Tracing education policy in action: identifying forces at play in Scottish teacher education reform

Anna Beck

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In recent years, teacher education reform has become a key focus across many developed countries (Darling-Hammond & Leiberman, 2012). Despite differing national contexts and traditions, these reforms share the underlying assumptions that teacher quality is central to student learning and that teacher education is a major factor in the improvement of teacher quality. This perception was heightened by the influential OECD (2005) report, ‘Teachers Matter’ and recently reinforced by key debates during the OECD 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. This international travelling policy concern has had a very particular Scottish refraction: Teaching Scotland’s Future (TSF; Donaldson, 2011). Markedly different from previous policy texts, TSF contains fifty recommendations for the improvement of teacher education in its entirety. Following the government’s acceptance of the report in full, a National Partnership Group (NPG) and National Implementation Board (NIB) were created and tasked with translating the recommendations into policy. In keeping with the traditional ‘consultative’ style of Scottish policy making, the groups consist of representatives from the main bodies within Scottish education. This research employs a Critical Policy Analysis approach (Taylor, Rizvi, Lingard & Henry, 1997) and borrows elements from Actor Network Theory (ANT; Fenwick & Edwards, 2010) in order to map the translation of the central ideas from TSF, to illuminate the role of powerful networks and actors in driving or impeding policy change, and to trace the flow of power between them in real time. This paper draws on data gathered from thirty semi-structured interviews with members of the NPG and NIB. Document analysis was employed for the analysis of draft reports from the NPG and NIB and other key policy texts and responses from organisations and associations. Members of the NPG and NIB can be considered as powerful actors, each of whom bring with them a set of vested interests, values and visions to the table of common interest. It is therefore not surprising that the process of translating all fifty recommendations into practice has turned out to be rather complex, characterised by tension, power struggles, deliberation and stalling by actors and interest groups. As well as tracing these dynamics, this paper also considers the impact of global influences on the process of policy development and mediation, particularly the role of OECD. Tracing the movements of policy making has not been without its challenges; however, it has provided insight into areas of struggle which are often overlooked in policy implementation research: the space between the production of policy recommendations and policy implementation. Such information is crucial for policy makers who wish to implement and sustain change in educational systems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
EventAustralian Association for Educational Research (AARE) 2013 Annual Conference - Hilton Adelaide Hotel, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 1 Dec 20135 Dec 2013


ConferenceAustralian Association for Educational Research (AARE) 2013 Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleAARE
Internet address


  • education policy
  • Scottish teacher education reform
  • Teaching Scotland’s Future
  • Scottish education


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