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.

1. Introduction

About this research

1.1 This report sets out findings of an interim review of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs).

Research aims

1.2 This review took place in mid to late 2018, six months after RICs were established at the end of January 2018. The overall aim of this review was to explore how RIC establishment had been taken forward in each RIC area.

1.3 The key areas of focus were:

  • governance arrangements;
  • the process which supported the development of initial RIC plans;
  • evidence of initial use and sharing of data to support RIC planning;
  • stakeholder engagement;
  • use of improvement methodologies; and
  • evidence of forward plans.

1.4 The research will inform and support further development, inform wider stakeholders of progress to date, and establish a baseline for future review.

Research context

1.5 RICs bring local authorities together to secure excellence and equity in education. They are intended to:

  • provide educational improvement support to practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals - drawing on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others;
  • provide focus across all partners through a regional plan and work programme - aligned to the National Improvement Framework; and
  • facilitate collaborative working across the region.

1.6 RICs are not intended to be formal bodies within the education system. They are intended to bring together local authorities and Education Scotland to develop different ways of working, bring together capacity across a region and add value through collective efforts[1].

1.7 There are six RICs, involving between three and eight local authorities. They are:

  • Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative - involving Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling and West Lothian Councils;
  • Northern Alliance - involving Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highland, Moray, Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils;
  • South East Collaborative - involving Edinburgh City, East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian and Scottish Borders Councils;
  • South West Collaborative - involving East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway Councils;
  • Tayside Collaborative - involving Angus, Dundee City and Perth and Kinross Councils; and
  • West Partnership - involving East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire Councils.

1.8 The RICs were established following the Scottish Government's consultation on education governance and reform, during 2016 and 2017. In June 2017, the Scottish Government published 'Education Governance - Next Steps' setting out its vision of an education system centred around children and young people, with decisions taken as close to them as possible. As part of this, Next Steps set out the aim of establishing RICs to provide excellent educational improvement support for headteachers, teachers and practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals.

1.9 A joint steering group was set up to develop proposals for RICs, based on the policy direction outlined within Next Steps. The joint steering group involved Scottish Government, local government - including COSLA, SOLACE and ADES - and Education Scotland. The first task of the steering group was to develop options for the role and responsibilities of RICs. This included considering guiding principles, functions, leadership, staffing, geography, accountability and measures of success.

1.10 The steering group worked on these issues in summer 2017, and produced a report setting out its interim conclusions in September 2017[2]. This report highlights the important of increased collaboration. It emphasises that RIC development is not about establishing a new formal body, but about developing different ways of working, bringing together capacity from across an area and beyond, to add value through collective efforts.

1.11 Scottish Government and COSLA entered into a partnership agreement to establish these new RICs for education, regional improvement leads were appointed, and initial regional improvement plans were required to be submitted for each RIC by the end of January 2018. This is the date from which RICs can be considered to be operational.

1.12 In June 2018, Scottish Government and COSLA entered into a further agreement to continue to support school empowerment and collaboration - as well as parental involvement and pupil participation. At the same time a package of support was announced, including £10 million to enhance regional capacity to support schools - through the RICs and Education Scotland working together. The agreement highlighted that Education Scotland would further develop its core offer of support to RICs and to schools over 2018/19, and will inspect school empowerment as part of its inspection process.

1.13 RICs have developed in two broad phases. 'Phase One', to which this review relates, covers the initial establishment of the RICs from October 2017 to August 2018. 'Phase Two' refers to the period following submission of RIC plans for the 2018/19 school year, in September 2018.

1.14 At the time of the fieldwork for this report, RICs were in the process of developing their phase two regional improvement plans and developing their bids to access this regional funding to support RICs.


1.15 This interim review involved five key phases:

Desktop review

1.16 We undertook a brief desktop review, to inform the fieldwork. This involved a review of national guidance, regional improvement plans, information about the profile of each region, and other relevant information. The main purpose of the desktop work was to set the context for the interim review and to inform the development of the research tools.

Regional level fieldwork

1.17 We held telephone interviews with the regional lead and Education Scotland regional advisor for each RIC. We also held telephone interviews with a small number of wider regional stakeholders in each RIC - including Directors of Education, partners such as health, police or further education, elected members and parents. Each regional lead was asked to identify two wider stakeholders who would be able to reflect on the process of establishing the RIC over the first six months. A total of 12 interviews were held with wider stakeholders.

