The International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) was established in 2016 to provide advice regarding education policies and practices to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to advance equity and excellence in the Scottish education system. This is the second formal report of the ICEA relating to our second two-year term (2018-2020) of work. We are pleased to bring together our expertise and exercise collective responsibility from our diverse international perspectives in relation to the opportunities and challenges for Scotland's education system. We look forward to continuing to support improvements for Scotland's education system, schools, and students over the next two years also.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed the complexion of many issues in education. Our work, like the work of Scottish education, now takes place in a time and circumstances that have turned rules, expectations and basic understandings of what is and should be considered to be normal in education systems upside down. Schools have closed, opened again, and still face uncertainty in the coming months as waves of the pandemic loom in some form or other. Examinations have been cancelled, calculation of results has shifted, and further changes may well be in store. The pandemic has disproportionately affected those who are most vulnerable and living in poverty, placing issues of equity at the very centre of the thoughts of education policymakers. The work of the ICEA is part and parcel of these and other ongoing changes in Scottish education, and it does not and cannot stand apart from them.
Given the circumstances, the unique value of the ICEA right now, irrespective of where the members are currently based, is its international expertise. Members of the ICEA have been providing robust and high-level contributions to national and global debates and decision-making on COVID-19 and education since the announcement of the global pandemic in March, 2020. The ICEA last had a physical presence in Scotland in February 2020, and longer than that since it was able to visit a school. However, the ICEA continues to want to help strengthen Scottish education and what it can deliver for all young people, especially at this critical time, and has been providing advice to the Scottish government over the period of the pandemic. Also, while the pandemic poses many dangers and challenges, many education systems in the world are also exploring how they could capitalise on the opportunity to make fundamental changes to their school system. As we finalise this report, the roll out of the first phase of vaccinations has begun in the UK, including Scotland. For these reasons, instead of a report that looks back, this second ICEA report looks forward.
The report will make reference to the previous ICEA report, where appropriate. But it acknowledges that any progress on its recommendations must take into account the subsequent disruptions occasioned by COVID-19. So, this report will draw on international knowledge and expertise of ICEA members, including other systems' experiences with education and COVID-19, to interpret a set of specific themes that have longstanding or recent importance for Scottish education, that fall within the expertise of the members of ICEA, and that have become of paramount global importance during the pandemic. These interpretations will be directed to identifying long-term risks and transformational opportunities resulting from what has been learned at this critical time. We would like to support Scottish education not merely to get back to normal, or even to define a new normal, but to use this crisis as an opportunity to become a truly extraordinary educational system in the future.
Scottish educational reforms were making steady progress prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a significant commitment to developing and strengthening early childhood education. Substantial pupil equity funding has gone directly to schools via the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The teaching profession has moved through periods of disputes with the government, but has also benefitted from Scotland's increased commitment to the profession, to professional empowerment, and to improving compensation and working conditions. Leadership programmes have been developed for teacher leadership, for middle level leaders, for deputies who want to be heads, and for system leaders. Regional Improvement Collaboratives have built greater collaboration between local authorities and started to benefit from the role of assigned challenge advisors and Education Scotland's regional teams. Many professional networks are emerging to enable sharing of successful examples of what works across schools.
The government, with ICEA's support, is continuing to try to balance and integrate Curriculum for Excellence and the National Improvement Framework, without one being eclipsed by the other. Until the later years of secondary education, assessment continues to rely primarily on teachers' professional judgment and has avoided falling into the trap of excess standardised testing that continues to produce negative side effects in a number of other systems. What has disrupted and also sharpened further thinking is the experience of the pandemic and its impact on Scottish education.
We provide our advice in relation to two priority themes. First, navigating the pandemic and beyond: redesigning schooling, teaching and learning, including attention to: integration of digital technologies; expansion of learning outdoors; reform of assessments and examinations; review of curriculum; and engagement of students, families, and communities. Second, governing and leading education system change and improvement, including: system leadership, partnerships, and collaboration for a networked learning system; and leading school improvement and continued learning by school leadership and the teaching profession.