Strategy development step by step
Being involved in developing the vision and strategy for your school or trust, and seeing it come to fruition, is one of the many things that makes governing fulfilling and rewarding. Even in the most challenging circumstances, the process has the power to transform outcomes for children and young people.
Many of you will have seen that NGA’s guide to Being Strategic has been updated. There are now two versions of the guide: for those leading and governing in a single school (including schools within a MAT) or federation and for those leading and governing in a MAT. The guide explains, step-by-step, how a strategy comes together, is communicated and driven by the right organisational culture. Existing content, such as the sections which cover risk assessment and monitoring, have been refreshed, while new content includes discussion prompts and a strategy document template.
There is no question that developing a strategy is a team effort between governing boards and executive leaders. As the joint guidance on roles and responsibilities explains, it’s about working together to clarify what you want to achieve, the priorities that will achieve them and how they will be resourced and monitored.
The vision, those few sentences that convey the ambition for the future, is where the strategy derives from: it is far more than just a statement for the website. A compelling vision drives development and growth and conveys what success means in the context of a school or a MAT. It has to align with the resource available and crucially, to a common set of values and an ethos reflected in the policies and practices. When the values are clear and clearly communicated, they are likely to become embedded in daily interactions and flourish within a school’s unique character.
There is no need to set values or write a new vision every year. However, reviewing and reaffirming both (making changes where necessary) is the gateway to those other stages of strategy development that are covered in the guide. They are:
"The vision, those few sentences that convey the ambition for the future, is where the strategy derives from: it is far more than just a statement for the website."
Conducting self-evaluation and reviewing feedback
Using internal and external data, information gained from stakeholders and analysis tools (such as SWOT and PESTLE) helps the board to establish where priorities lie. An evaluation of governance should form part of this activity and you can use our questions to support annual evaluation of the board’s effectiveness. We also have a range of resources to support schools and trusts to engage effectively with their stakeholders, including a guide to parental engagement.
Confirming what priorities are
Boards should limit the priorities in their strategy and focus on those that are likely to impact most on achieving the vision. This makes progress easier to monitor and impact easier to evaluate. Being Strategic has questions to help you do this.
Identifying success criteria
Success criteria are a fundamental part of any strategy because they clarify what the requirements are for successful outcomes. As a general rule, when determining what success looks like, it is important to consider ‘SMART’ outcomes that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
Risk management helps ensure strategic priorities are maintained and met. The risk register should identify the risks associated with strategic objectives, including not pursuing or achieving them. For more on this, read our guide to risk management in schools and trusts.
A robust strategy should contain clear estimates of the level of resource required to implement each priority. The scrutiny of financial reports, data and forecasts, and the questions they generate, inform strategic resourcing decisions and identify opportunities to generate income, optimise resources and make effective use of reserves. We have a host of resources available to support boards to understand and scrutinise financial performance and ensure good use of resources.
Monitoring, evaluation and review
Monitoring (gathering information) and evaluation (exploring what it is saying) should provide a clear and accurate view throughout the year of whether strategic priorities are being met or are on course to be met. This allows boards and leaders to consider the actions, adjustments, support and challenge required to keep the strategy on track. Not all priorities lend themselves to simple quantitative measurement. Make the most of naturally occurring evidence, such as information obtained from a well planned visit.
If monitoring throughout the year is effective, then the annual review of the strategy is simply an opportunity for those leading and governing to reaffirm what is going well and what needs to improve.
I hope the new versions of Being Strategic will continue to be popular at governing strategy days and training sessions. Remember though, the formula only works if we remain true to our values and bring people with us. So do read the sections on communicating the strategy and creating the right culture for it to succeed. They are just as important.