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This website will be closed on 21 October 2019. Please visit for all information on the professional learning and leadership programmes, events and resources offered by Education Scotland.

About the programme

The Evolving Systems Thinking programme supports system level educators to enhance their leadership skills and experience through national collaborative working – with a strong focus on delivering excellence and equity for all children and young people in Scotland.

The content of the Evolving Systems Thinking Programme is founded on research that points to a clear and powerful connection between effective school-level and system-level leadership practices (Leithwood K, 2013). Understanding what effective schools and school-level leadership looks like is the crucial foundation for delivering effective system-level support and thinking.

The Evolving Systems Thinking programme is part of the Education Scotland/SCEL leadership professional learning offer and has been developed in partnership with the Ontario Principals’ Council. The programme is for school and system leaders with a remit for curriculum and pedagogical developments, quality processes and effective collaborative improvement across the system.

Programme aims

The programme aims to provide:

  • opportunities to develop systemic perspectives and strategies with a focus on improving outcomes for children and young people
  • development of system level Professional Learning Communities across the six Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • opportunities for enhanced collaborative working between heads of establishments and other system leaders
  • enhanced knowledge and understanding of a range of approaches to develop new capacities and cultures for professional learning and the attainment of children and young people.

The delivery model is based on the principles of andragogy and is an engaging mix of theory, practice, collaborative learning, face to face and digital learning and engagement.

The programme does not carry credit however there is an opportunity to gain a certificate following assessment from the Ontario Principals’ Council.

Evolving Systems Thinking consists of six modules, delivered over three residential learning events.


1: Leadership for system improvement
  • understand effective school-level leadership
  • examine practices of an effective school leader in 21st century teaching and learning, using current international school leadership frameworks and research
  • understand the system-level leadership required to support schools
  • explore the roles in terms of processes, providing and aligning resources, developing leadership capacity and ensuring productive relationships
  • collectively apply new knowledge to develop a draft system-level leadership framework by reflecting on the discussed literature and shared frameworks.
2: Effective school systems
  • understand key characteristics of effective schools and the current supporting research
  • review frameworks for the analysis and support of schools
  • understand characteristics of effective systems and practices that support 21st century teaching and learning in schools
  • consider the potential impact of PISA results and probe levers for change
  • collectively apply new knowledge to develop a draft system effectiveness framework.
3: Capacity building practices
  • understand effective practices at school and system level
  • explore in-depth the concepts of emotional and cultural intelligence
  • understand the importance of building relational trust, a collaborative culture and collective efficacy
  • probe how to improve challenging conversations
  • explore collaborative enquiry, mentoring programs, system development plans, school visits and strategies to increase system-level collaboration
  • collectively apply this new knowledge to an analysis of current system-level practices.
4: Data use and planning practices
  • understand what makes effective school-level practices
  • discuss characteristics of collaborative school cultures
  • understand the importance of collecting and analysing a wide variety of student achievement data
  • explore how to effectively plan, monitor and evaluate school improvement
  • understand valuable system-level practices — explore how to work with heads of establishments using a variety of data to inform decision-making, examine data collection systems, components of and processes for creating system plans, implementation rubrics and the role of collaborative inquiry
  • collectively apply this additional new knowledge to analysis of the current system-level practices.
5: Instructional practices
  • understand conditions for learning, universal design for learning, tiered interventions, differentiated instruction, assessment and high-yield strategies
  • identify the role of professional learning, collaborative enquiry and the value of learning walks
  • discuss system-level practices to ensure a strong instructional program
  • explore how to monitor the quality of teaching through classroom and school walkthroughs, including challenging conversations and probing the strong connection between school improvement plans, system plans and budget
  • distinguish between professional development and learning
  • collectively apply their new knowledge to analysis of the current system-level practices.
6: Collaborative enquiry plan for system leaders
  • develop a collaborative enquiry plan for system leaders in your context by addressing a series of unique questions
  • actively apply the new knowledge acquired during the program to your plan.

Evolving systems thinking - 2018/19 information

Programme dates

Participants are expected to commit to all dates in their cohort which will take place in Central Scotland:

Cohort 1

Modules 1 and  2: 13, 14, 15 November  2018
Modules 4 and 5: 19, 20, 21 March 2019
Modules 3 and 6: 21, 22, 23 May 2019

Cohort 2

Modules 1 and 2: 25, 26, 27 March 2019
Modules 4 and 5: 27, 28, 29 May 2019
Modules 3 and 6: 24, 25, 26 September 2019

Application details

Candidates for the programme will be nominated by their local authority through Regional Improvement Collaborative leads and will have experience of system level leadership within their local authority or national organisations. This may include:

  • Quality Improvement Officers or similar working directly with schools
  • Experienced Heads of Establishments who are actively involved in leadership and system capacity building including coaching and mentoring with colleagues
  • Colleagues in national organisations working directly with schools

Each cohort will have a maximum of 30 participants (nominally 3-4 participants from each regional improvement collaborative).

Following confirmation of a place participants will be registered for the online learning portal and have access to programme resources during the month preceding the programme.

Applications to the 2018/2019 programme have closed. Look out on the SCEL website or Twitter @TeamSCEL for application details and information on the next programme.

Additional information

As SCEL is currently funded to develop a suite of programmes, participation in the Evolving Systems Thinking Programme is free of charge.

Where travel costs are incurred they should be met by local authorities. All necessary food and accommodation costs will be included with the programme.