A research strategy for Scottish education

Identified priorities for a research strategy to support improvement in Scottish education, particularly regarding schools.

A Research Strategy for Scottish Education: Summary

Introduction and Purpose

The four priorities for Scottish Education set out in the National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan [1] are:

  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy;
  • Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children;
  • Improvement in children and young people's health and wellbeing;
  • Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school leaver destinations for all young people.

The overriding purpose of this Research Strategy is to help deliver these priorities by developing the research infrastructure, a knowledge base of 'what works' and the capacity of the system to use evidence.

This approach has been formulated following the recommendations of Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective - the 2015 review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD) of Curriculum for Excellence ( CfE). In it, they argue for a more coherent approach to using data across the school system, in order to drive improvement.

We believe that each level of the education system in Scotland has a vital role in harnessing the power of evidence and data in order to deliver continuous improvement in the education system. Leadership at system, local authority, school and class level is key to ensuring that effective collaborative approaches are in place to learn lessons for successful interventions. In particular:

  • The Scottish Government and Education Scotland must work effectively with national bodies such as GTCS, SCEL, ADES and SCDE to ensure that international evidence is effectively sourced and made available to the school system;
  • Local authorities must collaborate effectively with school leaders and teachers to identify patterns in outcomes across their areas, design and deploy appropriate interventions and monitor impact to learn lessons for improvement, feeding success and learning back into the national policy context;
  • School leaders must collaborate with their teachers and support staff, parents, children and young people to identify patterns and outcomes within their schools, design and deploy appropriate interventions and monitor impact to learn lessons for improvement;
  • Teachers must collaborate with their support staff, parents, children and young people to identify patterns and outcomes for individuals. In addition, they are expected to design and deploy appropriate interventions, and monitor impact to learn lessons for improvement;
  • All levels must show leadership and exemplify inquiry to those above and below them, seek to collaborate, and commit to learning from data and evidence, whether gathered routinely, or to attest to specific interventions. They should promote a culture of sharing their lessons candidly and seek to use these as an opportunity for improvement in a spirit of mutual support.

Combining this coherent approach to data with research to effectively share the lessons of international evidence, to identify effective interventions, establish 'what works' in the Scottish context, and continuously learn from the data that is gathered, will help deliver the four priorities. This data driven approach will be combined with a focus on increasing the levels of collaboration and communication between all actors within the education system. This will further the development and dissemination of best practice approaches in Scottish education, and a strengthening of the research enivornment in Scotland as a whole.

The role of independent research, which can challenge the system and command credibility with the full range of stakeholders, is vital in ensuring that Scottish education is seen to be working effectively, and well-positioned to tackle the challenges of the future.

This document sets out the broad objectives for research activity we have identified following the recommendations of the OECD review and discussions with a range of academic and education stakeholders.

The research challenge

In order to support the delivery of the National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan and to ensure that research activities make a difference, actions will be focused on:

  • Supporting the research infrastructure through better access to data and training of researchers;
  • Effective commissioning and dissemination of evidence on "what works" and improving system performance; and
  • Improving the understanding of the use of data and evidence at all levels of the school system.

Key actions

These three areas are the key themes for potential projects to deliver improved research evidence to underpin the achievement of the four priorities. In particular:

Supporting research infrastructure and independent research

  • Promoting the use of existing datasets through easier access, networks with academic colleagues and promoting collaborative research;
  • Developing improved data on Health & Wellbeing and ensuring that new data is gathered on social background and the non-attainment aspects of CfE.

System characteristics and performance: What works and what has worked?

  • Deploying the best available international evidence through partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation;
  • Translating international lessons into the Scottish context and developing new Scottish research evidence;
  • Examining the capacity and structure of education professionals to receive and implement the lessons of research and recommend necessary changes.

Empowering practitioners to produce and use evidence and data

  • Study how to make best use of data produced in the schools system, e.g. through the National Improvement Framework or school-level assessments;
  • Ensure that the best evidence effectively informs the knowledge mobilisation strategy being developed by Education Scotland as well as associated actions;
  • Promote opportunities for academic and practitioner collaboration and interchange at all levels of the system.

Delivery and costs

Significant research activity is already underway. This Strategy both clarifies its direction and sets out potential additional activity to add value to the implementation of the National Improvement Framework. Key existing projects include:

  • Continued participation in the Programme for International Student Assessment ( PISA) for 2018;
  • Development of Health & Wellbeing data as set out in the Improvement Plan.
  • Development of a partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation to support the National Improvement Hub hosted by Education Scotland;
  • Completion of the 2016 round of the Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research;
  • Evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

A full action plan for research in 2017-18 will be developed following the first meetings of the National Advisory Group and Academic Reference Group in mid 2017 and consideration by the International Council of Education Advisers.


Given the Strategy's relevance to the Framework's key objectives, governance arrangements for the Strategy will be developed in conjunction with partners, building on existing programme management structures that support the National Improvement Framework.

A National Advisory Group containing key partners, including those who manage existing research programmes and data, will advise on development and delivery of the Strategy. The group will work closely with groups with similar interests, such as Education Scotland's Knowledge into Action Strategic Stakeholder Group, in order to ensure maximum synergy and minimise duplication.

Academic input and scrutiny will come from two organisations, firstly through regular reporting to the International Council of Education Advisers, and an Academic Reference Group containing a wide selection of academics who will be invited to comment on progress and suggest the future direction of research.


The purpose of this Strategy is to contribute to the achievement of the aims in the National Improvement Framework and improving the capacity of the education system in Scotland to produce and use research, evidence and data.

The current research strategy is primarily focused on the work that is being conducted in schools and school age children. However the aim is to expand the focus of the strategy in the long term is to encompass the full educational journey in Scotland

We will review its impact on an annual basis and formally evaluate after five years.


Email: Jonathan Wright

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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