A school leader’s to-do list: The summer term

Written by: Dr Michael Harpham | Published:
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As a school leader, what should be on your to-do list for May, June and July? Author of The School Leader’s Year, Dr Michael Harpham, offers a priority list of preparations, actions and evaluations for the summer term for middle and senior leaders


In this article, I aim to elaborate and share the key leadership activities that need to take place during the summer term. Each month is considered separately presenting the activities for that month that evaluate previously completed work, support actioning current work, or help prepare future work.

It is offered not so much as a fait-accompli, to be followed religiously, but as an aide-memoire to ensure that the most important work in school is completed efficiently and effectively. And to help you reflect on and compare with your own to-do lists for the coming three months.

To begin, at the start of each month, school leaders should create an opportunity at leadership team or department meetings to discuss the following standing agenda items:

  • Staffing and safeguarding: Are there any staffing and/or safeguarding concerns to be urgently addressed this month?
  • Calendar: Are there any pinch-points this month which need to be carefully managed ahead of time?
  • Trips and school activities: Are there any trips or large group activities this month which need to be carefully managed?
  • Website and communications: Is the website up-to-date and are parents, pupils and staff clear about what is happening this month? Is there robust, challenging and engaging online work available for pupils to complete if needed?
  • Inspection-ready: Which areas need addressing this month to ensure we are on track with our work?


The month of May

In May the die is cast. What will be will be. May sees a whirlwind of work as teaching draws to completion, coursework and catch-up is wrapped up and revision is embedded ahead of the final assessments. May is a month to be experienced with extreme tenacity.

May sees the beginning of the end. Coursework is completed and sent off for moderation, annual tests begin, and the deadline for staff resignations for the new academic year expires at the end of the month. Making sure that everything that needs to be done is done well and by the deadline is the key to May.

May starts for leaders with a final quality assurance of work being done and a final sign off of the coursework ahead of being sent off to examiners for moderation. The process of testing and examining what pupils have learnt begins with the pupils who are leaving being given a well-organised and fond farewell.

For senior leaders, there is a last-minute scramble to fill any staffing holes ahead of the May 31 resignation deadline, and an update of the final schemes of work of the year.

May also sees the point at which work begins on updating the large and important documents of the prospectus, staff, department and trainee handbooks, job descriptions, and the school calendar – the first inkling of the preparatory work for the new academic year that lies ahead.

The month of June

As the most important exams in a pupil’s lifetime are experienced, the school’s work over the year is weighed in the balance for its effectiveness. June is a month to be experienced with individual and collective reflection and constructive clarity.

With the exam season in full swing, leader attention during June can be turned to other matters. This includes ensuring a smooth transition from one year to the next, carrying forward all best practice, and having a deep reflection on the previous year, identifying any improvements that need to be made ahead of September.

However, take a deep breath! June sees a mammoth amount of work to do, and if you are not careful, could lead to corners being cut. But in June you have time. Be organised and get the work done.

As pupils continue to complete their annual exams and staff are engrossed in marking, feedback and writing reports, June is the month where school leaders can lift their eyes from the immediate, review the annual work of the school, and ensure the road ahead into the new school year is a smooth one. Last month may have seen some last-minute resignations that need to be filled urgently. This is a top priority.

Other important things to consider here are all related to the summer holidays. These include pupil and staff induction and summer school, the end-of-term/start-of-term arrangements, and the programme of repairs and maintenance through the summer holidays.

Once the end-of-year exams have been completed and the year is starting to draw to a close, this is the month to do a major review of the key processes and procedures of the school, so that any improvements to be made can be put into place ahead of the summer holidays.

These include schemes of work and programmes of study; the assessment programme; coursework, catch-up and revision programmes; the monitoring and tracking programme; the internal and external quality assurance programme; assemblies; year 11 and 13 leavers procedures; parents’ evenings; school policies; staff recruitment and retention; the school budget and integrate framework; the performance appraisal process; the annual exams; and reports.

The month of July

For the school leader, July is a month of high pressure in successfully drawing one year to a close and having everything improved and prepared for the next.

However, it is also the month when the pressure valve can finally be released, and we fully appreciate the welcome summer holidays.

July is a month to be experienced with organisation, forethought and celebration.

With only three weeks available to get the required work done, and with the amount of work to be done similar June, July is highly pressured. Much needs to be updated and put to bed before the summer holidays begin.

Being organised and efficient, without cutting corners, is key. So that everything that needs to be addressed in the summer holidays has been identified, the first thing to do is to check that the school continues to be compliant, and the school environment and website is as good as it can be.

Anything that needs to be ordered for use at the start of the summer holidays is ordered now.

Drawing together the various threads of the school year in July starts with a last update and evaluation of your faculty and school improvement plans. Chronologically next is preparing the celebration of exam results in August and next year’s start of term arrangements, distributing initial timetable, rooming, routines and duties proposals.

This is followed by the raft of work to be actioned in September, but so close to the beginning of term that considered preparation can only happen in July.

This is true for updating the schemes of work and programmes of study, the assessment and monitoring and tracking programmes, the school policies, and the assemblies. Early preparation for open evening and open week will take some of the pressure off in September too, with a final reflection on the staff recruitment process and procedures and the integrated work of the school also helping.

With so much in preparation, it is important not to lose sight of delivering a first-rate induction programme for staff and pupils new to the school; confirm and distribute the masterpieces that are the final school timetable, revised staff handbook, updated prospectus, job descriptions and school calendar for any last-minute feedback.

Finally – celebrate the end of term and the end of another school year!


  • Dr Michael Harpham is an education consultant, author, leadership coach and former headteacher. The School Leader’s Year (Routledge, 2022) is his second book. Electronic resources are available from his website at www.schoolleaderdevelopment.com. His first book, Progress Plain and Simple (2020) is a set text on teacher training courses in universities across the UK. Both books are available from Routledge and all major bookshops.


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