1. This is the first formal report of the International Council of Education Advisers ( ICEA) following the initial two-year period of our appointment. It sets out the ICEA’s consideration of the challenges involved, the analysis of key policy issues, and suggestions for the action required to make Scotland’s education system even stronger, and of a world-class standard.
2. The ICEA recognises the consideration given by the Scottish Government to its initial report (published in July 2017) in the development of the education reform programme, and is supportive of the direction that the current reform process is taking. The ICEA commends the central policy aspiration of raising achievement and securing equity for every child, irrespective of context, setting, or background.
3. Throughout the ICEA’s discussions with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the ICEA has been clear that addressing cultural change, capacity building, and structural change were key elements of securing meaningful improvements in Scotland’s education system. The ICEA also identified three priority areas where it felt the Scottish Government needed to concentrate its efforts: improving pedagogy for specific subjects, developing effective leadership, and ensuring a culture of collaboration.
4. The ICEA notes the collaborative efforts made between different components of the education system, in working towards a clear common purpose. The ICEA encourages all elements of the system to continue in that direction.
5. The ICEA also encourages the Scottish Government to consider the implementation of its reform programme so far, and to keep any legislative interventions to a minimum.
Key strengths of the Scottish education system
6. The Curriculum for Excellence ( CfE) remains forward-looking and is the cornerstone of educational transformation in Scotland.
7. Recent structural changes, including the establishment of the 6 new Regional Improvement Collaboratives ( RICs), are designed to establish a platform for improvement. There is a clear vision for Scottish education set out in the National Improvement Framework ( NIF), and a whole-system focus on equity and excellence. There are many countries where excellence is achieved at the expense of equity, therefore, the ICEA wishes to commend the Scottish Government for its dual focus on excellence and equity, which is now central to policy formation and policy implementation within the Scottish education system.
8. The measures taken through the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding are supporting the direction that has been established in Scottish education to pursue excellence and equity, in order to create a greater sense of empowerment within the education profession. Teaching is a well-established and respected profession in Scotland, and the ICEA welcomes the recent increase in teacher numbers, rising to 51,513 in 2017 as a positive step. The challenge now is to make use of the huge potential and energy that exists within Scottish schools, and to ensure that teachers are well supported. It is important to find a way of harnessing that energy and passion, trusting in the professionalism of teachers, while providing the support necessary to enable them to carry out their job effectively.
9. Within the Scottish Government’s policy aspirations is a clear focus on health, wellbeing and employability. These aspects are important in supporting children and young people to develop fully in school and in their post-school destinations, including ensuring each person has a wide range of employment choices, irrespective of background, and the personal capability to self-manage and to be resilient within a rapidly changing world.
10. There is also encouraging evidence that outcomes for young people are improving year on year, and the proportion of young people in the most deprived areas getting one or more qualifications at SCQF levels 4, 5 and 6 (National 4, National 5 and Highers) is increasing faster than those in the least deprived areas, as evidenced in Official Statistics published by the Scottish Government in the Summary Statistics for Attainment, Leaver Destinations and Healthy Living, and set out in Annex B.
11. On each of the measures in the tables in Annex B, the attainment gap decreased over the five academic years to 2016/17. While the ICEA notes that these are encouraging indicators of progress, further narrowing of performance gaps is essential in future. The current narrowing of the gap was driven by increases in the attainment of leavers from the most deprived areas ( SIMD20). The attainment of leavers from the least deprived areas also increased over this period but to a lesser extent (and from a higher baseline level). There remains, however, a significant challenge to raise the overall level of performance for all young people.
12. Over the course of the first two years of its appointment, the ICEA has, in discussion with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, made a number of recommendations concerning how excellence and equity can be strengthened in Scotland’s schools. The ICEA welcomes the fact that the Scottish Government has taken these recommendations into account and is using them to implement policies that will secure improvements in the Scottish education system, and to establish a school and teacher-led education system designed to empower the workforce, parents, pupils and communities. The ICEA recommends that the Scottish Government, through its current and forthcoming education policies, continues to focus on the linkage between equity and excellence, and to take more systematic steps to strengthen fairness, inclusion, and equity through ongoing investments in excellence.
13. This report contains a number of further recommendations that the ICEA believes can help Scotland to continue to strengthen its education system. The ICEA commends the Scottish Government for its continued support of CfE and notes the progress being made with CfE in many Scottish schools. The ICEA notes that it is important to retain the vision and holistic approach of CfE, alongside the drive to deliver the specific measures set out in the NIF to secure improvement in Scottish education. It is important that the ongoing developments within the Scottish education system do not lead to a narrow view of education and schooling that limits the aspirations of CfE. The ICEA also recommends that the Scottish Government should shift the terminology used in its future improvement of the education system from the rhetoric of reform to the language of improvement and development. For the purposes of this report, we will use the term "the educational improvement programme" to describe the approach to school and system change.
The Scottish Government should:
1. Consider how the current policies aimed at improving the education system, and those in the future, support the full aspirations of CfE so that young people in Scotland can continue to fulfil their potential.
2. Develop the skills and attributes of the 4 capacities of CfE - successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, effective contributors -
and pursue them alongside the important NIF priorities.
3. Consider how improvement in the health and wellbeing of young people is defined, gauged, and evaluated so any progress can be clearly established and validated with any negative effects avoided.
4. Continue the work being taken forward as a result of the Attainment Scotland Fund, to ensure that it is sustained within the system. In addition, examples of how it is being used most effectively, within schools in different settings, should be captured to share as important additional guidance to schools.
5. Take more systematic steps to strengthen fairness, inclusion, and equity in education through ongoing investments in excellence.
6. Formulate a detailed implementation plan for furthering educational improvement according to the agreed education policy framework, with co-ownership and engagement across the system, that would ensure that each of the components could be sufficiently embedded and sustained for the benefit of future generations.
7. Replace the terminology of reform with the language of improvement.
8. Ensure that the current policies and related improvement efforts, and those in the future, are sufficiently contextually nuanced and contextually embedded.
9. Set out an explicit theory of change that underpins and supports the current strategies and approaches to educational improvement, which will help to identify the conditions that need to be in place for the aims of the educational improvement programme to be achieved.
10. Ensure the educational improvement programme, together with CfE, provides the conditions necessary to move towards an empowered, and self-improving learning system.
11. Consider how further development and deepening of the implementation of its future approaches to educational improvement can be achieved by the collaborative approach that has achieved the progress to date, rather than pursuing a legislative approach.
12. Focus on capacity building that will contribute to deep and lasting cultural and practical change within the system, building on the work done on structural reform thus far.
13. Consider three key policy imperatives for the next phase of improvement that will help to create a self-improving learning system. These are: professional empowerment, responsibility, and ownership.
14. Ensure that Scotland’s strong track record of collaboration and consensus in implementing education policy, remains the central focus of system improvement.
15. Together with Education Scotland and local government, ensure that all the RICs are providing additional capacity, within the system, to support sustainable innovation and collectively charged change.
16. Together with Education Scotland and local government, work with the RICs to ensure that they have adequate capacity and resources, and that they are flexible enough and sufficiently motivated to support innovative ways of working that directly impact on learning and teaching.
17. Together with Education Scotland and local government, provide funding and support for RICs to take forward regional pedagogical networks linked to teaching and learning, to share and develop promising practices linked to CfE.
18. Work with universities and other providers to further develop and implement the educational research strategy published in 2017. This will enhance the system’s capacity for independent research and evaluation, and build a Scottish empirical evidence base.
19. Work with Education Scotland and local government to strengthen efforts across all RICs to continue to support professional collaboration and trust in and across schools and classrooms.