A new book edited by Professor Chris Chapman and Professor Mel Ainscow outlines an agenda for change within Scottish education, based on research by the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change.
The book argues for greater flexibility at the local level in order that practitioners have the space to analyse their particular circumstances and determine priorities accordingly.
As countries seek to strengthen their national educational systems the great challenge is to ensure that all children are included and treated fairly. In the book Educational Equity: Pathways to Success a team from the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow draw on their extensive programme of research to address this crucial agenda.
The focus of this research has been on finding more effective ways of improving outcomes for all children and young people, particularly those from economically poorer backgrounds. This has involved work with networks of schools and their communities, as well as with local authority colleagues.
The research was carried out in Scotland during a period of massive efforts to improve the national education system. Through that period, the research team had unique opportunities to engage with policymakers and practitioners at all levels, from Scottish government minsters and officials through to classrooms. They conclude that, despite a serious commitment to enhancing equity and a huge range of well-intentioned initiatives, the most vulnerable children and young people still lose out, and that established links between education and disadvantage have yet to be broken.
The authors argue that there is untapped potential for promoting progress towards greater equity within Scottish schools and the communities they serve. They also show how this potential can be mobilised by using forms of collaborative action research to stimulate the development of more inclusive ways of working. Central to this approach is the use of evidence collected by practitioners with the support of university researchers, drawing on the expertise that is there within schools.
As the book appears, further significant new barriers exist within education systems across the world in relation to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. These challenges point to the need for an even greater emphasis on the sorts of approaches presented in the book. Support for this is presented in a recent UNESCO report which states: “The educational response to the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the capacity of educators to draw on their professional knowledge and collaboratively mobilise with a resourcefulness and creativity that could not have been achieved by a public authority simply issuing top down orders.“
The report concludes: “Teachers need to be more recognised and more highly valued; they are essential participants in defining the futures of education.“
The findings of the Robert Owen Centre’s research provide the basis of anagenda for taking this thinking forward in Scotland. They show how local pathways to success can be determined that fit the challenges that exist within specific contexts.
If this thinking is to be implemented, however, there are significant implications for national policies. Put simply, there is a need to foster greater flexibility at the local level in order that practitioners and other stakeholders have the space to analyse their particular circumstances and determine priorities accordingly. This means that policy makers must recognise that the details of policy implementation are not amenable to central regulation. Rather, these should be dealt with by those who are close to and, therefore, in a better position to understand local contexts.
Professor Chris Chapman, Founding Director of the Robert Owen Centre and Director of Policy Scotland, said: ‘It is an important time for the whole Scottish community to get together with teachers in ensuring high quality educational opportunities for all of our children and young people. With this in mind, members of our team are currently working with colleagues in various parts of the country to take this thinking forward.’
Professor Mel Ainscow, who led the Greater Manchester Challenge and Schools Challenge Cymru in Wales, added: ‘The most important factor is the collective will to make it happen’.
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