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Five steps to school improvement
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Five steps to school improvement

Research 3 minute read

The path to creating an effective school improvement plan has five key steps. Professor Geoff Masters explains.

Five steps to school improvement

School improvement occurs when schools learn how to improve. More specifically, improvement occurs when schools identify and implement changes to practice that result in improved student outcomes.

In Schools as Learning Organisations, I describe a collaborative methodology for investigating ways to improve current school practices. It’s not rocket science. It’s a plan for improvement that involves five steps.

Step 1: Know your school’s current situation

A plan to improve depends first on a good understanding of existing school practices and student outcomes, particularly current levels of student attainment. These are the starting points for any improvement effort and the baselines against which a school’s improvement efforts are evaluated.

Information about current student outcomes and prevailing school practices must be collected systematically and reliably. It is not possible to draw meaningful conclusions about improvements in outcomes or practices if this initial information is unreliable. Data need to be collected objectively and dispassionately, and reflect the realities of the school’s current performance.

Step 2: Specify the desired outcomes

A school improvement plan specifies what improvements in outcomes a school wishes to see. Desired improvements may include, but are not limited to, improvements in student achievement, school attendance, post-school destinations, and student attitudes and engagement. A school improvement plan recognises the need to prioritise, set realistic expectations, and provide the time required for meaningful and sustainable improvement.

Step 3: Design and implement an improvement strategy

Once a school has decided the outcomes it wishes to improve, the next step is to decide how those improvements will be achieved, that is, the strategy or strategies the school intends to implement. The National School Improvement Tool can be helpful in designing improvement strategies.

In general, better student outcomes are achieved through more effective, evidence-based school and classroom practices. A school improvement plan makes explicit the changes in practice a school intends to make. The plan also identifies what will be required to implement the strategy, for example, changes in culture, staff professional development, staff redeployment or the physical resources required for effective implementation.

Step 4: Measure and monitor the results

The fourth step is to decide how improvements in outcomes will be measured and confirmed. Conclusions about improvements require measures that can be compared over time and possibly across different instruments. Changes must also be large enough to indicate meaningful improvements rather than chance fluctuations. Conclusions about improvements can be made with more confidence when there is evidence of a trend in outcome measures over an extended period.

Step 5: Reflect on what you’ve learned

Finally, a school improvement plan should include a plan for reflecting on, and learning from, the improvement effort. The goal should be to review the implementation of the improvement strategy and evaluate its impact on the targeted outcomes.

Further information:

Read the extended article published in Teacher at

Read Professor Geoff Masters’ paper Schools as Learning Organisations.

Learn more about the National School Improvement Tool.

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