1.18 To preserve anonymity, the interviews with RIC leads, advisors and wider stakeholders are all tagged as 'regional stakeholders' within quotes.

School level fieldwork

1.19 We held telephone interviews with 47 headteachers and teachers, at 42 different schools involved in RICs. This stage focused on gathering the views of schools who had been involved in the RIC and were able to reflect on the process of development and experiences of involvement to date.

1.20 Recognising the early stage of RIC development, we worked closely with RIC regional leads and Directors of Education within each RIC to identify a list of schools which had been involved in the RIC. We then independently selected schools from this list and agreed this with each RIC. In some RIC areas, the list provided of schools which had been involved in the RIC to date was relatively short.

1.21 The telephone interviews lasted 30 minutes. The discussion guide was adapted depending on how the member of staff had been involved in the RIC - for example through driving or participating in a particular workstream, attending an event, or assisting with RIC development and decision making.

1.22 We agreed the number of interviews to be held within each RIC with the Advisory Group for the research. This involved considering how many interviews would be held in each RIC area if an equal split was used, and then adjusting this to reflect the number of local authorities, schools and pupils within each RIC area.

1.23 The review involved interviews with 39 headteachers and 8 other members of staff - including two depute headteachers, five principal teachers and one class teacher. Initially we began with a broad target of holding 70 per cent of the interviews with headteachers, and 30 per cent with other members of staff. However, interviews with RIC leads made clear that most of the engagement to date had been with headteachers. This was confirmed by the headteachers involved in the research. As a result, in order to gather a range of perspectives beyond headteachers, we held five supplementary interviews at schools where headteachers identified other members of staff who had been particularly involved in RIC activity.

1.24 The final profile of schools involved in each RIC area was:

RIC Core interviews Supplementary Total
Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative 5 5
Northern Alliance 10 3 13
South East Alliance 7 7
South West Collaborative 5 1 6
Tayside Collaborative 5 1 6
West Partnership 10 10
Total 42 5 47

1.25 We carried out interviews with school staff in 23 primary schools, 19 secondary schools, one special school, one mixed campus and three early years centres.

National level fieldwork

1.26 We held face to face interviews with:

  • Scottish Government - three members of staff;
  • COSLA - one interviewee;
  • SOLACE - one interviewee;
  • ADES - two interviewees; and
  • Education Scotland - two members of staff.

1.27 These interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes and explored views on RIC governance, planning, joint working, use of data, stakeholder engagement and future plans.

Reporting and analysis

1.28 This report sets out the key themes under each of the main areas explored within the review. Where appropriate, quotes or examples are used to help to illustrate points.

1.29 Notes from discussions were analysed using a system of manual thematic coding, which involves a researcher carefully reading responses to each interview question and coding key themes emerging. The researcher also reads the interview as a whole to ensure that responses are understood in context.

1.30 In analysing research participant views, we explored any key variances of view between respondent groupings, including primary and secondary schools; teachers in different roles; and between different authorities. Where differences of view have emerged by respondent grouping, we have highlighted this within the report.

1.31 Importantly, views are reported completely anonymously. Quotes are tagged broadly, to provide an idea of the type of stakeholder commenting. Comments have been reported carefully to reduce ability to identify the RIC area being discussed.

1.32 Within the report, we used a broad qualitative scale to describe the proportion of people who commented on particular themes and topics:

  • one/ an individual - a point raised by just one person;
  • a few - just two or three people;
  • some - less than half of respondents in that category;
  • many - more than half of respondents in that category; and
  • most/ almost all - a very high proportion of respondents in that category.

1.33 When summarising survey findings within bulleted lists, the points are listed broadly in order of frequency mentioned.

Note on this report

1.34 It is important to bear in mind that this is an early, baseline review of the RICs. The work of the RICs was at very early stages at the time of the fieldwork for this report. In undertaking fieldwork for this evaluation, a number of stakeholders indicated that they felt it was too early for this type of review to take place. Findings should be interpreted in this context.


Email: Keith Dryburgh

Back to top