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.
2. Setting up the RICs
RICs were required to be set up within a relatively short timescale - between November 2017 and January 2018.
In most areas the process of identifying regional leads was felt to be relatively simple. RIC leads often held very senior positions with wide ranging responsibilities within their own local authorities, in addition to the RIC lead role. Where there was a full time, dedicated RIC lead - with support staff - stakeholders felt this helped to drive RIC development and support activity.
The structures established by RICs were varied. Most regional stakeholders were content with governance arrangements, which they felt had evolved in a natural way for their area. 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. However, there were challenges bringing senior, busy people together within tight timescales, and some varied views on the value and role of RICs and how they fit with the Scottish education system.
Many school staff indicated that they were not really involved in the set-up of the RIC, and that the timescales for establishment meant this was challenging. However, some felt that even in short timescales there had been good opportunities for schools to be involved.
Overall, the guidance on establishing RICs and developing RIC plans was felt to be helpful in setting the framework and principles for RIC development. However, there were concerns that the guidance came a bit late, was too prescriptive and created tensions between a top down and bottom up approach to RIC set up and planning.
There was concern that in most cases, during the early stages of RIC development, there had not been additional resources available from the Scottish Government. Where available, additional resources were felt to be very useful to kick start activity, allow for secondments, allow for dedicated time on RIC activity, enable cover and backfill and contribute to travel costs. The availability of resources to support phase two plans was welcomed.
2.1 This chapter explores the process of setting up the RICs. It explores:
- identification of regional leads;
- views on RIC structures and governance;
- views on guidance; and
- views on resources.
2.2 This chapter draws mainly on the views of regional and national stakeholders.
Identifying regional leads
2.3 An early task for each RIC was to identify a regional lead. In most areas, the process of identifying regional leads was felt to be relatively simple. However, in two areas the process was felt to be challenging, due to restructuring and a high level of change within senior level roles in the participating local authorities. A few found it difficult because they felt the thinking changed around who would appoint RIC leads along the way.
2.4 Where there had been an interview, some felt that the process worked well but others were unsure of the value of an interview. Some felt the role came about naturally, and that an interview process could have put off people from volunteering for the role.
2.5 The way in which RIC leads took on the role varied. For example, in one area there was a full-time secondment to the RIC lead role. This was felt to be very helpful, giving the role the status, drive and emphasis, it needed. In other areas, the RIC lead role was taken on in addition to existing responsibilities. RIC leads often held very senior positions with wide ranging responsibilities within their own local authorities, in addition to the RIC lead role.
2.6 RIC leads also had varying levels of support to drive the RIC locally. For example, in a few areas a support officer had been appointed, which RIC leads felt was extremely useful.
"The policy officer post is a vital role and is likely to grow as activity ramps up over time."
2.7 In other areas there was no dedicated RIC support role. In two areas, RIC leads had allocated part time support from within their own team, or simply made use of the resources within their own team as needed - in addition to their existing responsibilities.
"Anyone who participates does so in addition to their own job, and within the existing resource."
2.8 At the time of this fieldwork, some RICs were planning to appoint dedicated staff, or had just done so for the 2018/19 academic year. There was a feeling that as RIC activity increased, there would be more need for administrative support.
2.9 RICs also had access to regional advisors, through Education Scotland. Views on this support are explored in Chapter Three.
2.10 The main activities which RIC leads had been involved in included:
- governance - including establishing governance arrangements, gaining political sign off, updating local authority Chief Executives, brokering resources and reporting on progress;
- planning - developing RIC plans, setting priorities, setting agendas for meetings and keeping workstreams going;
- relationships - brokering relationships, facilitating officers participating in RIC activity, building a culture of collaboration, and motivating and galvanising teams;
- connections - making links between local, regional and national stakeholders and priorities;
- information - being the public face of the RIC, supporting analysis of information and disseminating information among stakeholders; and
- events - co-ordinating groups, events, conferences and development sessions.
