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.
4. Joint working
Overall, most regional stakeholders believed that there was a shared vision and aims for their RIC, and that partners were broadly signed up to these at senior officer level. However, in one area a few regional stakeholders remained unsure of the rationale for RICs, and the evidence for adopting this approach.
In some RIC areas, a culture of working jointly across the region has developed at senior officer level - including Heads of Service, Directors of Education and Quality Improvement Officers. However, others felt it was too early to point to changes in joint working across the region.
In some RIC areas, a wide range of other stakeholders had been involved - including health, police, community learning, colleges, universities, young people and parents. In some areas, there had been a focus on involving young people in identifying and leading priorities within the RIC.
The main challenges to joint working included taking time to buy into and understand the concept of RICs; practical challenges; senior staffing changes; and cascading the vision to wider stakeholders and the classroom level. However, most felt it was important to note that the RICs had only very recently been set up, and that joint working would take time to develop.
Overall, the support offered by regional advisors was felt to be very good, with individuals perceived to be very supportive. There was recognition from regional and national stakeholders that Education Scotland was going through a period of organisational change at the time of RIC development. There were mixed views on the value of feedback on phase one plans.
Some highlighted that the Scottish Government had worked jointly with RICs through facilitating discussion and events, and producing guidance. However, regional stakeholders largely felt that they were not working jointly with the Scottish Government. Most felt that the Scottish Government set the agenda, and they were expected to deliver. There was a perception that the approach was very top-down, which was hard to marry with the bottom-up approach of the RICs.
Some regional stakeholders felt that it would have been useful if the Scottish Government and Education Scotland had been further ahead and could have given clearer messages about resources and support earlier in the RIC development process.
4.1 This chapter explores experiences of joint working, including:
- joint working at regional level; and
- joint working with national stakeholders.
4.2 This chapter is based mainly on feedback from regional and national stakeholders.
Joint working at regional level
A shared vision
4.3 Overall, most regional stakeholders believed that there was a shared vision and aims for their RIC, and that partners were broadly signed up to these at senior officer level. Stakeholders felt that meetings, events and away days had helped partners to develop a shared approach.
"I think that in the work we did for phase one of the plan we have developed a shared vision statement. This will underpin what is in phase two of the plan."
"We have the right people in the right room at the right time. We came together in genuine collaboration. There was a naturalness to it."
4.4 However, in one area a few regional stakeholders remained unsure of the rationale for RICs, and the evidence for adopting this approach.
"What problem are they trying to solve by the establishment of RICs? Why the RIC approach? What evidence says this will help?"
4.5 One national stakeholder felt that some RICs had struggled to grasp the concept of the opportunity, and the benefits of collaboration.
4.6 A few regional stakeholders in one area felt that the RIC plan was very education focused in their language, and that the governance arrangements for the RIC excluded wider partners beyond the education sector. These stakeholders felt that more needed to be done on culture and partnership working across sectors and themes, to ensure that people buy in to the positive benefits of the RIC.
Improvements in joint working at regional level
4.7 Regional and national stakeholders gave a range of examples highlighting how joint working at regional level had developed and strengthened over the first six months of RIC operation. In some RIC areas, a culture of working jointly across the region had developed, particularly with senior level officials working together - including Heads of Service, Directors of Education and Quality Improvement Officers.
"Within their day to day work, officers now think what is happening in the other areas. To be honest, a year ago that wouldn't have been how they operated."
"I enjoy working with the other Directors of Education. It feels less isolated and it is better having a collaborative view on things… It is good to extend your view beyond your own local authority and see what is working elsewhere."
"There is a different mindset at senior level. People are prepared to share experiences and work across council boundaries, and they can see that this will benefit the system in the longer term."
4.8 However, some felt it was too early to say. A few regional stakeholders indicated that joint working between local authority areas was not new, and it was important to recognise that partnership work had already been taking place.
"There hasn't been enough time for things to bed in, or to form proper relationships."
Example: Connecting practice around parental engagement
In one area, collaborative capacity was developed through the authorities and schools within the RIC sharing practice around Pupil Equity Funding. In another, as they looked at PEF approaches, they realised all authorities in the RIC were struggling with parental engagement. They are therefore focusing collectively on this.
Example: Connecting practice around numeracy
In one area, educational psychologists realised that they were all working on small tests of change around numeracy. They have combined this into one workstream, which is linked to the RIC numeracy workstream. This has provided "even greater connectivity".
