International Council of Education Advisers meeting papers: 19-20 February 2020

Papers from the meeting of the group on 19-20 February 2020.

Supporting collaboration and improvement 

This paper is for discussion/information (ICEA(20)02). Paper by Education Scotland


To seek the views of the ICEA on the work of Education Scotland’s regional teams to support collaboration and improvement within regional improvement collaboratives (RICs) and local authorities.


1st April 2019 saw the implementation of a new organisational structure for Education Scotland. Four new educational directorates were formed to support our work in Regional Improvement, Scrutiny, Professional Learning and National policy. The Corporate Services directorate is responsible for backroom support and internal business functions of the organisation.  

The Regional Improvement Directorate is formed of six regional teams, aligned to the local authority areas of the six RICs. Each team is led by a Senior Regional Adviser (SRA). The work of the directorate is overseen by a Strategic Director.  

Staffing of each regional team was initially planned to take account of the number of local authorities in each RIC and the desire to provide a ‘core offer’ of support in each regional area ie support to improve equity, inclusion, literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, digital learning and teaching, STEM and professional learning and leadership. Support for other curriculum areas is spread across the six teams and allocated as required through the SRAs. As yet, some regional teams do not include specialists in all of the curriculum areas, so SRAs work together to ensure the resources available are directed to RICS and local authorities as and when required. Resourcing the demand for support in literacy and health and wellbeing is a particular current challenge. Attainment Advisors, NIF Officers and Senior Education Officers have important leadership roles with the regional teams to ensure our work is about improving outcomes for all children and young people and with a relentless focus on closing the poverty related attainment gap.

The Regional Improvement Directorate is tasked to provide support for collaboration and improvement through partnership:

  • with RIC leads to ensure RIC plans are grounded in effective evaluation of performance and local needs analysis with a ‘bottom-up’ approach focused on increasing collaboration for improvement by practitioners
  • with individual local authorities to provide targeted support in curriculum areas and 
  • for schools and establishments identified as underperforming
  • with Scottish Government, universities and colleges and with other national and local organisations to ensure the national programmes for educational reform are delivered at regional and local level and informed by regional and local developments

With a few exceptions, including a change in leadership of the South East team, staffing within the regional directorate has remained stable over the first nine months. The most recent Civil Service People Survey highlighted many improvements including staff engagement, understanding of organisational objectives and leadership of change. Although there is more still to do, it does feel like we are heading in the right direction for our staff and for our stakeholders across Scottish education.

What we have achieved in the first nine months

In the autumn, SRAs led the peer review of RIC plans and provided feedback to RIC leads to inform development of the plans and to Scottish Government to inform funding allocations. Relationships with RIC leads and RIC teams are developing well. Delivery plans for each regional team have been agreed and are being added to as new work is identified through the SRAs ongoing dialogue with RIC and LA colleagues.

All engagements with RICS, local authorities and individual establishments are systematically recorded in our new digital Note of Visit tool. Although staff are still developing use of this tool and the data is still somewhat ‘experimental’ we are already finding it a powerful way of tracking, monitoring and evaluating our impact. By the end of January 2020, regional teams have recorded more than 3,000 engagements including support following an inspection, support for improvement, delivering professional learning and capturing highly effective practice for wider sharing. The majority of these engagements have been with individual local authorities, working with local authority staff but there are also notable levels of engagement with primary and secondary schools which have increased over time. There is also evidence of increasing engagement with special schools, early learning and childcare settings, clusters of schools, colleges and other partners such as the DYW regional groups. Around half of engagements are related to the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Specialisms in numeracy and maths, inclusion wellbeing and equality, improving gender balance in education, STEM, digital learning and teaching, literacy and languages, professional learning and leadership and working with families and communities account for almost all of the remaining engagements although there has been some work to support religious and moral education, technologies, social studies, Gaelic and creativity. The latter is on a much smaller scale due to our very limited staffing in these areas. Whilst we are still at an early stage of working with this new Note of Visit Tool we recognise the value of this data to enable us to regularly take stock, share the impact of our work and to continue to challenge ourselves in relation to where our staff are spending most time and what is having the greatest impact. Going forward we will continue to support improved staff use of this tool and seek to maximise its’ potential to support our self-evaluation and reporting to stakeholders.

