Can schools change?

Wednesday 15th June 2016
Courtesy "What Future for Scottish Education"

Keir Bloomer is a Reform Scotland Advisory Board member and chair of the Commission on School Reform, which was set up by Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy. He is a Former President of ADE (Association of Directors of Education) and member of the group that wrote Curriculum for Excellence.

Successful change depends on involving those most affected. Unless teachers are committed to the objectives of any change programme, it will fail. However, merely securing approval is not enough. Successful change needs strategic leadership from the centre combined with the kind of empowerment of schools that releases the creative energies of the profession. In the modern world, and especially in complex organisations like an education system, command and control simply does not work. The Commission suggested that ten preconditions need to be put in place if a major programme of change is to be undertaken effectively: 

  •  There needs to be clarity of purpose and everyone involved needs to understand their role. Thus high-level strategic direction is the role of government but micromanagement is not. Imaginative change in practice, including the taking of well-assessed risks, is the function of practitioners. 
  •  Commitment needs to be secured in advance. This is about ensuring that the big ideas of any programme are widely distributed and effectively ‘sold’. 
  •  The incentives to change have to be greater than the incentives to adhere to the status quo. In this connection, the role of inspection and other quality assurances mechanisms needs to be examined critically.  Diversity has to be welcomed. A highly uniform system cannot learn from its own experience. This, of course, is not to say that every kind of ill-considered experiment is to be sanctioned. 
  •  Diversity has to be welcomed. A highly uniform system cannot learn from its own experience. This, of course, is not to say that every kind of ill-considered experiment is to be sanctioned.
  •  Schools need to have greatly increased autonomy and individual staff need to feel empowered. 
  •  Appropriate governance arrangements need to be in place. Those in Scottish school education have been largely unaltered in more than eighty years. It seems unlikely that needs of 2016 are best met by the institutional arrangements of the late nineteen-twenties. This is not a 25 debate about the place of local authorities so much as quest for the kind of sophisticated ‘middle’ that the OECD has recommended.
  •   Schools and individual teachers need to be effectively supported. This requires arrangements that are responsive to need rather than seeking to impose predetermined ‘solutions’. Support has to demand- rather than supply-led.
  •   There needs to be sufficient leadership capacity at school level. The setting up of a Scottish College for Educational Leadership and the development of new courses for aspiring heads indicate that this matter is receiving attention. Whether it is realistic to hope for high quality leadership in more than two thousand separate institutions, some of them very small, is an issue that will need to be seriously addressed. 
  •  Policy and action need to be based on strong evidence and sound management information. Wishful thinking and political whim simply will not suffice. Again, there are welcome signs that this is beginning to be recognised. 
  •  The system needs to invest heavily in its people. Considerable progress has been made in this area as demonstrated by the adoption of Teaching Scotland’s Future and the attempt to protect resources for professional development in very adverse financial circumstances. It is vitally important that governments, councils, headteachers and all those involved in planning change have to focus not only on setting proper objectives, but also on deeply considering how they are to be achieved. Without effective change processes, the best ideas will not take us further forward. 

Scottish schools courtesy: Google.

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