The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

Twittershare: Using Twitter to improve education (Part 1)

We held a brainstorming session on Thursday with a view to exploring how we could maximise the potential of Twitter for teachers, learners, parents and other stakeholders. The initial thoughts we explored on Twitter – see #twittershare

What follows is a thought-piece (Part 1) on suggestions which emerged during the course of the meeting with a view to helping us establish an implementation strategy.

It’s important to stress from the outset that Twitter is only one tool in the box, and as such, regardless of it’s potential benefits, should always be seen as part of a wider systems based approach to educational improvement.

1. Give Twitter A focus; don’t make Twitter THE focus.

Ironically when attempting to promote the use of Twitter there is a tendency to focus upon the tool itself – as opposed to what the tool can do help us achieve our educational objectives. These objectives could be: improving student learning; creating a network of collaborative professionals; promoting partnership and understanding between parents and schools; involving stakeholders in creating new policy; sharing valuable experiences, ideas and sources with others; etc. The list of objectives is only limited by our imagination but the basic point remains the same – “Don’t make Twitter THE focus, but give Twitter A focus.”

2. Look beyond early adopters or willing volunteers

If you look at the profiles of many Educational Tweeters they often profess to have an interest in technology. That’s probably to be expected and yet to base a strategy on people’s passion for technology is to alienate a huge swathe of the population. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here from the likes of Steve Jobs who tried to focus on making his tools align with the needs of the user – even if the user wan’t initially aware of their needs.

The second element of this principle is that so many educational initiatives across the globe have foundered on the forlorn belief that we can create change by growing beyond a band of willing volunteers. It was Professor Richard Elmore who most eloquently identified this fundamental flaw in the majority of educational change strategies. For the reality is that such change models rarely extend beyond that self selecting group leaving the majority of professionals to continue with their practice relatively unscathed. The unspoken philosophy adopted by such individuals can be captured by the phrase “I won’t get on this one as there be another one coming along soon”, i.e. if they keep their heads down their practice will go unchallenged.

3. Help leaders to lead by example

This is an imperative for changing the practice of the profession yet all too often we (leaders) expect and even encourage others to adopt practices when our own continues to conform to what we know – “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. It’s difficult to work out exactly why this is the case and it must be something to do with the fear that we may be perceived by our employees to be wasting our time on something which perhaps appears to be peripheral to the “serious” business of management.

The second obstacle is the legitimate concern that many leaders just don’t feel they have the time available to engage in anything new and possibly tangential to their central function. This concern will only be overcome if leaders are able to see that the tool can actually allow them to achieve their goals in an even more effective and time efficient manner than their current practice – if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be used.

4. Overcome the fear factor

We must never underestimate the fear that people have for exposing themselves to the public on an open network. Most professionals have been brought up within a highly hierarchical system where communication is decidedly up-down in nature and just as frequently controlled by others. This is not necessarily a bad thing as teachers, and even managers, can be protected from themselves, and others, in such a controlled environment.

The idea of sharing one’s thoughts, or being immediately accessible to young people or parents can be enough to put off even the most intrepid professional.

That’s why training must accompany any attempt to encourage teachers and leaders to use Twitter. That training should be aligned with the focus (see point 1) and should happen in conjunction – as opposed to the “here’s a Twitter course”.

5. Hand over the training process to our students

Teachers and school leaders are used to the traditional top down, cascade model of training which has been the dominant training approach for the last fifty years. However, by encouraging our students to become the teachers we achieve two things. Firstly, we model to students that we are also learners and that no single group has a monopoly on knowledge. Secondly, the training we would receive could be collaborative and once again model the kind of learning and teaching approach we would hope to promote in our classrooms.

6. Seek out the Ryan Giggs effect

It’s a sad fact that Twitter use exploded in the UK when people wanted to find out information about the mystery footballer at the centre of a news scandal. Not that I’m suggesting that we mirror Mr Giggs’ behaviour but that we look for events, news and possibly personalities that people can only get access to through the medium of Twitter.

7. Create the tipping point though lots of tiny steps

Promoting Twitter use will never be achieved through the traditional single BIG project approach. The approach we should be taking is to build its application into everything we do to the extent that it eventually permeates everyone’s practice. By seeking to achieve that tipping point, the group of “late” or even “never” adopters – as described in Point 2 – are much more likely to begin to make of use of the tool and, in so doing, achieve the more important underlying objective of improving educational practice.