2.11 Essentially, RIC leads indicated that they were responsible for making the RIC happen, and led all activity around the RIC. Some, in areas where the partnership between authorities was relatively new, had spent a lot of time building relationships in the early phases of the RIC.
2.12 It was expected that activity would move forward to focus on engaging schools and other key stakeholders more over phase two of the RIC's work.
RIC structures and governance
2.13 RICs were required to be set up within a relatively short timescale - between November 2017 and January 2018.
2.14 Regional stakeholders indicated that RIC structure and governance were largely led by senior officers and elected members. In some cases, local authorities were already working together in other ways, or had already been exploring options for collaboration. In other cases, RICs brought together local authorities which had not worked closely together in the past.
2.15 Overall, structures and governance options were largely "thrashed out" by senior officers - through considering papers, attending away days or workshops, working with independent advisors, evolving existing arrangements, or tightening governance arrangements for existing partnerships.
2.16 Some indicated that they did some consultation with headteachers, but that the timescales for establishing RICs did not enable in-depth involvement of schools and other partners.
"Given the timescale, the approach was mainly top down."
"The process of setting up the RIC was as good as it could have been given the timescales."
2.17 The structures established by RICs were varied. Generally, structures involved a mix of political oversight (involving elected members); high level forums or boards (often involving Directors of Education and RIC leads); groups including wider stakeholders (including headteachers and external partners such as Education Scotland, the Care Inspectorate or other public sector agencies); and workstream groups (involving workstream leads and key deliverers).
2.18 Most regional stakeholders were content with governance arrangements. The key factors which were felt to enable successful governance were:
- buy-in from senior officers and elected members - as this was felt to help bring other people together in an agreed approach;
- mechanisms which build links and connections between elected members, partners, workstream leads and schools;
- linking with local democratic political processes - which needed to be followed for decision making;
- focusing on the overall intended outcomes, and the benefit of the RIC to young people and schools;
- time out to consider governance arrangements - for example through away days - and independent facilitation by external partners;
- RIC geographies fitting well with other regional boundaries - helping to enable natural partnership working;
- pooling resources for support posts to lead and support the RIC; and
- informal, flexible governance arrangements which develop and evolve over time.
"Things have grown in a natural way that is comfortable for people."
"The governance structure works well. It is not too bureaucratic."
2.19 National stakeholders were also broadly happy with governance arrangements, and pleased that appropriate arrangements had been put in place in every region.
"Governance must be light touch. Each local authority already has its own governance arrangements."
"At a political level, it was a significant achievement that the 32 local authorities actually signed up for RICs."
2.20 There were some challenges to establishing RIC structures and governance. A key challenge for RIC leads was getting senior, very busy people together. For some this was particularly hard as they were leading but without line managing staff.
"There was an initial challenge of getting people in the right place. When people got together it was great, but this was not always possible."
2.21 The timescales for establishing the RICs were also felt to be very tight, with some concern that the timescales were being driven by a political timetable.
2.22 Other key challenges included:
- changes at senior level within local authorities - meaning that work had to be done on building relationships, establishing ethos and joint working arrangements;
- varied views on the value and role of RICs - particularly when local authorities within the RIC were led by different political parties;
- challenges addressing nervousness that RICs would take the education function away from local authorities - particularly in the context of a wider education reform agenda in Scotland; and
- sharing workloads fairly between authorities, particularly when authorities were of very different sizes.
"We had to work hard to get buy-in from all leaders, as there were complex party-political issues to manage…"
"There is pressure on the smaller authorities with less resource."
2.23 There were also varied views on lines of accountability for schools and headteachers. Most regional stakeholders felt that headteachers should still be ultimately accountable to the local authority for all matters. Some stressed that local authorities had the legislative responsibility for improving education in their authority. However, one regional stakeholder felt that headteachers needed to understand their responsibilities to the RIC, and ensure they were accountable to the RIC for work they are doing on RIC workstreams.
