School Improvement Partnership Programme: Using collaboration and enquiry to tackle educational inequality

School Improvement Partnership Programme: Using collaboration and enquiry to tackle educational inequality

The SIPP is a collaborative school improvement strategy that promotes new ways of working across classrooms, schools and local authorities to tackle educational inequity. Data and collaborative enquiry are used to innovate, test and refine new approaches to tackle the attainment gap. The collaborative improvement strategies and principles that underpin the SIPP reflect international educational research and practice that has demonstrated that the most effective school improvements are locally owned and led by teachers and school leaders working in partnership and collaboration with like-minded professionals and stakeholders. Such research also highlights the value of school-to-school networking and cross-authority partnerships as levers of innovation and education system improvement.

A key feature of the SIPP is the evaluation support being provided by researchers from the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. The purpose of the support is to build practitioner’s collaborative enquiry capacity and to find out what practices work supported by a rigorous research and evidence base to inform future work. An important feature of the SIPP is the opportunity for those involved in the partnership projects to meet regularly across the projects to develop a professional learning community. This aims to generate a collective motivation for the project, reinforce the underpinning principles and expectations of the programme, share progress made across the projects; and collect evaluative evidence to inform future developments.

A range of partnerships are emerging within and across the SIPP projects. All partnerships have the common feature of tackling inequality but have been taken forward in different ways. Some involve collaboration within a local authority and others involve schools from different authorities as well as some involving multi-agency partners. Some involve partnerships from the same phase of schooling while others are cross phase. The range of enquiry methods used by partnerships includes collaborative action research, improvement science, instructional rounds and lesson study. The projects target learners from disadvantaged backgrounds and cover a range of themes including learning and pupil engagement, behaviour and low aspirations, and parental engagement.

Key findings

The partnerships are at differing stages in their development and this is reflected in their progress to date. Establishing partnerships involving different local authorities, schools and other stakeholders is a complex process, particularly since the focus of the SIPP is to impact on educational inequality. It is not surprising then, that the partnerships have often taken time to become established and develop their strategies and activities. The external evaluation by the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change and teachers’ own enquiry has provided evidence that, even at a relatively early stage of development, the SIPP is making a demonstrable impact. The most apparent progress has been partnerships establishing collaborative networks that have supported teachers’ learning and teaching approaches to address inequality as well as their ability to integrate research and enquiry to assess progress and inform developments. Those partnerships that have been established longer and have focused on particular interventions or approaches are reporting their measures are making a difference to learners’ attainment and engagement.

The SIPP has tended to have traction, initially, with a group of committed practitioners who then have been able to engage other staff and expand the influence of the Programme to impact the behaviours more widely across schools and partnerships. This is challenging and complex territory but this type of work is crucial to developing a robust Scottish approach to move the education system forward.

The findings strongly suggest that the SIPP is an evolving but largely successful model to promote collaborative networking that stimulates and promotes innovation in teachers’ expertise, confidence and practice to promote educational equality. There are tentative emerging indications that, in some more established partnerships, this is impacting on the attainment and wider opportunities of learners.


The SIPP should:

• Further develop expertise in a range of collaborative enquiry methods within the partnerships.

• Encourage continued and systematic monitoring of progress at individual partnership level to evidence impact of the collaborative enquiry.

• Engage learners, parents/carers and other stakeholders in the SIPP process consultation and decision-making and in taking forward strategies that address local needs.

• Ensure partnerships continue to develop a greater range of methods for evidencing impact on student outcomes for learners from disadvantaged settings.

Education Scotland should:

• Further develop its strategic perspective on the programme to connect partnerships and promote system-level learning as well as providing opportunities for quality assurance.

• Play a key role in supporting coherence making linkages between the SIPP and other policy initiatives.

• Work with SCEL to use the SIPP as a key mechanism to build leadership capacity within the system.

• Develop a coherent set of guidance materials and associated tools to provide an overarching framework that supports collaborative enquiry in schools and partnerships.

• Ensure that partnerships have access to a range of high quality and proportionate external support from their local authority colleagues, the University team and Education Scotland.

• Develop a coordinated virtual learning environment that connects the partnerships together.

For the System:

• Ensure early identification and mobilisation of individuals well placed to lead and manage educational change and improvement through partnerships/collaboration in schools and local authorities.

• Consider establishing innovation hubs as centres of expertise that can play a key role in moving knowledge to action around the system and link with Education Scotland to co-ordinate and guide the strategic direction of the programme.