The School Excellence cycle

The School Excellence cycle is underpinned by the School Excellence Framework (SEF) and supports all NSW public schools in the pursuit of excellence.

Image: The School Excellence cycle

The approach to School Excellence is student-centric and built on:

  • strong self-assessment and evaluative practices
  • a clear focus on student wellbeing, growth and attainment
  • an evidence-informed Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP) for every school
  • progress monitoring, through regular collection and analysis of evidence, to inform next steps.

The School Excellence cycle is underpinned by the School Excellence Framework which supports all NSW public schools in their pursuit of excellence.

The School Excellence Framework (SEF):

  • provides a clear description of effective practice across the key educational domains of learning, teaching and leading, and informs and guides decision-making by principals.
  • is evidence-based and identifies explicit school practices that are directly related to continuous, school-wide improvement and better student outcomes for your students.

The School Excellence Policy and requirements

The School Excellence Policy requires all NSW public schools to develop a Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP), which is informed by authentic self-assessment and evaluation, and aligned to purposeful resource allocation.

An external validation (EV) process provides an assurance to your school, and to the system, that the progress being made aligns with the expectations articulated in the SEF. It enables your school leadership team to validate ongoing self-assessment practices, and identify evidence for consideration by an external panel of peers.

The School Excellence Policy also:

  • outlines the roles and responsibilities of principals, Directors, Educational Leadership, and Executive Directors, School Performance, in the pursuit of school excellence
  • incorporates the use of the School Planning and Reporting Online (SPaRO) tool as the means for constructing the Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP) and preparing the annual report.

School Excellence cycle animation

An introduction to the steps involved in the School Excellence cycle. The School Excellence cycle aligns components of the School Excellence Framework, providing our NSW public schools a process to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate strategies to drive improved student outcomes.

Schools use the School Excellence Framework in their pursuit of excellence. They also consider research from the Centre for Educational Statics and Evaluation (CESE), including What Works Best.

By providing a clear description of quality practices across the key domains of education – learning, teaching and leading - the School Excellence cycle provides our schools with a process to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate strategies that drive improved student outcomes.

The first step schools undertake is a Situational Analysis. This involves reviewing and evaluating their current plan and other data sources, analysing School Excellence Framework Self-assessment Survey data, using the findings from their external validation and determining future directions.

Once completed, the Situational Analysis is used to consult with the community, review and amend the school’s vision and context statements, and determine the high level strategic directions the school will take over the next four years.

This will inform the development of the Strategic Improvement Plan. By identifying their improvement measures, schools can then determine the most appropriate initiatives to achieve them. The initiatives should be clearly aligned to the improvement measures. Schools then determine their success criteria, which will direct them to the evidence they’ll need when evaluating their Strategic Improvement Plan. The School Excellence Framework and What Works Best should be carefully considered throughout this process.

We have also released a new user friendly template in SPaRO. All schools will develop their Strategic Improvement Plan using this simplified template.

Continuous school improvement is enabled by needs-based funding and the strategic allocation of resources. As part of the ongoing implementation and progress monitoring of the plan, schools collect and evaluate evidence to ensure they’re meeting the needs of each of their students.

Each year, schools evaluate and reflect on the impact of their initiatives against their annual progress measures, ensuring that they are on track to achieve their improvement measures. This will be auto-populated into the annual report. The annual reflection also includes reviewing and completing the school’s SEF S-aS.

The process aligns purposeful resource allocation with authentic self-assessment, engaging all staff to drive improved student outcomes. This way we can ensure every student, every teacher, every leader and every school improves every year.

For further support, visit the NSW Education website and search ‘School Excellence’ or you can contact your Director, Educational Leadership or your local Principal, School Leadership.

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External validation and a 4 year cycle

Excellence in every NSW public school is supported by the external validation (EV) process, which in turn, supports the development of your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP).