2.24 A few regional and national stakeholders felt that they were still working through how the RICs fit into the education system. In some areas, there were discussions about whether the RICs were collaborations or entities, and a few regional stakeholders felt that this discussion had not been resolved. A few national stakeholders were concerned that RICs could move beyond their remit, with some concerns that local authorities were being by-passed on education matters.
"Are these collaborations or are they entities?"
"RICs are not an entity. We need to be careful that they don't become one."
Example: Agreeing the role of the RIC
In one area, there were different opinions on the role of the RIC, with Directors of Education having a "philosophical debate" about whether the RIC was an entity or a way of working. Some wanted to share staff, while others wanted to focus on enhanced collaboration in other ways.
School involvement in RIC set up
2.25 Many school staff indicated that they were not really involved in the set up of the RIC. Most were content with this and indicated that the process seemed positive and well organised.
"Headteachers are not interested in getting involved in the set up. We want to know how it will benefit our schools and our pupils."
"The approach has been positive. They have tried to take people along with it."
2.26 A few felt that while they were not involved, they received good information about the RIC journey, and felt well informed. A small number of headteachers involved in this research who had been involved in RIC boards said that this had been a positive experience.
2.27 A few headteachers indicated that RICs had evolved from previous joint working arrangements, which they felt was a positive starting point. However, a few in other areas indicated that RICs still seemed to be in planning stages, with little impact to date on schools. For example, one headteacher felt that the RIC was more a network of directors and did not yet involve schools. Another was a bit confused about the link between work to close the attainment gap (such as Attainment Advisors) and the RIC.
2.28 Overall, the guidance on establishing RICs and developing RIC plans was felt to be helpful in setting the framework and principles for RIC development.
"The Strategic Group report was very clear, good and thorough. It provided a template of a functioning collaborative."
2.29 However, there were concerns that the guidance:
- came a bit late - when RICs had already done work on governance and planning;
- was too prescriptive - with some aspects seen as "too instructional" or "a bit particular";
- did not fully recognise the time required to achieve the changes it set out - with a few feeling it did not reflect reality - or was "developed in isolation from the real world"; and
- created tensions between taking a bottom up and top down approach - both due to timescales and need to align to a national agenda.
"The guidance was fine, to a point. It does become a bit inflexible. The plan can't contain everything in each phase."
"If the policy intention is about a 'bottom-up' approach we are not there yet."
2.30 There was concern that in most cases, over the early stages of RIC development, there had not been additional resources available from the Scottish Government.
2.31 This created challenges as RIC activity had to be dictated by the capacity of local authorities. Some highlighted that budgets had shrunk, and some said that they had to make RIC plans when some of the posts they may draw on were being considered for potential cuts in the authority budget for 2018/19.
"The biggest barrier to success will be resources. All councils are currently struggling due to budget cuts."
2.32 Regional and national stakeholders indicated that local authorities were largely unable to provide backfill or cover for people involved in RIC activity.
"We were being asked to change the way we were working, and do significant extra work at the same time as carrying on with existing work."
"They have been constrained by the speed they have had to work at and the resources available to get things done."
2.33 However, in some areas there were resources available. For example, in one area, the authorities agreed to contribute to the RIC lead role. And in another, the role was a full time secondment, funded through additional resources. In this instance, the additional resources were felt to be very useful to kick start activity, allow for secondments, allow for dedicated time on RIC activity, enable cover and backfill and contribute to travel costs.
2.34 Two national stakeholders felt that it was a weakness of the RIC model that almost everything had been done without additional funding.
2.35 The availability of resources to support phase two plans was welcomed. However, some regional and national stakeholders felt that RICs should not have to bid for resources. A few suggested funding should have been allocated on a 'formula' basis. Some would have preferred to know about the resources at an earlier stage, to enable them to reflect this in their phase two plans.
"The development of the phase two plan would have been helped massively if we knew resources would follow. The range, scope, ambition and pace of our plan would have been significantly different if we had known there could have been dedicated money to support officers for the RIC."
Email: Keith Dryburgh
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback