Typical approaches to crafting school strategy

Typical approaches to crafting school strategy

4 min read

By Stuart Robinson

Imagine walking into your brand-new, freshly painted, newly carpeted home. It is an exciting moment, and you fantasize that you and your family will live here forever.

A few months in, a tap begins to leak. It’s a warranty job so a quick call is put through to the builder and it’s fixed in due course.

Years later, dry rot is visible on the outside bathroom wall. The shower is leaking – somewhere. The builder’s gone out of business so you adopt the project manager role and attempt to source reliable contractors. The works are delayed and you’re spending time trying to coordinate the different trades.

Weekday mornings pressure the family to crowd a single bathroom, and everyone finds it inconvenient. A showering schedule is created. Family members reconsider use of this precious space. No-one’s happy with the arrangements and family tensions are peaking beyond crisis point.

As we mature in age, we understand the world is constantly in decay. Just like the brand-new house you built begins to deteriorate and the shine and gloss withers like an end-of-season bloom. We hope that the snapshot can last forever, but we know it can’t.

The difference between a leaking tap and a leaking shower can be vastly different. The importance of a thing directs how you approach and prioritise it.

strategy has a shelf life

Strategy has a similar shelf-life. From the moment of inception, it begins to become less relevant and impactful. Sure, it takes a few years for its erosion but it will become less useful as time marches on. Society changes and so does the market.

As school leaders, the time to commence a new strategy phase is well before the use-by-date expires.

Then, the next challenge is to consider which approach to crafting strategy your school will take.

Will it be Visionary, Responsive, Adaptive, or Interdependent? Each approach has some effect on the total market of independent education, but some more than others.

approaches to school strategy

Conceptual Framework | Typical Approaches to Crafting School Strategy

1. Visionary – Start With Strategy

The visionary approach acknowledges that the world is dynamic, changing rapidly, and increasingly complex. It forces leaders to consider all the external environmental variables including their competitors.

This approach provides users to forecast the world at a future time and undertakes extensive scenario planning to counter anticipated movements. It assists schools to pinpoint their desired position in that scenario and then plan to achieve it.

An example of this approach may be a school identifying a culture shift in student access. Rather than restore the accepted norms they instead position themselves in the remote-learning space well ahead of their competitors.

If successful, a visionary approach has a high likelihood of market impact.

2. Responsive – Plans To Deal With Pressure Points

The responsive approach acknowledges that the world is changing and that pressure points exist for stakeholders. Leaders seek intuitively based data to guide their planning, identifying several priorities their strategy will encompass.

Users of this approach find it beneficial as it reduces the time required to proceed to an action plan. It can largely ignore external environmental factors provided the intuition is correct. But, as Donald Rumsfeld quoted, “…there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” The risk of using this approach is that a large portion of the strategy work has been completed, but there are significant gaps in understanding the dynamic nature of the environment we operate in.

This approach can often be seen in schools where Early Years centres are built due to a boon in family population cycles. Data is sought to confirm the required need (confirmation bias), but not usually to understand if the cycle has longevity or its variables.

A responsive approach has a medium-high likelihood of market impact, if successful.

3. Adaptive – Tweak The Current Strategic Plan

The adaptive approach interprets the world as increasingly more micro and ignores most of the external environmental changes. The approach identifies weaknesses or gaps in the current strategic plan and aims to address them.

This approach is often used temporarily (first 12-18 months) by new Principals. It provides new leaders with the option to put their leadership stamp on the school by tweaking the current, or most recent, strategic plan. This allows them to settle and survey the school landscape before committing to a visionary or responsive strategy approach.

As a temporary gap, this approach is ideal. The caution for Boards, however, is if their appointed leaders only opt to implement adaptive strategic plans. Its an early indicator that a strategic shift for the school is unlikely to happen.

An adaptive approach has a medium-low likelihood of market impact, if successful.

4. Interdependent – Use SIPs As Strategy

The interdependent approach completely ignores the external world and focuses on the micro work within a school. This approach seeks improvements on the service to current stakeholders rather than being concerned with market share against growing competition.

Often, the Interdependent approach uses School Improvement Plans (SIP) as strategy.  Please note, I am not saying that School Improvement Plans are not good – they are. They just shouldn’t be confused with a strategy. They are an important part of the strategic process and implementation, but are not transferable concepts.

Users of the interdependent approach are commonly faith or philosophy-based schools. They don’t seek to change the market, merely to attract like-minded stakeholders and offer a service that improves or excels based on the faith or philosophy objectives.

An interdependent approach has a low likelihood of market impact, even if successful.


Finally, the approach you take to craft your school strategy, is itself a strategic action.

Why engage consultants and pour copious hours into crafting a visionary strategy if an interdependent approach suits more? Or why not take advantage of an adaptive approach to give you time to acclimatise?

Each has its purpose, and each has a use-by-date. Therefore, consider your approach according to the market impact your school seeks.

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson: MBA, 25+ years in school management. Business degree, AICD graduate. Founder and author sharing expertise in educational leadership, strategy, and financial management.

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