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Gilberthorpe School's Andrew Wilkinson on what drew him to SLPP

Would you rather deal with a 60-page, jargon-filled strategic plan or a succinct plan on a page that outlines everything a team needs to know?  

For Gilberthorpe School principal Andrew Wilkinson (and, we wager, most people), the answer was never in doubt – keep it simple.  

But upon discovering the complexity of his inherited plan, he realised it might be quite the project.  

Spring cleaning the strategic plan 

Gilberthorpe was Andrew’s first principalship – and in terms of strategic planning, it was a stern opening test.  

“I’ve seen strategic plans and charters that are a hundred pages long and only the principal’s name on it. You’re being directed from point 2.2 to appendix 15c to sub-section V, it’s just a nightmare to work through – let alone get anybody else interested in.” 

“It’s also totally at odds with how I like to work. I like things to be short and snappy – get in, get it communicated clearly, and get it done.” 

Having struggled to find strategic planning development in the work introducing him to principalship, Andrew sought something a bit more advanced – and found it in the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme.  

A new set of principal’s tools 

At the outset, Andrew was hoping to get new processes and structures out of SLPP. By the end of the 10 months, he had a new outlook on developing the school.  

“I didn’t think about the complexity of planning, of running a school. Things like the stakeholder matrix, all the components of implementing a plan – I had no idea what those looked like.”  

Essentially, Andrew knew what he wanted to do at Gilberthorpe, but lacked the tools and frameworks to make it happen effectively – and simply.  

“I loved what I learned in the course. Things like backwards mapping, looking at where we want to be in three years – that was huge.” 

“I also loved everything to do with the stakeholders. I had a good idea of who I needed to get involved in our plan, who to get on the waka. But SLPP got me thinking about the best way to approach each one, who had how much influence versus impact – a lot of clarity and detail I needed.” 

Changes on the ground 

With this newfound clarity, Andrew has been able to streamline how Gilberthorpe functions and get everyone at every level involved.  

“We’ve made some really positive changes – the strategic plan used to be so long, so totally owned by the principal, and it really struggled with jargon around things like the ERO evaluative indicators.” 

“Now it is everybody’s plan.” 

"It’s a six-page document, so much clearer, and everybody knows their role in it, what they contributed to it and what they will contribute to it.” 

This clarity has also shone through at a student level. Gilberthorpe already had accelerated student progress and achievement, but Andrew’s learning through SLPP helped him and the team to be more deliberate in how they looked at this.  

“We look at a variety of surveys and NZCER wellbeing information already, but my learning has helped us be more focused – pick out alarm bells and put them into our planning.” 

“The measures from SLPP have given us another level of self-reflection, that really helps us keep that student progress going. In a way that’s teacher-driven rather than me-driven, too.” 

With planning giving everybody a say (and therefore buy-in) on the plan, Andrew is now looking to his next steps.  

Bringing the outside in 

Reflecting on the most valuable elements of SLPP, Andrew remarks on the ability to get external help – not just from the education sector, but from outside the region.  

“The leadership team has been really keen to get involved, so we’re doing the High Performing Leadership Teams programme as well.” 

“They’ve had some development before, but it’s a bit structured and Christchurch-centric. The appeal of this programme is that it’s nationwide, you get input from people all over the country.” 

“What works in Auckland can work just as well in Bluff – that outside thinking is really valuable for us, and having funding or scholarships provided is a really significant point, it really makes a difference for us.” 

Thanks to Springboard Trust’s partners, principals can undertake SLPP at no cost to the school – clearly a significant factor for many New Zealand schools. Additionally, partners have made scholarships available for schools that would otherwise be unable to take part in our Alumni Services – something Andrew has been able to benefit from hugely.  

Andrew and the Gilberthorpe team had already done much of the preliminary work to take their school to the next level. But through SLPP and the forthcoming HPLT work, that gain a collective sense of responsibility and clarity on how to best impact students.” 

“Would I recommend the programme to others? That’s a definite, obvious yes. What I’d been thinking of, what I’d been hoping for from the programme – it all came true.” 

“Strategic planning is one of the most important things you do in a school – why wouldn’t you learn it as soon as possible? Everybody should do this programme – it should be part of the first time principals programme, for sure.” 

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