategy

You can get further details on the differences and learn how the two feed into your school improvement planning in this article.

In the sections below, you'll find pointers to help you decide on strategic priorities that will help you achieve your school's vision and use these to formulate a clear written plan. At the end, you can access a template plan to save you time writing your own.

Lean on your school leaders and governors for their expertise 

Broadly speaking, to develop a clear strategy, every school will need to collaborate at some level with senior leaders and governors, as well as trustees and trust leaders if you're in a trust. However, how much input these individuals have will depend on your school's context and the experience of those around you.

Every school will need to collaborate on their strategy with senior leaders and governors, trustees or trust leaders

If you're in a maintained school

Your governors are ultimately responsible for setting your school's strategy, but in practice, you may lead on developing the plan and then present the draft to your whole governing board for feedback. If your governing board is generally more involved, they may want to take the lead on developing your strategy. If this is the case, the advice in this article will still be useful for you as you will be involved in the process, but who does what may differ.

To help you develop your plan, you may need to lean on others for their expertise. You'll want to involve your senior leadership team, but on top of that, who else you involve will depend on whether your team has any gaps in experience. For example, you may want to involve individuals that have experience in: 

  • Developing business strategy (most likely members of your board) 
  • An area that your strategy may focus on (like curriculum, wellbeing, etc.) - like school leaders with specific areas of responsibility 

If you're in a trust

In a trust, strategic planning can look a bit different. Some trusts will set a trust-wide strategy for all of their schools and others will let each school come up with its own. If you have a trust-wide strategy, you'll likely still be part of developing and reviewing it, as you'll be able to bring a unique perspective to the table.

If you set your own strategy, the advice above for maintained schools will be relevant for you too.

Make sure your vision statement still reflects your school's aspirations 

Your vision and values form the foundation of your strategic plan, so you'll want make sure you're still happy with your vision statement before you delve into strategic planning. 

If you have a broad vision statement, it should stand the test of time 

You likely won't need to review your vision statement in light of the changes over the past year and the issues that have been brought to the forefront (like staff wellbeing, promoting inclusivity/anti-racism). If it's 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's 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. If your school subscribes to The Key for School Governors, point your governors to our resources on finding your school’s vision and facilitating an away day to reflect on it. 

Hear from your school community to identify priorities for action 

To understand what you need to focus on, you'll 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 you need to focus on, but you'll also want to hear from your staff, pupils and parents. 

You won't take forward every weakness you pick up on - this part of the process is just so you can get a feel for what's important to your school community and where they think the school needs to be. If you already have a good idea of what you need to work on, skip to the next section. 

Use your usual methods for gathering insights from your school community, like:

  • Staff focus groups - asking questions like: what are we good at? What do we need?
  • Pupil, parent and staff questionnaires - focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the school 
  • Informal gatherings with parents, like coffee mornings (virtual or in-person) 

Once you've decided on your priorities, check they tie into your vision 

With your leadership team, discuss your weaknesses as a school and decide which areas you'll choose to work on. You'll want to have around 4-6 priorities that are going to help you achieve your vision. You'll likely already have a good idea of what these are going to be, but you'll want to be sure each priority ties in with your vision statement. 

To do this:

  • 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 the questions: what will happen if we don't prioritise this? What will happen if we do? This will help you think through what's truly important to your school

How to write clear objectives and actions

To write up your plan, you'll 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're not trying to write a school development plan at this stage, so these objectives might still feel quite big, but that's ok, as you'll use our SIP/SDP to break them down further into more specific objectives and actions. 

You'll need to use everyone's experience about what good looks like, to decide on your targets for your school (see the section 'lean on your school leaders and governors' above if your leadership team has gaps in expertise for certain objectives). 

There are various ways you can outline what you're going to do in your plan, so we'll show you one method from a school and another suggested method, with examples.

In both approaches, the objectives give a clear idea of what you want to achieve and the targets are:

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

Ratton School Academy Trust has a 5-year strategic plan. It outlines 6 driving actions that will help the school achieve its vision and then includes less detailed outcomes, which focus on percentage gains.

The method shown in the examples below includes: 

  • Objective - a short overview of what you want to do 
  • Action - what you'll do to achieve this 
  • Desired outcome - what success looks like 

Example 1 - staff wellbeing 


Improve staff wellbeing to ensure our school is a happy and healthy place to work

  • Establish a staff wellbeing working group that meets termly 
  • Undertake annual well-being surveys
Desired outcome(s)
  • The working group allows staff to have their say on wellbeing and workload 
  • At least one action is taken each term because of the working group. The actions of the group and impact are reported to the governing board through the wellbeing governor at least annually
  • The findings of the wellbeing surveys help shape future well-being policy and action plans   

Example 2 - teaching and learning

Objective All teaching consistently supports all students to make and exceed expected progress
  • Monitor the quality of teaching using a range of approaches including book scrutiny, lesson observations, learning walks, and termly scrutiny of progress data
  • Use assessment data effectively to identify progress gaps
  • Provide provision that effectively meets the needs of pupils with SEND enabling them to make progress and engage with their learning
Desired outcome(s)
  • Monitoring of teaching picks up strengths in practice that we can celebrate and share with others, shows improved student progress and leads to actions that further improve practice
  • If assessment data or monitoring highlights the need for further actions/interventions, these are initiated and secure the desired improvements
  • The above are shared with governors at least three times per school year
  • Provision for pupils with SEND enables them to demonstrate progress and engage with their learning. This will be evidenced through the SEND annual report to governors and assessment data analysis that includes a focus on the progress of SEND students

Map out what you can realistically achieve each year 

For each of your objectives, you'll 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. 

This means that you'll need to plan carefully what you can do and when. 

Introduce new concepts, one at a time 

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, you wouldn't want to do this at the same time as introducing another big initiative, like a new curriculum.

Staggering initiatives will make sure staff don't feel overwhelmed with new processes or information and will, as a result, help you get them on board with the changes.

Roll out big initiatives gradually

You'll also want to give yourself enough time to implement each new initiative. 

For example, if you want to introduce a new assessment system, you might spend:

  • 1st year - choosing your new system and running a pilot in one key stage or year group
  • 2nd year - reviewing what worked and improving your approach
  • 3rd year - rolling it out across the school 
  • 4th year- reviewing what worked across the whole school and improving your approach 

Identify anything that's time-sensitive 

If you're expecting an Ofsted inspection (e.g. in the next 2 years), make sure you focus first on actions that could affect your grade, so you're able to show that you're working on the previous weaknesses identified. 

Use our template to write up your plan 

As we mention above, there are various ways you can design your plan, depending on how much detail you want to include. 

You can use our 3- and 5-year plan templates that follow the method below: 

  • Objective - a short overview of what you want to do 
  • Action - what you'll do to achieve this 
  • Desired outcome - what success looks like 

Or, see examples of how other schools have organised their plan. 


Audrey Pantelis is the founder and director of Elevation Coaching and Consulting and works with schools and organisations in developing and implementing positive, systemic improvement programmes. Her career in mainstream and special educational needs spans over 30 years, including as the founding head of a free special school in north-west London. 

Pete Crockett is a retired special school headteacher who, prior to that, worked as a senior leader and SENCO in mainstream education. He has extensive governor experience, having served on governing boards as a staff, headteacher and co-opted governor. He has particular expertise in SEND, school leadership support and governance.

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