The HEAD Foundation Supports ICSEI 2018: Deepening School Change for Scaling: Principles, Pathways & Partnerships


The HEAD Foundation supported and participated in the ICSEI 2018 conference from 8 to 12 January 2018 in Singapore. The five-day event was organised by the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI), a global community that brings together policy makers, researchers and practitioners from 80 countries to share cutting edge knowledge and powerful practice in its quest for improved learning outcomes.

On Day 1 of the conference, The HEAD Foundation keynote speaker Dr Alicia Grunow, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation, addressed this year’s theme through the topic “Heart and Rigor: Learning to Improve in America’s Schools”. In her presentation, Dr Grunow shared how the following approaches improved US education, using the issue of high failure rates in remedial math in community colleges as an example:

  • Measure and manage
  • Professional collaboration
  • Innovate and implement
In general, she listed the following core principles of improvement science to be considered when tackling issues in education:
Dr Alicia Grunow, Senior Fellow At The Carnegie Foundation And The HEAD Foundation Key Note Speaker
  • Be problem-focused and user-centred
  • Attend to variability
  • See the system as a whole
  • Embrace measurement
  • Learn through disciplined inquiry
  • Organise as networks

On Day 2, Professor S. Gopinathan, Academic Advisor to The HEAD Foundation took part in the keynote panel discussion on “Improving and Leading Schools for the Future Economy & Society”. He was joined by Ms Liew Wei Li, Deputy Director-General of Education Director of Schools at the Ministry of Education (Singapore), Associate Professor David Ng, Policy and Leadership Studies at the National Institute of Education, and Dr Adrian Kuah, Head of the Case Study Unit at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The session was moderated by Mr Anthony Mackay, CEO of the Centre for Strategic Education in Melbourne.

The panel had an engaging discussion about how schools, particularly Singaporean schools, can effectively equip today’s students for tomorrow’s economy. The discussion was lively with the panellists bringing differing perspectives to the table. Prof Gopinathan pointed to the importance of context in understanding and responding to education issues. He noted that ASEAN economies were mixed in nature, part agricultural, part industrial and part post-industrial; one-size reform policies would not succeed in this context.

A common thread that emerged was the importance of imparting ‘soft skills’ in students, something that the panel agreed would be almost impossible for technology to successfully replicate. There was also agreement on the importance of inviting input from industry when designing curriculum.

Prof S. Gopinathan Speaking At The Keynote Panel Discussion On “Improving And Leading Schools For The Future Economy & Society”
  • Shortly after, The HEAD Foundation Fellow, Professor Clive Dimmock of Professional Learning and Leadership at the Robert Owen Centre, University of Glasgow was joined by Prof Gopinathan and The HEAD Foundation Principal Researcher Dr Uma Natarajan during the symposium on “School improvement and reform in the South-East Asian Region”. Data and insights in Prof Dimmock and Dr Uma’s presentations were from studies funded by The HEAD Foundation.

This symposium focused on school reform and improvement in three diverse socio-political systems within the Southeast Asian region – Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. This region is of particular interest in having systems representing a full spectrum of performance (according to PISA) – world’s best performing, performing above expectations, and relatively low performing. The symposium addressed the following three questions:

  • What is the status quo in school/student performance in each system?
  • What are the drivers to reform and improvement in these diverse contexts?
  • To what extent are these reforms are being successfully implemented, given the possibilities and challenges presented?

Further questions were generated for delegates in attendance to contribute in a highly interactive session during the symposium.

On Day 3, Dr Alma Harris, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Bath, and a Fellow of The HEAD Foundation, presented the Working Paper No. 1/2017 “Leading School Turnaround and Improvement in Malaysia and Indonesia” at the symposium on “International Lessons from Principals Trying to Improve Low-Performing Schools”.

Dr Alma Harris and Dr Michelle Jones presented their work based on a small-scale, in-depth, qualitative comparative study of 10 low-performing schools in Malaysia and Indonesia. The project was funded by The HEAD Foundation and it aimed to identify the features or factors that directly contribute to sustaining the transformation of low-performing schools in Malaysia and Indonesia. Prof Harris’ presentation from Indonesia and Malaysia provided good insights on international comparisons of building Principals’ capacities.

View more photos from ICSEI 2018 below.

Watch some of the highlights from ICSEI 2018 below.

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