How to write an effective quality improvement plan

Your self-assessment report is complete and now there’s the improvement plan to finalise. I don’t know about you but in my experience, my heads of department and I had occasionally run out of enthusiasm and steam at this point.

When we designed the Mesma software platform, one of the things we had in mind was to encourage college, training provider and school leaders to write less narrative and focus more on developing concise statements with clearly articulated judgements in the SAR. Time is precious and whilst accurate self-assessment is important, it shouldn’t become the day job in itself.

The same can be said for a quality improvement plan. If the print-out is like a door stop or you have an Excel spreadsheet with so many columns you can’t see the beginning and end on one screen, it becomes a pain to oversee.

What does Ofsted have to say?

As a reminder, self-assessment and improvement planning is covered in the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, under ‘Effective Leadership and Management’.

It states, “Evaluate the quality of the provision and outcomes through robust self-assessment, taking account of users’ views, and use the findings to develop capacity for sustainable improvement.”

Ofsted continues to be at pains to explain that they do not prescribe a particular format. What they do expect to see is a SAR which is accurate and a plan which brings about improvement where it is needed or desired.

5 Steps to writing an effective quality improvement plan

In our experience, if you can get the following 5 things right, you’re making positive strides towards eliminating improvement planning fatigue.

1) Clear relationship between SAR and improvement plan content

This seems obvious but when you’re knee deep in the detail, sometimes that relationship isn’t always clear when documented. The SAR provides the baseline from which to improve; this is where we are now and this is how we know. The improvement plan builds on this by stating where we need to get to and how we’ll know we’re making progress and eventually, have arrived. Easy eh?

When this isn’t gelling as much as it ought to, you can expect Ofsted to notice it during inspection;

‘The self-assessment report is inaccurate. It has underestimated the impact of weaknesses in teaching, learning and assessment for apprentices. Consequently, leaders and managers have not set effective actions for improvement.’

2) The impact on the learner of any action is measurable

When reviewing improvement plans for clients, we can see activities which are clear and link to the SAR. That’s a great start. However, what can be less clear is the measurable impact the activity is designed to have on the learners. Sometimes, we see a restating of the objective. For example;

“Undertake a review of the software developer apprenticeship learning resources” Impact? “Learning resources have been improved to support learners”.

There isn’t much better than the ‘so what?’ question to help flush out the desired impact. What drove the action from the SAR? Is it to support a move from the framework to the standard? Improve apprenticeship outcomes? Respond to learner feedback? What data would you use to demonstrate achievement of the objective has had a positive impact?

3) Bottom up for SAR, top down for improvement plan

A SAR should be written from the bottom up. What we mean by this is the SAR should be driven by individual teams or departments rather than written at an organisational level and cascaded to more junior team members. We talk more about SAR writing here.

When writing the improvement plan, it makes sense to do the opposite; identify key strategic themes for improvement and allow departmental teams to populate the specific actions as relevant to them. Our rationale for this is to avoid improvement plans becoming overly tactical and whilst such actions may be necessarily operationally, you are looking for people to focus attention where the impact is greatest.

An Ofsted report from July 2017 states; ‘Leaders and managers have implemented well thought-out improvement strategies which they have applied rigorously to rapidly improve the quality of the provision’

4) Short and sweet

Ok. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. However, the principle of a focused plan remains important. In our experience, the longer and more complex the plan, the harder it is to identify impact and the greater the chance it ends up as a paper exercise. It becomes too time consuming to review in detail and becomes a job in its own right to update it periodically. This links to number 3 above; what are the key organisational priorities identified as a result of the self-assessment process? What activities – because you don’t have time to do them all – will have the greatest impact on delivering impactful change.

5) Knowing who is accountable for what

We push our clients to name individuals against improvement plan themes and activities. Without this clarity of accountability things fall between the cracks. It also presents an opportunity to ensure there is a clear link between organisational improvement and individual performance objectives and targets; the proverbial golden thread. It can be too easy to name a whole department or multiple people against specific actions and we encourage you to avoid this wherever possible to help you to manage progress and achieve your goals.

When improvement planning is done well, we see judgements like this in an inspection report; ‘Action planning for improvement has been very effective. Staff at all levels take responsibility for ensuring that they carry out improvements promptly and that learners benefit from the impact of these actions. The self-assessment report correctly identifies almost all of the provider’s strengths and areas for improvement. As a consequence, leaders’ self-assessment judgements for all aspects of provision matched those given by inspectors.’

There is a downloadable version of this blog available here 


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