Microfinance: supporting social enterprise for student and community benefit


Option 29 described in the curriculum for excellence senior phase post was described simply as: Establish a microfinance investment fund for student application.

I’ve been asked by a number of people to explain what I meant by this and how it might work.

This option has a number of threads but the starting point is founded upon a perceived need to encourage students to actively create social enterprises which will benefit their communities, and in turn,themselves.

The idea is not new and is rooted in the Grameen Bank  concept, although with more of a focus upon community benefit and personal/group development, rather than tackling poverty. The scheme should certainly tackle some of the symptoms of poverty within communities.


The concept is based upon the establishment of a microfinance fund using donations from local business people and other sources – councils included.  This money would be placed in a trust to which students, or other members of a community, could submit an application for a micro loan which would allow them to establish and develop their social enterprise. The only stipulation – aside from the viability of the plan – would be that the proposal must have a direct benefit to their local community.

An example we have been developing relates to an Elders Buddy Scheme. Let’s say that a student (or students) at the school applies to the fund for an interest free loan to set up the buddy scheme, which will involve families or individuals paying a minimal fee for a young person to spend 5 hours week making an evening home visit to an elderly person. The social entrepreneur/s, would use the loan – to a maximum £1000 – to pay for advertising, information materials, recruitment, training, disclosure fees, and other costs.

The microfinance fund would seek to provide additional support through a business /community mentor and a further network of relevant contacts  and fellow social entrepreneurs.

Areas of possible community benefit include; early years and child care; elderly care; youth programmes; disability support; and environment.

Obviously there are numerous working details missing from this description but in order to keep this post brief and to the point I’ll focus upon the benefits to the indviduals and the community they inhabit, and the possible problems.

Here’s a list of possible benefits:

  1. Young people are introduced to the world of work and enterprise in a real and meaningful manner.
  2. Communituties would benefit from the services provided.
  3. Experience in developing and running a social enterprise would be highly regarded on applications for employment or further/higher education.
  4. Young people develop real experience in financial management.
  5. It gives meaning to other academic studies as they become contextualised in a world of work and social duty.
  6. If  recognised as part of a young person’s senior phase curriculum it would enhance and  deepen that experience.
  7. It would promote comunity engagement and awareness of young people with/about their community.
  8. It woukd raise the positive profile of young people in their communities.
  9. Encourages young people to take the next step into running businesses for themselves.
  10. Promotes and entrepreneurial spirit in a community/school.

And possible problems:

  1. Loans are not repaid
  2. Enterprises collapse as young people leave their communities for further study or employment
  3. Services to vulnerable groups are not sustained
  4. Existing services with full time employees are placed at risk due to competition.
  5. Schools do not recognise the value of the scheme and only allow high achieving students to particpate or do not facilitate time  for involvement.
  6. The scheme does not offer sufficient support in the initial stages
  7. The bureaucracy of the application process is too off putting and complex.
  8. Funding is too short term.
  9. Insufficient number of financial backers.
  10. Works only in areas of high net worth and not in communites which might really benefit.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Further reading:

What can social finance learn from microfinance

Social innovation

Peer to peer microfinance for young people

Youth enterprise

Microcredit for young entrepreneurs

Curriculum for Excellence – senior phase options

The Curriculum for Excellence senior phase. The Senior Phase can be characterised as that which takes place in the final stages of compulsory education and beyond, normally around age 15 to 18.

The following options have been generated in East Lothian for consideration by senior managers, staff, students, parents, elected members, and other interested parties such as universities, employers and colleges of further education.

Over the next few months we will be consulting with the above groups to help us develop a policy document which will set out the broad direction of travel we intend to take in relation to the senior phase.

We would be interested in people’s top ten selection from the following 41 options.

I’ll be exploring some of these options in more depth over the next few weeks.



Option 1. Students must be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 2. Evening lessons or distance learning must be available for some subjects

Option 3. All East Lothian students must have access to the Scottish Baccalaureate.

Option 4. All students in a school’s senior phase should be regarded as a single group and timetabled accordingly.

Option 5. students should be able to integrate day-time employment, work experience, internships, etc, with their studies.

Option 6. East Lothian students should be able to access Advanced Higher courses on offer at any East Lothian school.

