Empowering Schools: education reform progress update

Progress update on delivery of the Scottish Government's programme of education reform.


The purpose of this document is to provide an update on the progress to date in respect of the Scottish Government’s programme of education reform. It also sets out our proposed next steps to cement progress towards a school and teacher-led system with the purpose of improving the education and life chances of children and young people. 

The Education Governance Review consultation (Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve Excellence and Equity – A Governance Review) ran from 13 September 2016 to 6 January 2017. This led to the publication of the Education Governance Next Steps in June 2017.

The Next Steps publication set out a vision of a school and teacher-led system with decision making taking place at school level. It led to the preparation of an Education Bill, the main focus of which was to provide the legal underpinning for the shift in decision making to school level. Following intensive negotiations with Local Government, a Joint Agreement was published in June 2018, which provided a means of achieving the cultural shift to a more empowered system without introducing legislation. Together the Next Steps and the Joint Agreement have provided the basis for a substantial suite of work aimed at reforming elements of the school education system in Scotland. Next Steps recommendations focused on the following areas: career pathways; parental engagement; school improvement; regional collaboration; fair funding; school leadership; and teacher professionalism. 

The Joint Agreement committed Scottish Government and Local Government to deliver the following actions through a number of shared pieces of work overseen by the HM Chief Inspector of Education. Importantly, the Joint Agreement with Local Government supported the Scottish Government’s decision to work in partnership to make progress towards the empowered system, rather than introduce legislation. The Joint Agreement proposed that collective efforts should focus on:

  • meaningful school empowerment through the establishment of a Headteachers’ Charter and associated guidance;
  • the creation of a local authority self-evaluation framework to test school empowerment; and
  • the development of an overarching evaluation strategy. 

Discussions resulted in the establishment of the Joint Agreement Steering Group, to oversee the delivery, in partnership with Local Government and the education sector, of the empowerment reforms. Key work streams involving a range of partners were
also established to lead on the co-production of the Headteachers’ Charter and associated guidance on school empowerment; on developing a Local Government self-evaluation framework for measuring and promoting school empowerment; and on formulating a strategy to measure the extent and impact of school empowerment across the system.

In the period since June 2018 clear progress has been made. The commitment and actions taken forward by the Joint Agreement Steering Group and its work streams are building the conditions through which genuine school empowerment will flourish. This work demonstrates collaboration at all levels of Scottish education and is an example of partners working effectively and collaboratively. 

Our shared achievements include the publication of a draft Headteachers’ Charter (see Annex A), further development of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) and the development of revised Devolved School Management Guidelines. Equally important, has been the completion of work on behalf of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, in respect of proposed new career pathways for teachers. 

The Joint Agreement has helped to provide the stability needed for meaningful partnership working. This sense of shared commitment to empowerment is further demonstrated in the recent pay deal agreed with Local Government and the teacher unions. Improving teachers’ pay is an important element in enhancing the attractiveness of the profession, as part of a wider strategy to address recruitment and retention challenges. This includes the package of additional measures, agreed as part of the pay deal, which sets a shared agenda on addressing workload, additional support for learning and empowering schools. This landmark partnership agreement will provide the stability we need to drive empowerment and deliver the best possible outcomes for our young people.

The progress with the Joint Agreement and with wider measures accompanying the pay deal provide the context for meaningful collaboration, but we recognise that this does not in itself result in the improved outcomes for children and young people that everyone in the education system is committed to. As we take this agenda forward it is therefore important we evaluate the impact of change. 

In recent months Education Scotland have published the following thematic inspections as initially outlined in the Joint Agreement: 

These inspections have identified progress in empowerment and the support which exists in the system. However, HM Inspectors of Education found that, as expected, there is still more to be done to realise our collective ambition for an empowered, collaborative system. The Chief Inspector, as independent Chair of the School Empowerment Steering Group, highlighted that there has to be a careful balance between providing the right amount of governance and accountability while at the same time allowing leaders and practitioners the flexibility and autonomy to meet their pupils’ needs. 

In her role as independent Chair of the group, in June 2019 the Chief Inspector provided an update on the work of the School Empowerment Steering Group to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Skills and the COSLA Children and Young People Spokesperson. She outlined the significant progress that has been made and confirmed the Steering Group’s continued commitment to develop further resources to support the delivery of an empowered system. The Chief Inspector also highlighted the clear commitment and collegiate approach of all partners involved and gave her recommendation for the continued delivery of these reforms through a non-legislative partnership approach.

The following chapters of this document detail progress and highlight next steps in respect of key elements of the education reform agenda.


Email: scott.miller@gov.scot

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