Educational researchers at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change have called on politicians to enable schools to work together more effectively to break the link between disadvantage and educational attainment.
The Centre has worked with partners across the Scottish education system over the last eight years. This work has explored how greater equity can be achieved in schools. The researchers promote collaborative working approaches – not just with schools and local authorities but their communities too.
Despite the national commitment to ensuring all children have equal opportunities to succeed and many well-intentioned initiatives, the most vulnerable children and young people still lose out, and the established links between education and disadvantage have yet to be broken.
The five actions set out in the manifesto are:
Action 1: Improvement strategies must relate to the challenges and resources in particular settings
Context matters in educational improvement. This means that evidence is needed about the way that local education systems work, so that it is possible to identify what limits the progress of some learners.
Action 2: Use collaborative action research to stimulate collective action
This can draw people together in relation to the challenges facing schools, as well as generating evidence that can stimulate innovations that improve thinking, policy and practice. Evidence collected by teachers to study teaching within their school can foster practices that are more effective in reaching out to all learners.
Action 3: Encourage school partnerships that promote mutual support and challenge
The programme of research has demonstrated that school-to-school collaboration can help how individual organisations respond to the diversity of learners. Specifically, collaboration between schools can help to reduce inequalities.
In addition, there is evidence that when schools develop more collaborative ways of working, this can impact on how teachers see themselves and their work, and encourage them to change their practices.
Action 4: Co-ordinate external support at a local level
To foster education that works for all learners, policy-makers must use human and financial resources, some of which may not be under their direct control. This means changing how families and communities work and enriching what they offer to children.
We have seen many encouraging examples of what can happen when what schools do is aligned with the efforts of other local groups – employers, community groups, universities and public services.
Action 5: The support of key players at the local and national levels must be provided
Within our projects, progress was more evident where those leading the improvement efforts had the backing of key players. There is a need to identify and work with those who can make things happen, as well as those who might block things from happening.
In the Scottish system, where local authority officials have considerable influence, their support is particularly crucial.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for the approaches outlined in the manifesto. A recent UNESCO report states: “Teachers need to be more recognized and more highly valued; they are essential participants in defining the futures of education.”
The manifesto is based on this thinking. It argues that it is time to give teaching back to teachers
Commenting on the manifesto, Professor Mel Ainscow stated: “The Robert Owen programme of research has thrown light on the massive untapped potential that exists within Scottish schools and their communities. Changes are needed in order that this potential can be mobilised.”
Looking to the future, Professor Chris Chapman added: “It is now time for the whole Scottish community to get together with teachers to ensure high quality educational opportunities for all our children and young people are available. We want to work with Scotland’s politicians and decision-makers to take this thinking forward.”
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