Option 7. Students should be exposed to some large lecture group presentations – to reflect what they will experience in HE.

Option 8. Students need only be present for classes – reflecting HE and FE practice

Option 9. Local employers must be invited to be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 10. Students should have a free choice of subjects from the full range, with no subject column restrictions.

Option 11. Students should have the opportunity to spend at least one day a week at FE or Queen Margaret University.

Option 12. Schools should publish the individual SQCF points total of the top 30% of each year group in the senior phase

Option 13. Every student in the senior phase should have an annual 30 minute appointment with a health counsellor.

Option 14. All teaching should take place in 2 hour sessions.

Option 15. Some students should be sponsored by local companies – particularly looked after or accommodated.

Option 16. Register classes or year group tutor groups should be replaced by intergenerational groupings in the senior phase

Option 17. Peer group assessment system should be introduced to complement reporting and assessment . see

Option 18. All students should have opportunity to take part in an annual outdoor expedition

Option 19. The 13th year of school should be treated as a transition year to employment, further, or higher education.

Option 20. Parenting classes and active engagement with early years groups should be compulsory for all students.

Option 21. Students should have access to previous achievement data for each course of study, prior to subject choice.

Option 22. Some teachers should be ascribed to solely teach the senior phase in any one year.

Option 23. 10% of the courses offered by a school should be drawn from the HN qualifications catalogue

Option 24. Senior Students (S4 – S6) will be “matriculated” into the EL Learning Campus including all schools, FE + QMU

Option 25. All students will be assisted to set up their own bank account with regular sessions on financial management.

Option 26. Schools should be able to present information on the delivery/running costs for each senior phase subject.

Option 27. Every class to have a “mentor link” – a person from the community who has/had related employment in that area.

Option 28. All students to experience one day in an old people’s home; an early years class, and a complex needs

Option 29. Establish a micro investment fund for student application – something like this –

Option 30. Organise EL student conferences for subject interest groups to encourage networking and intellectual curiosity.

Option 31. EL should enable up to 10 students per school to study abroad for their final year on an international exchange.

Option 32. Some teachers in East Lothian to be dedicated to working with senior phase students across a number of schools

Option 33. East Lothian to establish strategic senior phase partnerships with education districts in other countries

Option 34. Support students to set up a Facebook page for every senior phase course of study. Tie up with twitter accounts.

Option 35. Support/encourage students to create on-line tutorials for fellow students across all schools.

Option 36. Replace paper textbooks with downloadable textbooks –

Option 37. No parent/teacher meetings in senior phase – replace with student/teacher review meetings – parents can shadow.

Option 38. Additional support for parents/carers of looked after children about home learning, next steps, and leaving home.

Option 39. Students to be made aware of the delivery costs for each of their courses of study, and total sum for entire year

Option 40. Wednesday afternoons given over to sporting, cultural, recreational, interest activities for staff and students.

Option 41. Students to rate each course of study on completion e.g. on-line support, teaching, learner involvement, interest

TESS Article: Resisting the pressure to “dae sumthin”

Every educational leader, regardless of position, has to wrestle with the powerful temptation to intervene or to meddle in the business of those whom they manage. The logic is fairly simple – “I’m being paid to manage and to be accountable for the work of others – so it’s reasonable that I take action in order to ensure that the desired outcome is achieved.” Maybe it’s something to do with the Scottish work ethic that we feel there’s a need, in the inimitable words of Billy Connolly, to “dae sumthin”.

It’s perhaps one of the most addictive elements of management – “I can fix this” – as the manager learns to solve the problem through direct action. Unfortunately the hidden cost of such behaviour is that it helps to create a dependency culture as everyone comes to know that any problem belongs to the manager – and that the manager will “sort it”.

The ironic consequence of such a relationship is that it leads to dissatisfaction from both sides, i.e. the manager complains that people don’t accept the responsibility which goes with being a professional; and the managed complain that the manager is always interfering with solutions, policies and structures which run directly counter to their ability to do their job.

Yet to challenge such orthodoxy is much more difficult than one might imagine. The pressure to conform to the traditional role of the manager is almost overwhelming. Not to take action, is to be seen to be indecisive, lazy, cowardly, unimaginative or simply not being up to the job. In a similar vein the manager’s own boss has expectations about effective management behaviour and in many cases is expecting the manager to come up with a plan of action that is, most probably proactive, innovative and definitive. It’s this latter adjective which is the most telling in terms of the relationship between the manager and the managed. The definition of the word “definitive” in this sense is “final and unable to be questioned or altered”. In a sense this form of manager’s plan is the Holy Grail, that is something that can be passed on to others and is implemented without question.

Of course, things are never as simple as that for as we know others must carry out the manager’s plan and there exists “many a slip twixt lip and cup”, especially if the “managed” do not fully subscribe to the manager’s solution. It’s into this educational Middle-earth that the manager’s initiatives and centralised plans are launched only to be subverted, modified or ignored. And so it goes on with managers having to conform to their role by taking action, to which they are probably addicted anyway, and the managed expecting the action, criticising if no action is taken, but being free to criticise the action as they have played no part in it’s development.

So how might we help managers escape from the tyranny of the need to always “dae sumthin” in the face of a perceived problem? Perhaps a starting point might be for local authorities to shift from being action focused, i.e. we will implement, act, do; to becoming outcome focused and supporting and enabling the schools to work out the most appropriate action for themselves.  The reality is that what works well in one school is not necessarily the best solution in another school. Yet the pressure to work out the universal solution and to implement it across an entire council is difficult to resist – particularly for those of us who have been addicted to taking action throughout our careers. That’s not to say that local authorities should never seek to implement an action across all schools but at the very least there should be a loop where we ask ourselves if our preferred course of action empowers or disempowers our colleagues in schools.

Nevertheless, Scottish education does appear to be thirled to the idea of “daen things”.  It would be a brave person who wouldn’t back a highly technical, carefully managed and comprehensive plan to implement a course of action across every school in an authority, against a strategy which placed the decision about what type of action to take in the hands of the individual school.

Composite classes – a pressure point


I’ve received number of e-mails this week from parents pleading with me not to establish composite classes in their schools. A composite class is one where a primary school class is composed of children from more than one year group, e.g. P3/4 composite class. 

The common theme in all the e-mails is that if I care about children then I can’t allow this to happen.  I should probably point out at the outset that my own children were taught in composite classes.  On first being notified of compositing I have to admit to being concerned – despite my own experience as an educator. As parents we tend to like the status quo – we don’t like the idea of change – especially change which seems intuitively risky. 

Whilst I understand the reflexive reaction that many parents have towards composite classes the issue often has the potential to whip a storm of fury all based upon the supposition that the quality of education will suffer.  When looked at from a certain perspective you can see how this appears to be a convincing and logical argument – which can be captured as follows:

“Children in non-composite class are all the “same age” and can be more effectively taught by a teacher than a class made of of children from two different year groups.”

However, when one considers the reality of this situation most “normal” classes are made up of children who have an age range of 12 months. Yet given the arbitrary way in which we identify cut off dates for entry to school – its very possible for children who are born days apart to be in separate years groupings.

As I have explored before such  range of ages can mean that in child development terms there can be a gap between children of between 24 – 36 months. Chronological age does not equate to stage of development – any of us who have had our own children can testify to that.

The reality is that a composite class will often have a less of an age range than a “year group class” – as we group the class by birth date, e.g. an age spread of a less than 8 months. 

Yet compositing can also strike fear into some teachers – particularly those who have never taught such a class grouping before.  I recently spoke to very experienced head teacher about this and she told me that there is no more differentiation required in a two year group composite class than there is in a single year group class – in fact because of the closer age range there might even be less. Of course some of our smaller East Lothian schools have composite classes composed of up to four years groups – now that is challenging but as I’ve described before can lead to truly stimulating learning situations.

To return to my e-mail correspondence – I do care about children (that’s why I’m in the job). I know it goes with the territory and it’s why I get paid but people seem to think if they apply enough pressure that they can get more money for their own school.  It’s my job to advocate for all children in East Lothian – not just those whose parents might be able to mount a campaign to change a very fair system for allocating teachers to schools.  The reality is that an average teacher’s salary – with on-costs such a pension etc – is £36,000.  One extra teacher for one school means that this money must be taken from another school (93% of our education budget is devolved directly to schools).

Last point –  no parent has ever complained about compositing once their child has moved into such a class – only before.

The future of education in Scotland?


