2004 Convention - Opening Presidential Address

International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI)

Rotterdam 2004

Building Bridges for Sustainable School Improvement

Professor Louise Stoll

We have just returned from a wonderful conference, hosted by the Rotterdam Department of Education and City of Rotterdam. The organisers did a magnificent job and we have received many positive comments. Here is the text of my introductory remarks at the start of the conference. Keep checking the website for more news from the conference and follow up activities, as well as joining ICSEI if you aren't already a member.

Opening Presidential Address: Louise Stoll, 6 January 2004

Good afternoon. Goedemiddag. Velcom op ICSEI. I'm Louise Stoll, President of ICSEI. On behalf of the ICSEI Board, I would like to welcome you all to the seventeenth annual conference of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and School Improvement in the fascinating city of Rotterdam. Being here for this conference has a special significance for three reasons. First, we held our second ICSE conference in Rotterdam in 1989 so it is a great honour to be invited back. Second, as most of you will know, we were originally planning to have ICSEI 2004 in Taipei but this was unfortunately cancelled due to the SARS epidemic. The Rotterdam Department of Education and City of Rotterdam, who have supported our conferences so actively, generously offered to take on the planning at extremely short notice. I'll come to the third reason in a moment, but first:

On everyone's behalf I would like to offer my most sincere thanks to the organising committee and all of the assisting national bodies for the very hard work and support that has made it possible for us to be here this year. I understand that we have over 500 people registered from 47 different countries representing every continent, which is wonderful.

This year's conference theme - Building Bridges for Sustainable School Improvement - apart from drawing attention to the lovely Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, is of central importance to ICSEI and brings me to the third reason why the hosting of this conference is particularly significant. The purpose of ICSEI is to provide a truly international forum for researchers, policy makers, school leaders and teachers, district administrators, and professional developers to share ideas, promote research, and encourage practices that will enhance the quality and equity of education for all students. Our goal is to learn from each other through research, dialogue and development opportunities how to address issues of equity and excellence in schools across contexts as varied as Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, North and South America and Europe. For a large number of years, the main organiser of the conference has been a university, but we have many other ICSEI members. In line with the theme this year of building bridges between our various constituent groups, I am delighted that policy makers are the main organisers of this conference and have chosen as their focus some of the greatest international challenges of sustainable improvement, as well as encouraging us to bring to this conference our emerging solutions.

The theme of building bridges fits very well with our work over the last year to develop ICSEI to meet the needs of its diverse members. I'd like to take a few minutes to make some links between this theme and our organisation, which I'll organise under three headings. When I think of a bridge, I think of: a structure; something that is, hopefully, strong (!); and a means of connecting people and places.


Schools and other organisations, including ICSEI, depend on solid supporting structures. This year has seen the most significant change to the structure of ICSEI since it was first established in 1988. We have set up our own Secretariat, here in the Netherlands, and have changed our membership arrangements. Membership of ICSEI now brings with it a newsletter three times a year, access to the website, cheaper attendance at conferences and a choice of a number of quality journals at competitive prices. If you haven't already joined through the website, there are membership forms at this conference.


Structures also need to be strong, otherwise your bridge will fall down! As an organisation, ICSEI has many strengths. First, is our joint mission. Everyone who is connected with ICSEI cares deeply about and works hard to ensure that schooling in their school, system or country is effective for all students. Quality and equity are key words for us. But we are also an international community who want to learn from each other and help each other with our improvement challenges. In this endeavour, we have generated and continue to generate many theories, ideas and a strong evidence base that are being used to help improve the education and life chances of young people around the world. We have also been going for a long time - 16 years. I guess that means that in many countries, we have now 'come of age' and I might even hesitate to suggest that we could be described as 'sustainable'! This, I am sure, is because of the people connected with ICSEI and the strong professional and personal relationships that have developed. I have met so many friends over the last 16 years - people who care deeply about making a difference and have persevered in their quest to take on the most difficult challenges of improvement. At this point, I would like to pay a special tribute to a friend and great ICSEI supporter who is sadly no longer with us. James Learmonth, who died this summer, represented everything that ICSEI aspires to be: inclusive and welcoming, always inquiring, evidence-based, and a leader of ideas. I am so pleased that his ideas can still be shared with the ICSEI community through sessions at this conference.

Connections through ICSEI

Like a bridge, ICSEI as an organisation is a powerful mechanism to connect members and ideas. We are pursuing new ways of doing this all the time. In addition to our conferences, our website offers us great possibilities of keeping connected throughout the year but also depends on you, the members, visiting it and linking up with each other. We have also relaunched our newsletter which will be sent to members three times a year, initially by email. Some of you will already have received it and will have read about policy developments in Hong Kong and here in Rotterdam, networks in British Columbia, Canada, research in England, a school visit to Moldova, publications from around the world and much more. There are also copies available here for you to take away. Membership of ICSEI means participating in an international learning community. Please become actively involved and share your news. We also have a number of journals (some academic, some professional to suit different tastes) that you can subscribe to, including one in German and an online Spanish journal, and are negotiating with some other journal publishers and providers. We are also promoting the development of ICSEI interest networks and there will be several networking meetings on Wednesday evening, including one for our graduate and research student members. Please let us know if you would like to set up an ICSEI network. Finally, many people here have set up joint international research, development and policy projects and initiatives.

I am looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible during the conference, and to hearing your thoughts about the future development of ICSEI. I do hope you will come to the annual general meeting on Thursday afternoon where we would appreciate your input on how to continue developing ICSEI further and ensure that we keep building bridges for sustainable improvement.

I also hope that everyone will return home after this conference with new ideas to help address the challenges to sustainable improvement. To help sustain the process, I leave you with some questions to reflect on during and after the conference:

  • What connections have I/we made at this conference with people who bring a different perspective and innovative ideas to my/our school improvement issues?
  • How can I/we develop and sustain these connections and ensure I/we continue to learn from and with them?
  • How might I/we feed this back into ICSEI during this year to help maintain an ongoing international dialogue between all the different groups of people who care passionately about sustainable school improvement?

Have a great conference!