Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs): interim review

The overall aim of this review was to explore how RIC establishment had been taken forward in each region.

Executive Summary

About this research

This report sets out findings of an interim review of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs). The overall aim of this review was to explore how RIC establishment had been taken forward in each region.

RICs bring local authorities together, alongside Education Scotland, to secure excellence and equity in education. They facilitate collaborative working across the region, developing different ways of working together to build excellence and equity in the Scottish education system.

This review took place in mid to late 2018, nine months after the RICs were jointly announced in October 2017 and six months after they produced their initial improvement plans. The review therefore covers 'phase one' of RIC development and planning. The research will inform and support further development of the RICs and provides a baseline for future review.


This qualitative research involved exploration of people's experiences and views. It involved in-depth discussions with:

  • regional stakeholders - including all six regional leads for RICs, all six Education Scotland regional advisors, and 12 wider regional stakeholders such as colleges, universities, parents, Directors of Education and elected members;
  • national stakeholders - including COSLA, ADES, SOLACE, Education Scotland and Scottish Government; and
  • school staff - including 39 headteachers and 8 other teachers (largely principal teachers) at 42 schools across Scotland.

It is important to note that the schools involved in this research were selected because they had some involvement in phase one RIC activity. Regional leads were asked to identify schools which had been involved, and schools were then independently sampled from these lists. This report therefore reflects the experiences of the schools most involved in RICs.

Key findings

Overall, stakeholders felt that RICs were in their early days of operation, and that the timetable for setting up structures and developing plans had been tight. Stakeholders also felt it was important to recognise that phase one RIC activity has largely been taken forward without additional resources. The availability of resources to support phase two plans was welcomed.

Governance and planning

Regional and national stakeholders were broadly content with the governance arrangements established for RICs. They felt that arrangements had been set up in a way which suited each region, and which recognised and linked with local authority decision making structures.

Some national stakeholders felt that it was a real achievement to have all local authorities signed up to the RICs, with appropriate structures and early plans in place.

The key factors felt to enable successful governance included:

  • buy-in from senior officers and elected members;
  • clear links between partners, schools and elected members; and
  • a clear focus on overall intended outcomes.

In most cases, regional and national stakeholders believed that there was a shared vision and aims for the RIC at senior officer level within participating authorities. However, a few regional stakeholders were unsure about the rationale of the RIC concept, and there was some lack of clarity about the concept of additionality and what it meant in practice.

Overall, regional and national stakeholders felt that it was a significant achievement to have produced phase one RIC plans within the timescales. Planning processes were felt to work well where:

  • plans were informed by data and research;
  • each partner had a clear understanding of their priorities; and
  • there was a focus on enhancing rather than duplicating activity.

Regional, national and school level stakeholders all felt that RIC plans were well connected to national priorities. However, regional and national stakeholders felt there was more work to do on connecting the plans with school priorities. The schools involved in the research largely felt positive about the connection between school, local, regional and national priorities and plans.

Most regional and national stakeholders felt that more needed to be done to develop ways of meaningfully measuring progress, including strengthening the sharing, collating and analysis of data across the region.

Stakeholder engagement

Regional, national and school level stakeholders all felt that more work needed to be done to engage stakeholders and schools more widely, raising awareness and involving them in planning and participating in RIC activity. Engagement with schools and development of the offer to schools were key priorities for phase two RIC activity. However, most felt strongly that the main initial point of contact and support for schools should continue to be the local authority, with a need for clarity about the role of the RIC and how it fits with and complements existing support.

Support and joint working

Regional stakeholders felt that the support offered by regional advisors was good and helpful. Regional stakeholders were interested to see how the regional offer of support from Education Scotland would develop in the future.

While the availability of resources to support phase two of RIC activity was welcomed, most regional stakeholders felt that the early phases of RIC development were challenged by limited resources and tight timescales. Most regional stakeholders thought the approach by Scottish Government felt top-down, which was hard to reconcile with the local, bottom-up approach required for RICs.


So far, regional stakeholders believe that the RICs have encouraged joint working between officers in different local authority areas. RICs have also tested approaches to engaging with and supporting schools, often through small scale tests of change and targeted work with schools across different workstreams.

All stakeholders indicated that it would take time to see an impact. However, some school staff gave very positive early examples of sharing best practice, skills development and influencing practice around areas of leadership, self-evaluation, moderation of assessment, improvement methodologies, parental engagement, maths, early literacy and equality.

Overall, school staff were very positive about the idea of learning from one another across the region, and welcomed opportunities for networking, building skills and developing their practice.


Email: Keith Dryburgh

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