I still haven’t received my copy of the The OECD report of Quality and Equity of Education in Scotland but I accessed the read only version as advised by John Connell.

I’ve had to type up the following – as I couldn’t cut and paste – apologies for any errors.

As I suspected it’s much more positive than any of the newspaper reports I read and sets out some very exciting recommendations. I think we are moving in many of these directions within East Lothian and it was very gratifying the see that they mentioned the potential of Student Evaluation of Learning – which was developed in East Lothian.

I’ll be returning to this report over the next few weeks but I just wanted to capture its essence in one place for ease of reference.

The report was compliled by educators from  Australia, Finland, New Zealand and Belgium – a point worth noting when reflecting upon the recommendations.


Few Countries can be said with confidence to outperform Scotland in Maths, reading and science.

Scotland has one of the most equitable school systems in the OECD.

Headteachers are amongst the most positive of school principals in the OECD in judging the adequacy of staffing and teaching resources and students are generally positive of their schools.

On national tests many children are one or two years in advance of expected levels.

The OECD examiners were impressed by the capacity of Scottish primary schools to respond to public expectations of continuously improving standards and consistency of outcomes.

Indicators of improvement as well as high international standards also show that Scotland’s confidence in its comprehensive system is well placed.
It is through Scottish Local Authorities that an equitable distribution of resources is managed, and they are also responsible for ensuring that schools are responsive to community needs, adaptive, and effective. The community Assets represented by schools are in capable hands. The professionalism and commitment of the education departments of the local authorities makes a wider reliance on them a good strategy.

Scotland’s approach to teacher induction is world class and the Scottish qualification for Headship is an outstanding and demanding programme.


One major challenge facing Scottish education is to reduce the achievement gap which opens up about Primary 5 and continues to widen throughout the junior years secondary years (S1 to S4)

Children from poorer communities and low socio-economic status homes are more likely than others to under achieve.

Inequalities in staying-on rates, participation at different academic levels of national courses and pass rates on these courses are a concern

Understanding the challenges
Who you are in Scotland is far more important than what school you attend so far as achievement differences on international tests are concerned.

Children from poorer homes are more likely to under-achieve, disengage from school work, leave school earlier than others, and – if they continue to study at lower academic levels and record lower pass rates.

Curriculum innovation is appears to be modest and schools only have limited flexibility in teaching resources. These are two key instruments of change and adaptation in schools. So lack of more freedom in them makes achieving g high standards for all groups of students more difficult.

Schools should be able to build the mix of staffing they need to tackle the particular challenges they face and offer programmes which best address these challenges.

There is concern about the lack of reliable data on student achievement and school performance throughout Scotland..


These strategies aim at greater flexibility for the agencies which exercise the most direct responsibility for how schools work. We have sought a balance between greater freedom of action on the one hand, and greater transparency and accountability on the other.

National priorities funding through local government compacts

Some of the recommendations include:

A national innovation plan to fund educational improvements and outcomes through agreements with local authorities; fundin g for schools of ambition is more selective and targeted; that the Scottish Survey of Achievement be extended to all children.

Greater school autonomy in a local government framework

Some of the recommendations include:

 each local authority develops a policy framework which defines the priority targets it seeks to make including improvements in student opportunities and outcomes; where a local authority provides additional resources for equity purposes it should do so within a the framework on the national innovation plan; local authorities should negotiate agreements with schools under which greater management autonomy in staffing and curriculum is established in return for an agreed platform of improvement in learning opportunities and outcomes

A comprehensive , structured and accessible curriculum

Some of the recommendations include:

Each local authority develop an explicit policy framework which contains a charter of learning opportunities – a commitment to provide a wide range of education and training places which best suits the needs of the community; vocational courses should be available to all young people from S3 and that sequences of courses be developed spanning the compulsory and post compulsory years; the \Scottish government should support school based provision of school-based courses; each local authority establish a curriculum planning and pathways network which links schools, colleges and employers groups; Standard Grade examinations should be phased out as the 3-18 curriculum is implemented; that Scottish Certificate of Education be developed to sanction completion of an approved programme of studies of training – this graduation certificate would have defined minimum requirements to reflect the new purposes of the new 3-18 curriculum; young people pre S5 should undertake programme of studies with specified minimum standards leading to the SC of E at the and of that year or S6; young people who choose to leave at the age of 16 negotiate an individual plan for further education and training;.