Commencing in 2021, your school will complete a 4 year Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP), using the new, user-friendly template in School Planning and Reporting Online (SPaRO).

Your school is assigned to one of 4 School Excellence cohorts, supporting the 4 year School Excellence cycle. Each year, one group – about a quarter of all schools – will be selected to complete the aligned EV. The distribution of your school across the 4 years has been determined by the timing of your external validation during the 2016-2020 cycle.

School improvement is a continuous process which does not begin or end with any one Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP).

Your school will develop a new 4 year Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP) in the year you undertake EV. The EV process, and the evidence collated for the EV panel, will form part of the situational analysis for the development of your school's new Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP).

Support and resources

The following support contacts and online resources are available to you to assist you in developing and implementing your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP) and external validation:

For further information on the timelines specific to your school's external validation cohort group, please consult the Quick Reference Guide (QRG).

Components of the School Excellence cycle

There are 4 components of the School Excellence cycle:

  1. Situational analysis informed by external validation - Where are we now? How do we know? What are our next steps?
  2. Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP)
  3. Implementation and progress monitoring of your SIP
  4. Annual reflection and adjustment of your SIP.

Your school will:

  • undertake a thorough self-assessment ('Where are we now?' 'How do we know?' 'What are our next steps?') to commence the School Excellence cycle
  • implement a process of preparing for EV and the selection and annotation of evidence as an important part of your situational analysis
  • identify the next steps in order to develop your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP)
  • consult with the community on your self-assessment to inform strategic directions and to develop your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP).

Your school will:

  • develop up to 3 strategic directions - the first being 'Student growth and attainment', with the remaining direction(s) being selected by your school
  • write a purpose statement for each strategic direction
  • decide on improvement measures
  • determine projected improvement measures for each year of the cycle for monitoring purposes
  • establish the initiatives your school will undertake in order to achieve the improvement measures
  • determine observable success criteria which are underpinned by the purpose statement
  • create an evaluation plan as part of each strategic direction.

Your school will:

  • plan activities to achieve annual progress measures
  • strategically allocate resources and funding to implement each activity
  • embed ongoing reflective and evaluative practice
  • collect evidence of impact.

Your school will:

  • conduct an annual review of progress and impact
  • evaluate progress towards the achievement of the improvement measures you have selected
  • engage and consult with your community to evaluate impact, maintaining strong partnerships towards achieving the strategic goals
  • evaluate school practices and impact through the lens of the School Excellence Framework Self-assessment Survey (SEF S-aS)
  • use evaluation of progress and impact (which will auto-populate in SPaRO) to finalise your annual report
  • adjust and update your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP), where necessary, in consultation with your Director, Educational Leadership.

Leading school improvement

Key educational research highlights the direct connection between your leadership, teacher professional learning and improved student outcomes.

There is no question that excellence in leadership remains a crucial factor in determining whether students in your school succeed. It is second only to the in-school effects of excellence in teaching practices (Leithwood et al 2010).

Effective school leaders are driven by a deeply held belief that every child can improve every day 'no matter where they live or what kind of learning challenges they may face'.

Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration (2019) Education Council Secretariat: Australia

The enactment of this strong moral purpose combined with relational trust, a commitment to action, and collective efficacy establishes a mindset that places every child and young person at the centre of decisions leading to improved outcomes for your students.

High performing school leaders lead school improvement with a strong focus on leading teaching and learning and the development of teachers. Teachers need to see you as having strong pedagogical knowledge that progresses student learning. You will be able to develop teacher capabilities through engaging in evaluation of teaching and its effect on student learning in a highly collaborative, trusting environment.

The School Leadership Institute (SLI) provides resources and frameworks to support effective leadership for school improvement.

Learn more

Find out more about School Excellence in Action or contact the team at


  • School operations
  • Teaching and learning


  • Compliance and audit
  • Governance
  • Leadership and management
  • Reporting and performance
  • School Excellence Framework

Business Unit:

  • Public Schools
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