How do you develop and define a school’s vision?

Thursday 6th December 2018

Aishling RyanAishling Ryan is the Principal of Ark Pioneer Academy, a new Ark school that will open in Barnet in September 2019. She was previously Vice Principal at Ark Academy, an outstanding all-through new-start school in Wembley. All Ark's new schools that have been inspected by Ofsted are rated good or outstanding.

Aishling is writing a series of blogs this year, as she navigates the highs and lows of opening a brand new school. In her previous post, Aishling described the exciting first month as a principal of a brand new start-up secondary school. Here, she explores the challenge of developing and defining Ark Pioneer’s vision.


This term, I have invested a lot of time in thinking and talking about my vision for our school. So, a recent Economist article really struck a chord. Mission Implausible explored the mission statements of a number of well-known firms. The good ones are crisp and unifying, the bad ones are long-winded and confusing. So what should a school’s mission statement, or vision look like?

First, let’s not hold back on ambition. We’re not in the business of making widgets – we’re changing people’s lives. A school’s vision should be compelling and inspiring for every young person and staff member. At the same time, it should be based on a concrete objective.   

We should remember that we are sometimes guilty of using jargon from the world of education (or worse still, in-house acronyms) when communicating with the outside world. The audience for a school’s vision ranges from teachers and support staff, to pupils and parents, to governors and the local community. Each of them needs to buy into the vision so it’s incredibly important to articulate it using language everyone understands.

Paraphrasing the Economist article, a clear and direct vision shows that you have a strong sense of exactly what you want to achieve. A set of well-defined underlying principles (we call them our pillars) helps you chart the journey from vision to reality.

Our vision is that every pupil leaving Ark Pioneer does so with real options, whether that’s embarking on the university course of their choice or starting out in their chosen career. Underpinning our vision are six pillars. These pillars, which I’ve summarised below, will drive both our long-term planning and our day-to-day decision-making.

  • High Aspirations: We will ensure pupils have a comprehensive understanding of the range of careers out there and the qualifications, skills and experiences they need in order to pursue them. They will meet inspirational role models, explore a variety of career options and visit a university every year. Our enrichment programme will enable them to develop their talents, interests and passions.
  • Rigorous Academic Curriculum: Our subject leaders will plan backwards from university to create a rigorous curriculum that promotes curiosity and explores the big ideas underpinning each area of study. Each subject curriculum will include a thorough base of knowledge and develop a depth of understanding that supports future learning.
  • Excellent Teaching: Our teachers will be subject and curriculum experts with an excellent understanding of how each lesson’s learning fits into pupils’ broader development. Teaching will be a team effort: we will plan collaboratively, making intelligent use of data and using collective experience to achieve excellent outcomes for our pupils.
  • Strong Discipline: We will create an environment that is calm, respectful and focussed on learning. Pupils will practice lesson routines and teachers will implement our systems consistently. We will teach self-discipline and develop a sense of responsibility in all of our pupils.
  • Instilling Values: We will build on each child’s character and habits to support their academic and personal development. In-class discussion, assemblies and presentations by external speakers will give pupils the language and structure to explore issues relevant to society, while also instilling the values and attributes that will guide their personal development.
  • Quality Training:  We will be a community of professionals who strive for excellent practice and constant improvement. We will provide regular high quality training and development for all of our staff. All staff will be encouraged to think strategically and we will listen to their ideas on where we can make improvements.

I wonder what the Economist would make of our vision for Ark Pioneer?

I hope I’ve overcome the challenge in successfully defining our vision. I’ll be returning to this in a later post, when I will focus on the challenges of putting this into practice.

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