What is your vision for your school? Jane Golightly discusses the factors important in developing a real, responsive vision for your school, and explains how a clear vision can help to create a common purpose

It is a well-known fact that one of the most popular questions asked at headteacher interviews is, ‘what is your vision for the school?’ Well-prepared candidates have given this much thought before their interview and are able to provide a constructed response which offers governors an insight into a potential headteacher’s sense of direction, values and understanding of the needs and context of the school. The frequency of the question has significance because it will always matter what headteachers and school leaders believe in, and what they want for the children.

A flexible, responsive vision
Many of you will have read the extended feature ‘Heads Up’ in Education Guardian (4th November 2008). The supplement reinforced the message that headteachers of today need to be adaptable and flexible in their vision, to move with the times. For many schools, hard and soft federations, academies, principal headship and amalgamations have resulted in a future for leaders that would not have been foreseen ten years ago. Today, schools need leaders who have vision and ideas and the ability to tailor that vision to respond to changing circumstances.

The Children’s Plan: Building Brighter Futures sets out the government’s vision for excellence in education during and beyond the school day, involvement of parents and establishment of children’s services fit for the 21st century. We know that visions can’t stand still; they need to be flexible and responsive. You will find the Children’s Plan particularly supportive in ensuring that your vision for the future development of your school is in line with the national direction of travel.

Bringing your vision to life
Two factors are important for ensuring your vision becomes fact. These are communication and clarity. Without planned communication you are assuming that people will understand your vision through your actions. Some might; but others will need to hear, see and discuss the vision on a regular basis. Ask staff, children, parents and governors these questions:

If you had to explain the school’s vision in three key messages what would they be?

What are the channels that we use for communicating the key messages to parents, staff, pupils, governors and the community?

Are they fit for purpose?

How do we know if they are working?

Just as the government has set out through the Children’s Plan to communicate its vision and direction of travel for children and families, and the services that support them, so schools need to understand the importance of communicating the key messages of their vision. Although you do not write a children’s plan, you do write aims and principles which are delivered through long, medium and short term school improvement plans and the daily practice in your school. A well thought-out, concise communication plan with key messages will ensure that the vision for the school is communicated beyond the classroom and importantly will support people in understanding what the school aims to do for all children. Your vision will become a shared vision.

Achieving clarity and common purpose
It is common practice for schools to abbreviate their vision to a headline strapline, for day-to-day use. You see this on headed notepaper, the electronic notice board in the school entrance, the school’s website and book bags for children. It serves as a snappy daily communication for the whole school community of what the school is about, its values and aims. Whatever strategies you have chosen to communicate and exemplify your vision you need to bring clarity to the key messages.

Why does clarity matter? Without clarity, for many the vision will be a complete fog. What do you do to provide clarity for families that have just arrived in this country, for others with limited or poor experience of the school system in England?

Many schools are drawing upon The School Improvement Planning Framework developed by the TDA, to help achieve clarity and common purpose of their vision and developing school improvement, especially activity beyond the school day and its impact. The Framework provides a series of modules that guide the school community in probing and questioning practice and purpose.

Good schools successfully sustain a focus on their vision. They make their vision a reality by being reflective; regularly asking, ‘Will what we do have an impact on children? If not, why are we doing it?’ Being open about your readiness to reflect will support you in keeping your vision firmly focused on what really matters – the children and the experiences you provide for them every day. According to the recently published Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2007/08, ‘The provision that really makes a difference is ambitious. It does not believe that anyone’s past or present circumstances should define their future’.

A vision is not a dream; its central aim should be to improve the life chances of the children in your school. This aim should be explicit and the vision should be founded on the aspiration to give every child the best possible future. Your job is to turn that vision into reality.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education