Aligning our delivery of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) to our regional model is already proving to be a significant success. Where previously the Attainment Advisors sat quite separate from other teams in Education Scotland, they now sit in each of the regional teams and regularly call on expertise of the curriculum specialists in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing to provide focused support to local authorities and schools they are working with. This is adding value to their work on equity and enabling them to focus more directly on supporting improved use of data, developing and implementing appropriate interventions, assessment and moderation, planning and partnerships to support families and communities. Through collaborative professional learning and sharing knowledge and expertise within the regional teams is enabling Attainment Advisors to link schools and local authorities into examples of best practice and support quickly and at local level. As a result of embedding the SAC in our regional delivery model there is now a very clear shared understanding that the national priority of closing the poverty related attainment gap is a responsibility of all in Education Scotland. Curriculum specialists have a stronger focus on equity and improving outcomes for children living in poverty when they are analysing data, reviewing grant applications and delivering professional learning and support. All six SRAs are responsible for monitoring progress with SAC in their regional areas and provide high levels of support to Attainment Advisors. Attainment Advisors report feeling less isolated and vulnerable in their work to support and challenge their link local authorities and that having additional expertise to call on enables them to spend more time on working with schools where most support is required. In December 2019, Attainment Advisors reported targeted work with more than 100 schools across almost all local authorities with the majority being in Challenge Programme Authorities and Schools Programme Authorities which are schools in the areas with highest levels of deprivation across Scotland. Local authorities are also beginning to recognise the more collaborative nature of our teamwork.  

We have increased the capacity of the Attainment Advisor team creating 32 permanent posts so that every local authority now has a dedicated link to the SAC programme. Local authorities who have not benefitted from this fully committed resource previously are already reporting a stronger understanding of their responsibility for closing the poverty related attainment gap and saying that they value this specific expertise which is challenging their use of data and pointing them to exemplars of best practice in improving leadership, learning and teaching and working with families and communities. We are clear that this enhanced capacity has significant potential to support our work to maximise the impact of work on the SAC. Although still very much aligned to supporting their link local authorities, there is already evidence of Attainment Advisors working collaboratively within and across regional teams to add greater capacity where it is needed most. An example of this is the work of Attainment Advisors in the South West team to co-create a ‘Deep Dive Data’ programme for consistent delivery across all local authorities in the region. We intend to grow this collaborative approach over the coming months as part of our delivery plan aligned to the five points of the maximising impact plan now embedded in the National Improvement Framework 2020.

Effectively, pulling together our collective data and intelligence about educational performance in all 32 local authorities has been a priority from the outset and one which we have escalated as a result of feedback from the previous ICEA meeting. SRAs have worked closely with our statisticians, knowledge management colleagues and scrutiny colleagues to develop a new LA Data Pack which NIF Officers have taken significant responsibility for. The new packs bring together data from inspections, ACEL data, Insight data and local authority qualitative and quantitative self-evaluation returns. These packs are in the final stages of completion and will be used by all SRAs to engage in constructive professional dialogue with Directors of Education and their teams over the next few weeks. From now on these data packs will be reviewed and updated regularly, shared with Directors of Education and used to support identification of establishments requiring targeted support.  

Over recent months we have been teeing up for this renewed level of challenge through professional dialogue with Directors of Education and specific conversations about underperformance and the need for targeted support. An example of where this is already working well is a secondary school in the North East where the maths department now benefits from fortnightly visits from our numeracy and maths specialists in the Northern team who provide ongoing professional dialogue and feedback on approaches to improve learning and teaching and curriculum development work. It remains a challenge that some local authorities have been more receptive to this approach than others. Our regional teams now have a shared understanding that this type of engagement is to increase quickly and we hope that the direct and focused conversations using the new data packs will help LAs to understand the need for this too. In addition our Senior Leadership Team have been engaged in a programme of telephone calls with a proportionate sample of Headteachers across Scotland to find out how they think Education Scotland can support them. We will use information from this work to further develop our plans for targeted support.

Points for discussion

ICEA members are invited to offer their views on:

  • drawing on international evidence, how does a regional/ area based approach to collaboration work best? What are the pitfalls we need to be aware of?
  • once a school receives targeted support, how does the system ensure that the work is truly about capacity building and not quick fix/ spotlighted limited attention?


International Council of Education Advisers minutes: 19-20 February 2020

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