Models to support whole-school planning

Written by: Steve Burnage | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Effective long-term, strategic planning is at the very heart of the outstanding school. Steve Burnage looks at how two popular models for whole-school planning work in practice

From tight finances to recruitment and retention, the challenges facing schools in 2019 are many and varied, making effective whole-school strategic planning all the more vital.

In this article I will look at two strategic planning models that are both effective and simple – the VMOSA model and the Five-Step model.

The VMOSA model

VMOSA stands for Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, and Action Plans. It is a practical planning process – first devised by Christina Holt at the Community Tool Box – that can be used to define a vision and develop practical ways to bring about change. You can use VMOSA:

  • When you are starting your leadership of a school or you are leading a new school.
  • When the school is starting a new initiative or large project or is going to begin work in a new direction.
  • When your leadership team or the whole staff are moving into a new phase of a project.
  • When you are trying to invigorate an older initiative that has lost its focus or momentum.

Vision: Your vision communicates what your team believes are the ideal conditions for your school – how things would look if the issue important to you were perfectly addressed. In general, vision statements should be:

  • Understood and shared by all members of the school community.
  • Inspiring and uplifting to everyone involved – there has got to be the “what’s in it for me?” factor.
  • Easy to communicate.

Mission: This is the what and the why. An organisation’s mission statement describes what the group is going to do, and why it is going to do it. Mission statements are like vision statements, but they are more concrete, and they are more “action-oriented” than vision statements. Generally, they are: concise, outcome-oriented, and inclusive.

Objectives: An organisation’s objectives generally lay out how much of what will be accomplished and by when. There are three basic types of objectives. These are as follows:

  • Behavioural objectives: changing the behaviours of people (what they are doing and saying) and the products (or results) of their behaviours.
  • Community-level outcome objectives: these are focused on the school community instead of at an individual level.
  • Process objectives: these are the objectives that refer to the implementation of activities necessary to achieve other objectives.

Strategies: This is the how. Strategies explain how the initiative will reach its objectives. These strategies range from the very broad, e.g. use social media to improve parental engagement, to the very specific, e.g. use text messaging to inform every parent of first day absence.

Action plan: The action plan refers to: specific changes to be sought and the specific action steps necessary to bring about changes. Action steps include:

  • What will happen.
  • Who will do what?
  • Date to be completed.
  • Resources required.
  • Barriers or resistance (and a plan to overcome these).
  • Collaborators (who else should know about this action?).

Here is an example of VMOSA action steps that could later be adapted for your own use:

  • Action: set-up a closed Facebook group for parent communication.
  • Person(s) responsible: assistant headteacher (community liaison).
  • Date to be completed: September 2019.
  • Resources required: no financial costs, just time.
  • Potential barriers or resistance: governor concerns about use of Facebook.
  • Plan to tackle barriers: presentation to governors showing models of good practice.
  • Collaborators: the community liaison working group, parent-governors, parents/friends group.

Once you have finished designing the VMOSA for your school, you are just beginning in this work. Your action plan will need to be tried and tested and revised. You will also need to obtain feedback from all those involved and add and subtract elements of your plan based on that feedback.

The Five-Step Model

This is an adaptation of an original model first developed in 2001 by the then Department for Education and Skills. It places learning and progress of learners at its very heart. Again, it is a straight-forward model that is most effective when all stakeholders are engaged in the change management or development process as outlined in Figure 1:

Step 1: How well are we doing? This involves assembling and analysing evidence of pupil performance – the most important indicator and contributory factors, most notably teaching, leadership and management. Knowledge about current achievement is a necessary foundation to move on to the second stage of the cycle.

Step 2: How much better should we aim to achieve and how do we compare with similar schools? Information on pupil performance in other similar schools, particularly those schools achieving the best results, provides a benchmark against which you can examine the standards achieved by your own pupils, assess what more can be achieved, and explore why and how others are doing better.

Step 3: What must we change to achieve this? This is where schools determine their priorities for the year ahead and set themselves realistic and challenging targets for improvement. It is important that all staff are involved in the target-setting process as it helps them to own the targets and to accept responsibility for achieving them.

Step 4: Planning for improvement and what actions we will take? The closer development plans get to the work of children in classrooms, the greater the impact on achievement. These must be agreed for each teaching group including the curricular targets.

Step 5: Implementation and review: Taking action and reviewing progress. If pupil achievement is to rise, implementation of the plan needs to influence classroom practice and improve the quality of teaching and learning. The evidence gathered in the final stage of the cycle allows schools to ensure that the plan is delivering the outcomes planned for, and to make any necessary adjustments. It also provides a valuable basis for beginning the next round of the cycle.

An example: Five-Step Model

  • Step 1: Where are we now? Boys’ are under-achieving in written English across the school.
  • Step 2: How do we know? Analysis of exam performance in internal and external testing.
  • Step 3: Where do we want to be? Gap between boys and girls narrows by three per cent in first year and five per cent in year two.
  • Step 4: What will we do to achieve this? Targeted boys’ writing groups, targeted mentoring for boys’ writing, staff training on boys’ writing strategies etc.
  • Step 5: How will we know when we have succeeded? The gap between boys and girls narrows as described above and boys’ exam performance improves as outlined above.


The VMOSA and Five-Step models are clear, focused and targeted at putting learning and student progress at the very heart of what we do. They are also extremely accessible for other stakeholders since, for any strategic planning to be effective and sustainable, all those involved need to collaborate and contribute to the on-going process.

  • Steve Burnage has experience leading challenging secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author. Visit Read his previous SecEd articles at

Further information & resources

Community Tool Box, Chapter 8: Developing a Strategic Plan (VMOSA):


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