International Council of Education Advisers: report 2016-2018

This is the first formal report of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) following the initial two-year period of their appointment.

Structural Change

73. The ICEA notes that, in terms of structural improvements, the core building blocks and the necessary preconditions are now in place. The RICs are emerging as a new and potentially powerful infrastructure to build professional capacity and to instigate pedagogical change. The RICs have established ways of working and are providing promising platforms for local innovation and change. The ICEA welcomes the joint development of the RICs by national government, local government, and Education Scotland.

74. The ICEA notes, however, that the RICs are relatively new, and that it will take time to establish them fully as a new and dynamic platform for improvement and collaborative capacity building within the system. The ICEA also notes that the RICs are at very different levels of functioning and development, and vary considerably in size and structure. In time, however, the ICEA recommends that all the RICs should be providing additional capacity, within the system, to support sustainable innovation and collectively charged change.

75. While the RICs have the potential to support system self-improvement, this will be achieved only if they are adequately resourced. The ICEA recommends that the Scottish Government, 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.

76. The ICEA also recommends further funding and support for RICs to build regional pedagogical networks and to share and develop promising pedagogical practices linked to CfE.

77. There are 7 key issues regarding the RICs, however, that the ICEA wishes the Scottish Government, working in partnership with local authorities and Education Scotland, to consider:

Issue - 1. How to increase the pace and quality of the innovative work within the RICs so that there are clear, positive outcomes for learners?

Issue – 2. As the RICs develop, what structures and processes will optimise the movement of instructive practice, innovation and ideas between them?

Issue – 3. How can we ensure that all professionals, agencies and other assets are aligned within and between the RICs to achieve the collective impact necessary to realise the aspirations of the Collaboratives?

Issue – 4. How to ensure that the RICs are working optimally and are evaluating their own impact? What partners need to be engaged to ensure that this is a rigorous process?

Issue - 5. Given that incentives can kick start and accelerate progress, what additional resources will stimulate focused activity and increase pace?

Issue - 6. What forms of networked accountability are necessary to foster joint responsibility within the RICs?

Issue - 7. Given that ownership of reform is a key dimension of successful change, what is the optimal role for local government, Scottish Government and Education Scotland in supporting the development of the RICs?

78. There are some potential drawbacks with structural change, on this scale, that the ICEA feels are worth highlighting to the Scottish Government. These include the possibility of structural disconnection and dissonance as significant changes are introduced within the system simultaneously. Hence, the ICEA suggests that the process or processes of policy implementation need to be streamlined and clearly connected, and there is a need to maintain policy coherence as various waves of reform are put in place, and to clearly communicate the alignment between core policy priorities at all levels in the system.

79. The ICEA notes the need for consistent messages about the purposes and processes of structural change going forward. The ICEA suggests that a clear and consistent narrative of change is needed with a clear account of implementation. The ICEA notes that cohesion and clarity is particularly important at this stage in the reform process. The ICEA suggests that the language and actions of ‘delivery’ need to be adjusted so that they are more aligned to the principle of the self-improving school agenda in Scotland i.e. premised on professional empowerment, responsibility, and ownership.

80. In its report, the OECD suggested moving from a centrally managed system to an empowered system:

"We call for a strengthened "middle" operating through networks… within and across local authorities… to create coherent and cohesive cultures of system-wide improvement."

( OECD, 2015: 15)

81. The roots of this transformation can be traced back to 2013 and the work of the School Improvement Partnership Programme and other collaborative improvement efforts. Current reforms are building on these foundations and the ICEA notes that the current policy direction is supporting and reinforcing this policy direction and ambition. We also note, however, that as the structural changes are embedded, there is commensurate need to address issues of capacity building and positive cultural change.

82. The ICEA observes that Scottish education has a clear sense of the need for deep structural and cultural change across the education system. The priority of achieving excellence and equity for all young people in a society where noticeable academic achievement differences exist between young people experiencing poverty and those of other social classes represents both a moral and professional imperative for change.

83. It is clear to the ICEA, from meetings with various stakeholders (local education authorities, Regional Improvement Leads, headteachers, and teachers) that the education system and its many sub-communities value, and are working toward, the desired structural and cultural shift aimed at greatly reducing the academic achievement gap through building capacity throughout the system.


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