International Council of Education Advisers meeting papers: 19-20 February 2020

Papers from the meeting of the group on 19-20 February 2020.

Education reform – progress report 

This paper is for discussion/information (ICEA(20)01). Paper by the Scottish Government.


Extensive engagement between national and local government from early 2018 led to a landmark joint agreement in June 2018 which committed both parties to deliver reforms to school education without the need for new primary legislation. A broad and shared agenda of education reform has continued since reaching the Joint Agreement, and in June 2019 the Deputy First Minister confirmed that the Scottish Government would not be bringing forward legislation to achieve these aims. 

We therefore remain collectively committed to developing meaningful school empowerment through the establishment of a Headteachers’ Charter and associated guidance. This is supported by a local authority self-evaluation framework designed to help local authorities evaluate their progress with school empowerment alongside an evaluation strategy measuring progress within the reform agenda. We also remain collectively committed to supporting greater collaboration through Regional Improvement Collaboratives while working together to enhance the support available to the teaching profession, and widening existing career pathways as means of building the system capacity necessary for empowerment to be more widespread across Scottish education. 

A collaborative approach

Work related to the Joint Agreement continues to be managed through a Steering Group chaired by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and involves the key bodies responsible for delivering the joint agreement: the Scottish Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Association of Directors of Education (ADES) and Education Scotland alongside representation from the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS), the Improvement Service, the Chief Social Work Adviser, and a number of practicing headteachers nominated by professional associations and teachers’ representatives.

In 2019 the Steering Group published a draft Headteachers’ Charter alongside a suite of empowering schools guidance for:

  • school leaders
  • learners
  • local authority and regional improvement collaborative
  • Scottish Government and National Organisations
  • partners 
  • support staff
  • teachers and practitioners
  • parents and carers

This nationally agreed guidance effectively sets out a more developed, shared vision for an empowered education system – the agreed goal that all parties will work towards. Significant efforts are being made by all partners to raise awareness across the system of this vision and to secure buy-in. In parallel, partners are taking forward some key actions that are intended to help us make meaningful progress towards our vision. A number of other actions are designed to facilitate this.

  • in June 2018 we also published revised Devolved School Management guidance which set out how local authorities fund schools and the accountability and responsibility for financial decisions. The new guidance is explicitly designed to support, promote and facilitate school empowerment
  • in May 2019 Education Scotland launched an enhanced version of the Excellence in Headship programme for headteachers, while the Scottish Government continues to invest in values based leadership for school leaders. This builds on an expanding range of high-quality professional learning opportunities managed by Education Scotland
  • in addition we are working with partners to enhance the professional learning available to newly qualified teachers after they complete the probation year and, alongside unions and employers, are also considering a range of proposals designed to enable greater teacher agency while reducing teacher workload. Within this range of proposals it is highly likely we will develop a substantial new package of professional learning focused on teacher health and wellbeing while also putting in place a new and union-led teacher innovation fund

The ICEA may wish to note that from August 2020 all new permanent headteachers will be required to hold the Standard for Headship as awarded by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. The Scottish Government continues to support aspirant headteachers to achieve the Standard by paying course fees for the Into Headship programme delivered by seven universities across Scotland in partnership with Education Scotland and Local Authorities. 

Wider programme of improvements

Plans for implementation of the recommendations of the Career Pathways Panel are progressing well. Three working groups of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers have been established to take forward work in three areas:

  • lead teacher and career progression
  • headship and beyond
  • sabbaticals

These working groups have agreed a delivery timeline, with plans to be finalised by August this year, for implementation by August 2021.

Parental empowerment

The empowerment of parents and carers is a key theme of school empowerment, included in the Empowering Schools guidance published on 5th September 2019. In support of this the National Parents Forum for Scotland has published a nutshell guide designed to provide a guide to empowerment for parents and carers . The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 sets out the role parents, schools and education authorities must play in ensuring all parents are fully involved and engaged in their children’s learning and in the life and work of our schools. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on amendments to modernise and strengthen the statutory guidance in support of the Act . The consultation will run until 30th April 2020.  

The Scottish Government is co-ordinating a national policy action plan on parental involvement and engagement – the Learning Together Plan . This joint local and national government plan includes 52 actions across five key themes. The policy approach is influenced by available research, including the work of Dr Janet Goodall, a member of the government’s national network on parental engagement. The Scottish Government is also funding a series of “Equalities and Equity” projects to address barriers amongst a range of parental groups. The bid assessment process concluded in late 2019, with agreement to fund eight projects covering parental involvement and engagement in learning and specific equalities and equities categories.   

Learner empowerment

Learner participation and empowerment is a key theme of school empowerment, included in the Empowering Schools guidance which was published on 5th September 2019. Education Scotland supports and encourages learner voice and participation in schools via guidance and support, the “HGIOS [How Good is Our School]” Resource and the Young Leaders of Learning Programme which aims to support learner voice in the school improvement process. Under the programme, young people take part in reciprocal visits to other schools to identify what is working well, areas for improvement and effective practice.

