250th anniversary event commemorates Robert Owen


The New Lanark Trust is hosting a special conference at the World Heritage Site at New Lanark commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen, the site’s most famous advocate, from 1 to 3 March.

The event, from Robert Owen to World Heritage and beyond: legacies of social reform and heritage-led regeneration, celebrates New Lanark’s remarkable journey and also marks the 20th anniversary of the former mill buildings and housing’s award of the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription.

The University of Glasgow’s Robert Owen Centre (ROC) for Educational Change was named in honour of the 19th century philanthropist and educational reformer, and Professors Mel Ainscow and Chris Chapman will deliver a presentation on the Robert Owen Centre’s work at the event.

Educational equity

Portrait of Robert OwenThe presentation takes Robert Owen’s beliefs in educational equity as its inspiration. Owen’s quotes on educational equity include: “To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate” and “… Nor will there be any distinction made between the children of those parents who are deemed the worst, and of those who may be esteemed the best members of society.”

ROC’s work over the past eight years aims to promote more equitable education through theory-driven, applied research, underpinned by a commitment to the principles of social justice and lifelong learning.

In meeting these aims, ROC has a strong commitment to working with partners in the field to develop approaches that make a difference to the life chances of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Achieving greater equity

A team of researchers has worked alongside a range of partners to explore how greater equity can be achieved in schools.

Despite a serious national commitment, the evidence is that the most vulnerable children and young people still lose out.

What else can be done to promote equity within the Scottish education system and what are the barriers to progress and how might they be overcome?

ROC’s analysis through its work with schools in the West Partnership Regional Improvement Collaborative (which covers 35 percent of the school population in Scotland), Dundee, North and South Lanarkshire leads the team to believe that there is massive untapped potential within Scottish schools and their communities that can be mobilised to address the challenge of equity.

Research approaches

The research approach – often referred to as collaborative action research (CAR) – to improving educational equity has the following features:

  • An engagement with the views of different stakeholders
  • Collaboration and networking within and across classrooms, schools and systems
  • Improving practice through the sharing of expertise and joint practice development
  • The development of local capacity for sustaining change
  • Ethical leadership practices, on the assumption that principled decision making is crucial in promoting equity.

CAR is carried out with partners such as:

  • Networks of schools
  • Local authorities
  • Neighbourhoods
  • Regional improvement collaboratives.

The findings suggest the following actions can bring about change:

  • The development of improvement strategies that relate to the challenges and resources within particular contexts
  • Collaborative action research to stimulate collective action
  • Partnerships between schools to encourage mutual support and challenge
  • External support coordinated at a local level
  • The support of key players at the local and national levels

Barriers to progress

Barriers to progress include national policies that encourage schools to narrow the educational diet and local administrative structures that limit the freedom of practitioners to experiment, and fragmentation in the education system that limits opportunities for sharing expertise.

Other barriers are changes in senior leadership that make sustained activity trickier and factors beyond the school gate.

The findings of the ROC’s programme provide the basis of an agenda for reform in Scotland. In particular, the findings show how local pathways to success can be determined that fit the challenges that exist within specific contexts. They point to the importance of giving practitioners more opportunities to lead this process – it’s time to give teaching back to teachers – and suggest local authorities’ education departments adjust their ways of working in response to improvement strategies developed by their schools.

Greater flexibility

National policies should foster greater flexibility at the local level so that practitioners and other stakeholders have the space to analyse their particular circumstances and determine priorities accordingly.

The presentation is explored in greater depth in the book, Educational Equity: Pathways to Success edited by Professors Ainscow and Chapman, which gives a through account of the work of the past eight years, and demonstrate the importance of engagement at all levels of the system – from the offices of government ministers and officials, through to those involved in classroom activities and the many others who have a stake in the work of schools.

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We are the Network for Social and Educational Equity, based in the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. We work with governments, educational institutions, local authorities and teachers to promote educational change.

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About NSEE

The Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) is part of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (ROC) at the University of Glasgow.

It works in collaboration with schools, local authorities, Education Scotland and partner services to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in young people’s education.

NSEE helps schools to use appropriate evidence and data within collaborative working approaches to critically examine context and current arrangements, make changes based on evidence, monitor the impact of these changes and reflect on what they learn.

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