Strategic Planning: Origins and Destinations
May 6, 2022
Last weekend, members of The ISF Academy School Management Committee (SMC), the governing board of our school, met to discuss the strategic development of ISF over the coming five to ten years. With the 20th anniversary of our founding coming up in 2023, it is timely that our governors to set aside some time to consider our past, present, and future from an educational, institutional, and philosophical perspective. Drawing from the ranks of teachers, parents, the wider community, and our School Sponsoring Body, the Independent Schools Foundation, the SMC is a microcosmic cross-section of the stakeholder groups committed to making ISF the best that it can be. As such, its perspective on the future of our school is broadly representative: it speaks with the ‘voice’ of the community.
Institutional strategic planning is a broad, diverse global industry. There are many schools of thought, methodologies, and practical tools that serve to inform and guide any strategic planning exercise. It is at times an overly complex and abstract process for some, and thus runs the risk of losing focus on what is important, and distorting the realities of life within an organisation. Adopting a clear and grounded process allows those charged with responsibility for the strategic development of our school to discern with clarity and certainty that which is essential from the overwhelming complexity of our large community.
From my own experience, the key is to stay focused on the main drivers of strategic planning, the vision, mission, and values of the entity, to ensure that the plan is a current, relevant, future-focused, and accurate expression of those guiding statements. Spending time and effort to review and reconfirm these guiding statements is probably the most important duty carried out by our governing body. The vision should state what a perfect future looks like: it answers the question, ‘where are we going’; the mission should state simply and clearly ‘what’ we are doing in the present to reach the future expressed in our vision; and our values should tell us ‘how’ we work together to achieve our vision. Collectively, these statements should also add up to answer the ‘why’ question: why does the entity exist in the first place.
Some schools serve a community by virtue of location. These institutions must evolve and reflect the needs and aspirations of those who dwell within the catchment zone; this requires frequent review, reflection, and at times adjustment. Often the principle of locality may mean there is no other choice for families living in a community. Other schools, like ISF, offer a particular view of the world informed by a set of guiding statements and core values that guides an intelligently planned and specific approach to education. The underlying premise is one of choice: families living within a reasonable commuting distance may choose to educate their children at such a school if they find its guiding principles resonate with their own views on education. At any point in time, parents are free to review their choice to confirm it remains the right one for their child.
With two decades of institutional history behind us and an abiding certainty about our guiding statements, these ‘where’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ questions are now expressed with great clarity in a growing body of achievement and experience that reflects the institutional life of ISF. Increasingly, the accumulated momentum of our history adds further impetus to our future direction. The most important step in this current planning exercise is to ensure that our next published strategic plan is a thoughtful, inspiring, and relevant interpretation of our vision, mission, and values for the next five years, one that seeks to draw a harmonious and coherent plan from the many voices of our key stakeholder groups. After all, this next strategic chapter will inform goal-setting, shape our decisions, both great and small, and guide our actions each day, as we work towards achieving the ISF vision.
In the coming months, I hope to engage in conversations with stakeholders in our community as we seek to create a balanced and intelligent statement of purpose for the next five years. As a part of this exercise, I would encourage everyone to take another look at our current strategic plan to refresh our shared understanding about our origins and aspirational destinations. This is an important process: a person with no clear sense of their history or current situation cannot plan for the future.
Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School