The Scottish Government has sought to strengthen the voice of young people in education policy. Young people are invited to contribute reflections to key national policy forums such as the Scottish Education Council and Curriculum and Assessment Board. Data on pupils’ participation in their own learning and in the life and work of school is gathered via the two-yearly Young People in Scotland Survey, an online omnibus survey run by Ipsos MORI Scotland, which surveys a representative sample of pupils in Scotland aged 11 to 19 in 50 state secondary schools in Scotland.

The Scottish Government also funds a Scottish Learner Panel, providing a forum for young people to directly influence education policy in Scotland. The final report from the first year of the Panel was published in September 2019. Follow-up actions were published as part of the 2020 National Improvement Framework Plan. The government is currently working with the Young Scot organisation to make arrangements for Learner Panel 2020/21. 

Regional improvement 

Overview: regional working continues to develop as the system becomes easier with the concept

The regional improvement plans submitted in September 2019 demonstrate significant progress in the work of all Regional Improvement Collaboratives. All have in place their governance arrangements and supporting infrastructure, and can evidence substantial engagement of middle leaders and head teachers across a range of focussed activities, events and regional networks. While each plan is contextualised to their region, common RIC themes include a focus on: closing the poverty related attainment gap; strengthening the use of data to drive improvement, self-evaluation and professional dialogue; supporting teacher agency and pedagogical practice; enhancing educational leadership; and strengthening the resource to support regional workstreams. 

Accelerating RIC progress and reach is a priority. In their 2019-20 plans, all RICs aim to ensure an increase in teacher and school level engagement, with a clear focus on the NIF drivers and ongoing and robust evaluation of the work. RIC Leads are increasingly seen as important leaders within the system and regularly meet with Scottish Government, Education Scotland and COSLA, as well as attending key Scotland wide meetings such as the Education Council. 

Education Scotland has also formed Regional Teams, co-terminus with each RIC, to work with the RICs to support their development and ensure that the national and regional perspectives work together to support improvement. Consideration is also being given to working with individual Local Authorities, particularly to support and challenge areas requiring improvement and to more dynamically target resources where necessary. Education Scotland’s Senior Regional Advisors (SROs) have a significant leadership and challenge role working with each RIC and individual LAs, coordinating targeted support, delivering professional learning and driving improvement.

RIC funding

The Scottish Government provided around £5 million of funding to the RICs in 18/19 and have committed to providing up to £6 million in 19/20. Arrangements on future RIC resourcing will be informed by the findings of the RIC Review, which is expected to report its findings in June 2020.

RIC review

Following an initial review into the establishment of the RICs which reported in February 2019, the Scottish Government and COSLA are commissioning a further review to look at how the RICs have progressed in the 18 months since and to examine their emerging impact. Independent researchers have been appointed to carry out this review, which is due to report its findings in June this year. It will engage with stakeholders across local government, national government, agencies and other partners, including headteachers and classroom teachers. 

The key themes for this review are: structures and governance; planning and evaluation; collaboration and partnership working; use of data; engagement with and support for schools; and resourcing, support and guidance. The review will also be able to identify and gather information on any key issues or areas that may emerge during research.


We acknowledge the need to effectively evaluate the range of work that has been taken forward in support of the education reform agenda. In June 2019, under the auspices of the School Empowerment Steering Group, we published an evaluation strategy which will build on previous thematic reviews and will draw together relevant data from a range of sources including inspection findings and the results of local authority self-evaluation and surveys commissioned by teachers’ representatives. Local authorities have been asked to provide the Steering Group with initial self-evaluations of progress towards empowerment for incorporation into a wider evaluation by spring 2020. We expect to be able to draw together available sources of information in an initial evaluation by June 2020.

While we await the outcome of the evaluation workstream we continue to receive feedback from stakeholders that suggests the level of empowerment and the engagement with key concepts is mixed. It is suggested that a number of barriers to system-wide empowerment remain. These include issues related to difficulties in relation to teacher and support staff recruitment, lack of time to meaningfully engage with new guidance, difficulties in rural areas in engagement with the agenda. 

A further issue, often raised by headteachers, is that despite political support for the agenda, some local authorities have been slow in translating the idea of empowerment into meaningful change in their schools. This type of legacy issue appears to be particularly true in respect of the ability to take decisions at school level for staffing and funding. This is evidenced by both rolling surveys undertaken by headteacher representatives and by Education Scotland’s Thematic Inspection on Readiness for Empowerment published in December 2018 .

The Council is asked to note progress in respect of education reform in Scotland and consider how:

  • can we ensure all parts of the system develop a shared understanding of our vision for empowerment and play an effective role in delivering it? 
  • all schools can benefit from policy in relation to school empowerment no matter the location and size of school and the nature of the community it serves?


International Council of Education Advisers minutes: 19-20 February 2020

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