What is the ACToolkit?

The award-winning Agents of Change toolkit (ACToolkit) was developed in 2020 in a project funded by The Scottish Universities Insight Institute as part of the UN Global Goals Programme which helps accelerate progress towards achieving the goals in Scotland.

ACToolkit was designed by professionals from primary and secondary schools in Scotland, staff from Edinburgh Council and Learning for Sustainability (LfS) Scotland, educationalists and game-based learning experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee, the Glasgow School of Art, and international experts.

ACToolkit is designed to help educators:

  • a) build SDG-related improvements into their local plans;
  • b) identify relevant expertise and work with other players within and beyond schools to implement change projects; and
  • c) evaluate the impact of change processes and outcomes.

The toolkit encourages users to think globally, but ACT locally to address challenges specific to their schools or organisations. It focuses on areas of change such as Covid renewal, inclusion and equality, migrant integration, and sustainability, but also invites staff to design any change projects relevant to their schools and communities. It is an accessible and practical toolkit for schools to engage with change projects around the SDGs through minigames and playful activities that facilitate whole-school approaches, initiated by individuals or groups of staff and students.

scottish university insight institute
sustainable development goals

How was ACToolkit developed?

The purpose of developing ACToolkit was to support educational settings including schools, universities, early years settings, and Local Authorities, in developing approaches to working towards meeting the UN SDGs.

The ACT project (which took place between March 2020 and September 2021) created knowledge exchange opportunities for teachers, researchers, senior leadership, educational authorities, game designers, and out-of-school educators via a series of seminars and workshops. ACToolkit is designed to support educators in acting as agents of change, in finding solutions to existing problems to aid school improvement. In particular, the project focused on SDG4, ‘to ensure inclusive and quality education for all’. In addressing this SDG, the project also supports educators to work towards other SDGs that they choose to address.

Six structured knowledge exchange and co-creation opportunities took place over 18 months (this time was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic), including seminars led by experts to establish knowledge of the two key areas addressed by the project – educational change and game-based learning – and four workshops during which a gradual co-creation of the toolkit and minigames took place. We worked with educators to identify real-world issues that they were facing and addressing, using these to shape the design of playful activities which, when used within the wider context of the toolkit, support educators to address aspects of sustainability and inclusion. These included strategic development planning to include relevant SDG goals in school development plans, using playful activities to support learners in developing their understanding of equality and diversity issues such as stereotyping and prejudice, and providing a safe space in which educators could discuss how they might respond when they see or hear discrimination or stereotyping taking place.

In co-creating the toolkit, both within the project team to plan the activities, and with stakeholders from schools and other educational establishments, we built on the belief that schools and other educational establishments are important arenas for addressing issues such as climate change and sustainability. This allowed the project team to ensure that the resource was truly one which would support educators in addressing existing challenges and areas for action, and the toolkit would not be an extra piece of work to add to already busy working environments.

Our approach recognises that the achievement of the SDGs is as much about building inclusive communities as it is building knowledge. Although it is important to raise knowledge and awareness of big global challenges, such as social justice, inequalities or climate change, there is also a risk of treating issues such as poverty and sustainability as developing nations’ problems. ACT aims to help schools and organisations identify their local challenges and model how these challenges can be addressed in their immediate environment to generate improvements.

Teachers and school leaders can use ACT to plan, implement, and evaluate change processes, involving other experts and colleagues, as well as students and their families. This kind of collaborative, site-based learning is shown to be more beneficial for teachers and schools than the traditional professional development programmes that do not always translate directly into addressing practical issues professionals face.

From the start, the programme team worked with representatives from education authorities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to ensure the toolkit maps onto the key cross-cutting themes of the Professional Standards, including Learning for Sustainability, and Equality and Diversity. Education professionals in Scotland can use the toolkit in their individual and collective professional inquiry projects and to evidence their career-long professional learning and, for GTCS registered teachers, contribute to Professional Update. School staff internationally can use the toolkit to plan and implement change projects.

ACToolkit underlying research

ACToolkit uses theoretical frameworks related to teacher agency and findings from our research in the area of change towards greater educational inclusion and equality (Pantić & Florian, 2015; Pantić, 2015; Pantić, 2017a). This research explored the crucial role of teachers in enacting educational change, both at school level and at classroom level, and of teacher empowerment to work creatively to meet the needs of all learners in their schools. A model for the study of Teacher Agency for Social Justice (Pantić, 2015) was applied to supporting change towards the achievement of SDG 4, to ensure inclusive and quality education for all. The model supports educators and school leaders as reflective practitioners in planning, implementing and evaluating change.

ACToolkit also builds the aspect of collaboration into the steps towards change. Research studies invariably point to the importance of collaboration in educational change processes and outcomes (e.g. Pantić, 2017b). Research has helped shape some of the case studies for this project, including on the main themes of migrant integration, addressing inequalities, sustainable development, and dealing with disruptions during Covid (https://reflective-teacher.net). Together they show how teachers can work together and with other professionals within and beyond schools to create and sustain inclusive school communities, whether real or virtual, that enable them to take diverse perspectives into account as they respond to and lead change. Collaboration has therefore been built into the steps of ACToolkit, such as in prompting users to identify their support networks and other relevant actors.

You can read more about the ACToolkit change model and steps on the Toolkit page.

children in classroom


Natasa Pantic

Nataša Pantić

University of Edinburgh

daisy abbott

Daisy Abbott

The Glasgow School of Art


Basia Dzieciatko

University of Edinburgh

Dianne Cantali

Dianne Cantali

University of Dundee

betsy king

Betsy King

Learning for Sustainability

rosie mccoll

Rosie McColl

South East Improvement Collaborative

alison humphreys

Alison Humphreys

Quality Improvement Education Officer at City of Edinburgh Council

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