School Leadership Policy Action Planning Toolset
for equity and learning

The European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL) strongly recommends national or state/regional governments around Europe to engage in policy planning on school leadership for equity and learning.

A comprehensive resource for engagement in policy planning of school leadership for equity and learning is provided by the School Leadership Toolkit, which offers a wide range of ideas, methods, tools and learning materials that can guide this process.
The European Policy Network on School Leadership envisages that, by June 2015, 18 School Leadership Action Plans will have been developed by national or state/regional governments in Europe with its support.

What is a policy action plan?
A School Leadership Policy Action Plan for Equity and Learning is an operational document that:

identifies and specifies school policy problems or challenges related to equity and learning that require policy action,
outlines the overarching school leadership policy goals and priorities in relation to the identified problems or challenges,
defines the scope of policies in view of the policy goals and priorities (e.g. reforms, strategies, programmes, projects, etc.),
offers justifications (e.g. through ex-ante evaluation, review of successful case studies, etc.) why specific policy action(s) affecting leadership in schools should be taken in relation to policy end-beneficiaries, also in comparison to policy alternatives (no-action scenario, other policy options),
sets policy action(s) objectives,
presents in some detail the reforms, strategies, programmes, projects or other policy actions that should be implemented and outlines the major phases of implementation,
delineates the targets, milestones and expected outputs for each policy action,
with what management and quality assurance arrangements, by whom (roles and responsibilities), on what policy implementation phases,
with what budget and other resources available,
on what timetable,
specifies monitoring mechanisms and assessment methods for each policy cycle, and
identifies progress and achievement indicators and relevant indicator data, particularly those related to the impact of policy action(s) on end-beneficiaries.

Why policy action planning can be beneficial to policy making and policy implementation?

Benefits of School Leadership Policy Action Planning

From a policy perspective, the development of a solid School Leadership Policy Action Plan for Equity and Learning at national/state level is highly beneficial because:

it provides with credibility the national/state school leadership policy, showing to school education stakeholders and the public at large the policy-makers' commitment to address the problems or challenges identified,
it helps policy designers, stakeholders and implementers ensure that all issues related to the school leadership policy have been given proper consideration,
it makes clear to policy makers, other stakeholders and implementers what can be achieved and what is not possible to achieve given the budget and other available resources and timetable,
it promotes efficiency by helping governments and implementers save time and resources,
it guides policy implementation in all of its phases and, finally,
it enhances transparency in processes of policy implementation and accountability for all people and agencies involved in the formation and implementation of school leadership policies for equity and learning.

The scope of policy action planning
School leadership policies may differ in scope depending on their complexity, comprehensiveness and goals. The scope of school leadership policies may be identified as:

Issue-specific school leadership policies
Such policies focus on a specific need that is clearly defined, its satisfaction is fairly simple and straightforward and can be achieved directly with a policy solution. An example of such an action would be the provision of short-term training to school leaders who need to develop their skills in dealing with the needs of new-coming Roma students in their schools. Small-scale projects involving a limited number of schools/school leaders, pilot interventions, or minor reforms that improve/update existing legislative frameworks also fall under this category.

School leadership policy programme/reform
The planning for a school leadership policy programme usually is needed when the problem or challenge under consideration is rather ill-defined and complex and points to needs that are observed to a large number of school leaders, schools, teachers or students. An example of such a policy action would be the development and implementation of a medium to long-term professional development programme for school leaders who need to build their capacities to lead change in their schools. A school leadership policy programme can be composed of a number of separate small-scale projects addressing clearly identified needs that all originate from the same, ill-defined and complex, problem or challenge. Such a programme could, for example, offer funding and resources to different school leadership projects that aim to address the needs of school leaders in dealing with the learning needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Reforms that establish a new status-quo regarding a clearly defined field of school policy but do not affect the school system or a school level as a whole also fall under this category. An example of such a reforming policy action would be the introduction of a new optional status-quo for schools that want to be more autonomous in return for more tight government control over their results.

School leadership strategic policy
Strategic policies usually address ill-defined and complex problems or challenges with a combination of individual programmes or reforms that express different but complementary policy priorities. Strategic policies involve reforms and/or programmes aimed to alter the status-quo across the whole school system or a given school level. An example of such a strategic policy action would be the introduction of more (or less) school autonomy in matters of curricula or learning content. More ambitious strategic policies involve a combination of reforms and programmes. An example of such an ambitious strategic policy action would be the introduction of a) reforms on the qualifications necessary to be appointed as school principal, in combination with b) reforms in, for example, the autonomy that schools have to define their own curricula or learning content, c) the introduction of (new) professional standards that should be met by all school staff in posts that require leadership, and d) the establishment of a new national programme for school leaders.

Dealing with complexity in policy action planning
A comprehensive and coherent approach to policy planning and implementation is critical for the achievement of policy goals and objectives. This is because policy actions affecting school leadership in one area, such as, for example, reforms in the procedures and criteria for the selection of school leaders, or the introduction of new professional programmes in the preparation of school leaders, can have multiple implications in others, including:

the level of financing required for pre-service, induction and in-service training,
the institutions and programmes required to prepare school leaders, or
the degree and character of flexibility (over curricula, budget allocation etc.) that schools should have in order for a new generation of school leaders -emerging from targeted school leadership policies- to be able to actually shape and implement school-level policies and practices aiming to foster equity and learning.

National or state/regional government policy decisions create new realities that in turn pose new challenges for policy making. For example, central government policies that deepen the autonomy of schools can help to establish a fertile soil for the development of school leadership; however, wider autonomy in schools creates in turn new policy challenges related to how central governments can hold school leaders accountable for their decisions. Given the above, what school accountability forms and processes need to be established or extended and complemented so as to effectively support the legitimacy of school leaders??? decisions, and help governments steer the quality of education?

Planning about mandatory qualifications? An exercise on complexity

Supporting Document
The EPNoSL Template for School Leadership Policy Action Planning

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© 2014 EPNoSL Project