What Works: The Scottish Attainment Challenge, Learning Partnerships, and “Policy Borrowing” on Both Sides of the Atlantic

In a fascinating example of the interconnections among educational improvement efforts around the world, Chris Chapman, Chair of Educational policy and Practice at the University of Glasgow, recently visited New York City to investigate efforts to establish learning partnerships among local public schools. Ironically, New York City’s approach draws on the partnerships established in England as part of the City Challenges that began in London in 2004. Those City Challenges have, in turn, helped to inspire the Scottish Attainment Challenge launched in 2015 to “raise the attainment of children and young people living in deprived areas in order to close the equity gap.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 7.46.16 PMAs Chapman explained, “the Scottish Attainment Challenge focuses on improving outcomes in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing by enhancing the quality of learning and teaching and leadership within the education system and working with families and communities to support the holistic development of children.”

The Attainment Challenge also draws on the lessons from Scotland’s own School Improvement Partnership Programme. The Scottish partnerships seek to create links between government authorities, local schools, and university researchers to develop a shared commitment to improving outcomes for all children and young people. The partnerships are intended to:

  • Develop a clearer understanding of their local area, local needs, what is and isn’t working
  • Establish mechanisms for utilizing the best evidence to inform planning and service delivery
  • Increase capacity to generate, use and interpret evidence
  • Foster a better understanding of the barriers and enablers of delivering effective services to meet local needs

The Scottish system is also exploring the potential of creating local, community-based and cross-sector improvement strategies like the Strive Partnership, Harlem Children’s Zone and the Promise Neighborhoods initiative in the US. Along with these approaches to what is often referred as “collective impact”, Scotland is also making a significant investment in supporting the development of evidence-based practices in education as well as in other sectors.

This interest links to the broader public services focused work of WhatWorksScotland, part of a UK network of Government funded What Works Research Centre’s in the UK. Distinguishing the Scottish and UK “What Works” efforts from those of the What Works Clearinghouse in the US.), Chapman explained that WhatWorksScotland is an approach to public service reform that uses collaborative action research to facilitate change in Community Planning Partnerships in four sites:

  • Aberdeenshire — with a focus on the development of community planning and health and social care integration
  • Fife — where they are exploring a school intervention initiative, the development of a community welfare hub, and collaborative approaches to support families
  • Glasgow —with an emphasis on using evidence to inform a ten-year place-based initiative called Thriving Places, and on participatory budgeting
  • West Dunbartonshire — where the work centers on public service reform at the neighborhood level and community-led action planning

This “case study” approach is combined with a wider program of research exploring key issues in public service reform: including leadership, governance and partnership “evaluability,” the effective translation of knowledge into action.

As an academic at Nottingham, Warwick, Manchester and now Glasgow, Chapman is intimately familiar with both the City Challenges in England and the most recent developments in Scotland. Currently, he’s involved with a number of aspects of the work both as an advisor to the Scottish government and the Director of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, which supports and studies the partnerships. Chapman’s previous work includes articles on school networking and scale-up, school effectiveness and improvement, with forthcoming pieces on professional capital and collaborative inquiry to appear in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community. Chapman came to New York to learn more about the evidence base underlying the partnership work in the US as well as to see what it looked like in practice. In New York, Chapman saw “opportunities for teachers to systematically inquire into each other’s practice and develop meaningful professional conversations about how to improve the quality of learning in classrooms” – both of which he considers to be key dimensions of partnerships.

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