The Marathon of School Improvement

It’s coming round to that time of year again. Talk of ‘milestones’, ‘actions’, ‘targets’, ‘implications’… it can all feel very full of jargon and far less about what it says on the tin: school improvement. You wouldn’t be alone if you feel worn out just thinking about the process, without the task of formally writing it down and then implementing it all. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?

School improvement can be likened to running a marathon. It requires endurance, perseverance and a clear goal in mind. Sounds simple? Sounds exhausting!

But as anyone who has, or has attempted to*, run a marathon before, you can’t just simply pop your trainers on and off you go. It takes time - a gradual build up, a few setbacks and a lot of patience.

Just as a runner must train for months and build up their stamina before the race, you’ll need to put in the time and effort to create a solid improvement plan and work consistently towards your goals so that the ‘finish line’ can be reached (ok, we know it doesn’t quite work like that!) But if we keep this analogy in mind, we can appreciate that although we may not be able to run the full length right from the get-go, we’ll be able to see the progress made over time.

How does the process of school improvement planning work?

Let’s take it back a step. What if you’ve never written a school improvement plan before? What if you have, but you’ve always done it a certain way following on from the person who wrote it before you? What if you’re finding the process tricky or overwhelming? What if you’re doing this as a subject leader for a specific subject area?

We've written our School Evaluation and Improvement Pack with exactly this in mind. It takes you through the what, how, when and why of school improvement and evaluation and we'll dive into it further in this blog.

Before we begin to write our school improvement plan, we need to self-evaluate and see where we are at as a school. In order to do that effectively, we need to reflect upon the latest inspection, areas of strength and those for development, and use this to outline an action plan to move the school forward.

All of these steps take time but if they're done in the right order, it makes outlining your school improvement priorities and how you plan to get there far easier. It'll make the necessary school improvement actions clearer to see and connect all that you’re doing, or plan to do, together.

Sounds a lot better than being bundled towards the starting line of a marathon and being told "off you go!", right?

What is a post-Ofsted action plan and why do I need one? 

post-Ofsted action plan is developed in response to an Ofsted inspection and focuses on the areas for development highlighted in the report. Whether you’ve just had an Ofsted inspection, are expecting one soon or are somewhere in between, creating a post-Ofsted action plan will ensure you can demonstrate the steps you intend to take towards addressing the areas identified for improvement during the last inspection of your school.

Even if your last inspection took place years ago, your school may still be working on the priorities identified back then. It could be that feel you've made large strides towards the recommendation so a post-Ofsted action plan isn't necessary. However, schools change - staffing, cohorts, budgets, priorities... 

It's always worth checking your current position against the last Ofsted report you had and a concise post-Ofsted action plan is ideal for this. Any actions or changes you've already identified will then feed into your self-evaluation form and school improvement plan.


What is the difference between a school improvement plan (SIP) and a self-evaluation form (SEF)? 

These are two documents that you will have no doubt heard about throughout your career. We’ll add to this that individuals and schools refer to these documents with a variety of names, which only helps add to the confusion! School Development Plan (SDP), School Improvement and Development Plan (SIDP), a strategic plan…

A SEF is a tool used by schools to assess their overall performance and identify strengths and weaknesses. As per the name, it's an evaluative tool and the outcomes you identify in it will inform the development of your school improvement plan (SIP).

This means that a SIP is a strategic document that outlines the specific actions and interventions the school will undertake to improve its performance and achieve its goals. The SIP is based on the findings of the SEF, but is much more focused on outlining the specific steps the school will take to address the areas for improvement. 

In essence, the SEF is a diagnostic tool used to analyse the school’s own performance, while the SIP is a prescriptive document that outlines the actions the school will take to improve. The two documents are closely linked, with the SEF informing the development of the SIP, but they aren’t interchangeable and serve different purposes in the school improvement process.

What do Ofsted want to see in a SIP and SEF?

Ofsted expects schools to have a comprehensive SIP and SEF in place. As part of their assessment process, Ofsted requests the SEF to evaluate the school's level of insight into its own strengths and weaknesses.

They will also typically ask to see the SIP to understand the school's overall strategy for improvement, as well as how it plans to address areas of weakness that have been identified. This review enables inspectors to evaluate the effectiveness of the school's leadership and management, as well as the impact of the school's improvement efforts on pupil outcomes.

This doesn't mean school leaders need to go to extra lengths when an inspection is due or try to enhance them at lightning speed after Ofsted phone call comes through. Both the SEF and the SIP are live documents and vital for school improvement. Just like how you can't change what's in a year's worth of pupil's work overnight, you can't magically make your SIP and SEF better for an Ofsted inspection just because you've had the call.

Keep your SIP and SEF up to date and keep school improvement that enables better pupil outcomes at the heart of what you do, and this will shine through when an inspection does come round.

Tips for creating an effective SEF

  • Evaluate your processes against the key Ofsted judgements so you can pinpoint areas for improvement and integrate them into your SIP.
  • Recognise the areas that have progressed and those that still need development. Identify the changes that staff and pupils have made to achieve these improvements - remember to celebrate these! Then evaluate the overall progress of the school and provide evidence to support this success.
  • Maintain an evaluative approach rather than just providing a descriptive account. Make sure to distinguish between attainment, progress and achievement, while maintaining a consistent writing style throughout.
  • Take into consideration the perspectives of staff, SLT and parents/carers to gain a well-rounded understanding of the school's strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Ensure each area has a judgement and an explanation of why that judgement has been made.
  • Update your SEF termly so that it is reflective of your current position - regular updates can save you the time and pain of having to think back over a year's worth of changes to try to remember what's has improved.

Tips for creating an effective SIP

  • Cross-reference your SIP with the most recent Ofsted report for your school to align it with the key judgments outlined in the report.
  • Align your SIP with the most recent SEF. Ofsted will assess the level of alignment between your SIP and SEF, as well as the level of detail and insight demonstrated in your SIP as a result.
  • Share your SIP with key stakeholders and ensure any terminology used can be understood by all. You may also want to create a child-friendly SIP so that your pupils also know what you’re working on together.
  • Update and evaluate your SIP termly so that it is reflective of your current position.

If you’re looking for further direction, support and navigation throughout this process, our School Evaluation and Improvement Pack will guide you through the post-Ofsted inspection process, including creating action plans and school improvement priorities. From here, you can determine what your next steps are and what you should focus on first to move your school forward.


In this pack, we cover:

  • Post-Ofsted Action Planning
  • The Self-Evaluation Form (SEF)
  • The School Improvement Plan (SIP)
  • The Difference Between a SEF and a SIP
  • Performance Management and CPD
  • Parent, Pupil and Staff Voice



We’ve also included the following editable templates:

  • Post-Ofsted Action Plan
  • Self-Evaluation Form
  • School Improvement Plan
  • School Improvement Plan Checklist
  • Ofsted Grade Descriptor Grids
  • CPD Plan and Cycle
  • CPD Survey
  • Headteacher’s Report to Governors
  • Pupil, Parent, Staff and Governor Question Bank


If you’re looking to create improvement plans for your subject area, you may want to utilise our pack for subject leaders on Evaluating Impact and Planning Ahead. These have been designed with you in mind from years of experience, so that you’re equipped with a good pair of running shoes while tackling that marathon, one mile at a time.

As always, we’re here to lead beside you.


*P.S. I haven’t run a marathon as my little legs give up after 5k.

But don’t be like me - don’t give up!

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