International Council of Education Advisers: third report 2021-2023

This is the third formal report of the ICEA relating to their third two-year term (2021-2023) of work.

Strategic Area 5: Governance and Leadership

Our previous ICEA report called for a move towards a more locally led system. Scottish Government has indeed pursued a policy of greater devolution of resourcing to schools as seen, for example, in the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF). More recently, the Muir Report recommended that the principle of subsidiarity should guide its proposals about structural and cultural reform. Subsidiarity and cultural change were central arguments made by Chapman and Donaldson (2023) in their paper Learning is Scotland’s Future. We are strongly supportive of this approach but believe that there remains some way to go to achieve the full benefits of local decision making and realise the potential that exists within schools and their communities.

Major structural reform will inevitably be costly in financial terms. It can also result in dissipation of effort as individuals, organisations and the system must adjust to new relationships. We therefore reaffirm our earlier advice as an ICEA that structural changes should only be made as an integral and necessary part of a coherent approach to governance across all levels of the education system. Clear beneficial impact on the learning and experience of the young people and their teachers should be the acid test of any proposals. In the past we have argued for “shifting the ownership of change”. Given the need for cultural change in a climate of austerity, this focus is more important than ever.

In considering the current framework of national and local bodies, we believe that much may be achieved through establishing greater clarity of role and purpose, changes to governance and redirection of effort. The teaching profession and other key stakeholders should be given a more central place in the internal governance arrangements of national organisations and local structures such as the RICs. A greater sense of ownership of educational policy and greater sensitivity to the realities of the implementation of policy will help to combat ambiguity and further embed responsibility for the quality of the educational experience in schools and classrooms. It is not for ICEA to prescribe specific changes but, in line with the thrust of the Muir Report, there are several characteristics that we believe should underpin future developments.

  • Governance arrangements for SQA (or its successor body) should maintain necessary independence while establishing much closer involvement of education professionals in its decision-making processes.
  • Education Scotland (or its successor body) should operate at more arms-length from Scottish Government but with a clear remit to advise government on key policy areas such as revisions to the curriculum. Its authority should be enhanced through an independent chair of a Board that also engages education professionals drawn from all levels in the system in its work.
  • The role of ‘Education Scotland’ should be reimagined. It should be repurposed to focus on brokering and facilitating local developments rather than the delivery of professional learning at its own hand.
  • The role of the RICs should be clarified with an emphasis on promoting collaboration across boundaries. Funding arrangements should promote strategic planning over a three-year period rather than the existing one-year cycles.
  • An independent HM Inspectorate of Education should be established as a matter of urgency. In addition to its role in accountability, the approach to inspection going forward should promote improvement within a collaborative culture of self-evaluation. It should have direct access to the Cabinet Secretary without going through established civil service channels. The Chief Inspector should be created at a sufficiently senior level to attract a high quality and competitive field of applicants.
  • Governance reform should be directed at stimulating and supporting educational innovation and improvement, not by adding implementation demands but by removing bureaucratic obstacles. Particularly in an environment of austerity, teachers should experience more freedom to innovate and collaborate.

High quality and clear leadership at all levels in the system will be central to success. A continued focus on professional learning for leadership will therefore be an essential part of any longer-term strategy.

Specific Recommendations

In reviewing the infrastructure for the leadership and governance of Scottish education, Scottish Government should:

1. Redesign governance arrangements to give greater prominence to education professionals and other stakeholders in the decision-making process.

2. Establish relationships across levels that allocate clear roles and responsibilities, minimise duplication and create potential for impact.

3. Pursue the principle of subsidiarity through reporting and financial arrangements that allow effective decision making at the local level.

4. Create a leadership narrative that highlights the importance of innovation in learning and teaching and of teachers engaging in innovation together within and across their schools to support pupils’ achievement.



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