Last Updated: Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Collaborative Action Research in West Dunbartonshire Council

What is this?

This resource is part of a broader 3-step model designed to support the delivery of interventions that have a positive impact on inequity and attainment.

Who is this for?

​This approach is relevant for teachers in all sectors.

The effectiveness of Collaborative Action Research (CAR) has been recognised for many years in tackling a range of issues and is considered to have the potential to address the underachievement of disadvantaged groups, allowing schools and teachers to explore the impact of different methods and approaches that have been tailored to meet the needs of the individual learner, teacher or classroom.

Using a CAR approach as an improvement methodology can promote new ways of working across classrooms, schools and local authorities; supporting those involved to experiment, take risks, reflect on and monitor developments and outcomes. It is driven by analysis of learner data and focuses on the associated development of teachers’ knowledge, skills and understanding, A key feature of CAR is the development of collaborative networks. It has the potential to improve learning and individual teacher performance as well as having a positive impact on wider professional development.

For the individual teacher, CAR bridges the gap between theory and practice encouraging the teacher to research the change to their practice as it happens.

How to use this exemplar

Schools and centres should consider how CAR might be used to support improvement and tackle inequity in their own context. Further support and information on CAR as a methodology can be found in the attached documents.

Explore this exemplar

What was done?

The aim of the School Improvement Project in West Dunbartonshire is to increase the number of schools involved in CAR with the overall aim of raising attainment across these schools.

The expected outcomes from this project are described were to:

  • close the gap to raise attainment by ensuring that learners are improving through making small tests for change
  • improve the quality and impact of career-long professional learning
  • further strengthen school leadership at all levels
  • further develop skills in using data effectively to inform improvement; and
  • extend and deepen partnerships to improve outcomes for learners.

Ten working School Improvement Projects (SIPs) were set up across one secondary school, 26 primary schools and three nurseries in West Dunbartonshire involving 80 teachers.

All staff involved in a SIP project were offered training in CAR, using qualitative and quantitative data collection methods and implementing a lesson study. This was supported by the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at Glasgow University.

Early signs of impact from this project include:

  • strong evidence of impact on improving confidence and attitudes in learners
  • increased engagement of teachers in the use of data to improve learning; and
  • increased confidence of staff to work collaboratively and to take a leadership role.


West Dunbartonshire is one of the nine Challenge Authorities in the Scottish Attainment Challenge. One of the projects being used to drive improvement, raise attainment and reduce inequity is focused on the use of CAR as a methodology. This was initially supported through the SIPP.

What was the impact?

CAR was used as the core methodology of the School Improvement Partnership Programme (SIPP), run in partnership by Education Scotland and the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, Glasgow University. Evidence demonstrates the following positive indications of impact:

  • fostering collaborative working to tackle educational inequity
  • developing capacity at school and local authority level to effect positive change, including improving enhanced leadership opportunities at all levels
  • building teachers’ knowledge, confidence and skills to challenge inequity
  • improving teachers’ understanding of evaluation and practitioner enquiry
  • increasing learners’ aspirations and achievement.

Improvement questions

  • How might you use collaborative action research models to identify what works and what aspects need to change?
  • How do you currently measure the impact of interventions to support children in your school/setting?
  • How reliable is your evidence in demonstrating that the approaches taken in your context are improving outcomes for learners?
  • What capacity do you have to support Collaborative Action Research and how would you access support to take it forward?


PDF file: Collaborative Action Research overview

PDF file: Lesson study

PDF file: Instructional rounds