Continuous review of the curriculum and teaching:Some of the recommendations include:Education authorities in Scotland should examine current approach to gathering student feedback on the quality of teaching (e.g. Student Evaluation of Learning Software) and that they work with teachers to gain wider acceptance of the most promising approaches; rolling consultations should be undertaken with teachers from a cross-section of schools regarding their classroom experience in delivering courses.


Monitoring school leaver destinations

Some of the recommendations include:

Consideration should be given to extending the scope of the Scottish survey of school leavers to make contact with children before they leave school and to provide fuller information about school achievement and experience; Careers Scotland should investigate approaches to providing all schools and local authorities with comprehensive pint-in-time data.

Types of Intervention

I’ve been reviewing a Research paper from UNESCO “Learning Divides: ten policy questions about the performance and equity of school and schooling systems”

The paper uses results from Wilms and Somers, 2001, which explored the relationship between results from Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and socioeconomic status.

Not surprisingly, in every country there is a gradient in student performance associated with family socioeconomic status: youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds  have weaker literacy skills on average than those from more advantaged backgrounds. The results revealed that the strength of this relationship varies considerably among countries, suggesting that some are more successful than others in reducing the disparities associated with socioeconomic status.

The focus of the paper is to establish a general framework for analysing educational data that are collected in international, national and local studies. This is accomplished by setting out ten key policy questions that provide a more explicit link between educational indicators and practice.

I’ll consider, some of these questions in a separate post, but I want to capture here some of the types of intervention which were identified by the authors.

The interventions are:


What struck me was how well these definitions suit education policy in Scotland. It is interesting to explore the evidence from across the globe as to the efficacy of each of these interventions.

Universal interventions strive to increase the educational performance of all children through reforms that are applied equally across the schooling system. Generally they are aimed at altering the content and pace of the curriculum, improving instructional techniques or the learning environment in schools and classrooms. 

Some universal interventions strive to improve children’s learning environments by changing the structural features of schools. 

Most universal interventions, however, are directed at changing teacher practice. Teachers regularly receive in-service programmes pertaining to instructional approaches, assessment strategies and classroom management. 

 Perhaps the most prevalent universal intervention among OECD countries has been to increase the accountability of schools and schooling systems through the assessment of student performance. The underlying belief is that increased accountability will motivate administrators and teachers to improve the learning

SES-targeted interventions aim to improve the educational performance of students with low socioeconomic status by providing a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources. The classic example is Head Start pre-school programmes for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but there is a wide range of programmes that target “at risk” children and youth.  The important distinction is that these programmes select children based on the family’s SES or some other factor correlated with SES rather than on the cognitive ability of the child.

Compensatory interventions provide additional economic resources to students from low SES backgrounds. These could be considered a subset of SES targeted interventions, as they target children from low SES families, rather than children with low cognitive performance. However, the emphasis is on improving the economic circumstances of children from poor families rather than providing a specialised curriculum or additional educational resources. The provision of transfer payments to poor families is a good example because it is one of the  primary policy levers at the national level in many countries.

Performance-targeted interventions provide a specialised curriculum or additional instructional resources for particular students based on their levels of academic performance. For example, in most schooling systems, students with special needs are provided with additional support through special education programmes. Some schooling systems provide early prevention programmes that target children who are deemed at risk of school failure when they enter kindergarten or the first grade, while other systems provide late prevention or recovery programmes for children who fail to progress at a normal rate during the first few years of elementary school. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to improve children’s capacity to learn by reducing maladaptive behaviour or improving self-esteem. These and other counselling and clinical programmes can also be placed in this category even though they are usually targeted towards children with certain behaviours rather than those with low academic performance. At the secondary school level, these programmes are often delivered in “alternative” schools. Some performance-targeted programmes aim to provide a modified curriculum for students with high academic performance or for gifted students. More generally, programmes that track or stream students into different types of programmes can be considered performance-targeted interventions, because they strive to match curriculum and instruction to students’ academic ability or performance. Grade repetition could be considered a performance-targeted intervention, because the decision to have a child repeat a grade is usually based mainly on school performance; however, in many cases grade repetition does not entail a modified curriculum or additional instructional resources and, therefore, would not fit the definition of a performance-targeted intervention.