Example: Pooling early years resources
In one area, the local authorities pooled their early years resources provided by Scottish Government to provide 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare for pre five children. The authorities pooled expertise across the RIC to deliver on this key Scottish Government priority, and appointed a lead officer to lead this work. They looked at best practice across the region, and there were opportunities for the authorities to learn from one another and share practice.
Challenges to joint working
4.9 Regional stakeholders identified a number of challenges to joint working:
- buy-in to the concept - a few regional stakeholders reported that some local authorities were initially wary of the RIC agenda and not convinced of the benefits;
- confusion about the concept - in one area, stakeholders reported a public perception that the RIC was there because the local authority was not performing well, which resulted in different levels of engagement with the RIC;
- practical challenges - getting key people together (particularly across large geographies), co-ordinating diaries, progressing workstreams and releasing people to be involved in RIC activity;
- changes to high level staff - requiring further work to consolidate vision and build relationships;
- working with wider stakeholders - across regions which have different boundaries from the RICs; and
- cascading the vision to the classroom level - although regional stakeholders felt it was still early days for this.
"It involves compromise, letting go of practice that people probably hold dear, persuasion…"
"We are full of enthusiasm and passion when we meet. Then we go back to our day jobs."
"We need to work on changing attitudes and improving practice… Local authorities need to be honest with each other and less territorial."
4.10 Regional stakeholders highlighted the importance of nurturing collaboration over time and keeping momentum, to address these challenges. A few stressed that the RICs necessitated cultural change which would take place over a long time period and required resources.
"Collaboration takes time and resource and can't be done on a zero budget."
"There is a real tension for staff about doing what they are paid to do and finding time to get involved in wider RIC work."
4.11 In one area, regional stakeholders strongly felt that a full time RIC lead was required to drive the RIC and support joint working. In another area, a wider regional stakeholder felt it could be very challenging to keep up with the volume of information around the RIC.
"Without a lead, the RIC lost a bit of impetus. It is really important that it is driven… Without someone taking on that as a full-time role, it is very difficult to do."
Engagement with other stakeholders
4.12 In some RIC areas, stakeholders highlighted that a wide range of other stakeholders had been involved - including health, police, community learning, colleges, universities, young people and parents. As part of this review, a small number of these wider stakeholders were interviewed.
4.13 One parent interviewed as part of this review was supportive of the RIC plans, but concerned that parents didn't currently have a mechanism for feeding into priorities at regional level. While recognising the challenges of engaging with parents, as a complex group of people with very different ideas and values, she hoped that RICs would spend time on exploring new methods and approaches for communicating and engaging with parents.
4.14 One college interviewed as part of this review felt that its links with schools had developed greatly through involvement in a RIC workstream, focusing on making better links between schools and colleges. Involvement in this workstream had resulted in an increase in the number of students coming to the college from across the region. The college had also begun sharing data with the local authorities and schools, to facilitate joint working.
"Our work with local schools has really taken off as a result of our involvement in the RIC."
Example: Engaging with universities
In one RIC, a local university is a key partner. The university representative feels very involved in the governance of the RIC. The university plays a key role in ensuring that the RIC takes a research and evidence based approach to its work.
"The RIC is very inclusive and involving."
4.15 In some areas, there had been a focus on involving young people in identifying priorities. For example, in one area, the RIC set up a children's and young people's group, led by two headteachers. This group identified mental and emotional wellbeing as a key priority, and there is now a new RIC workstream on this theme, led by young people.
Joint working between RICs
4.16 Finally, a small number of regional and national stakeholders highlighted the importance of the relationships between regional leads, who had supported one another in a positive manner. Some regional leads felt that this type of support was very important.
"There is a real feeling that they are all in this together, and there is a real willingness to work together and support each other."
"Support is important in a role like this. There is a long list of priorities and the nature of the role could be quite lonely."
Working with national stakeholders
Working with Education Scotland
4.17 There was recognition from regional and national stakeholders that Education Scotland was going through a period of organisational change at the time of RIC development.
"Education Scotland is perhaps currently recognised as being in a state of transition… Arrangements for how Education Scotland will interact with RICS, and the balance between support and challenge, are being rehearsed."
4.18 Overall, the support offered by regional advisors was felt to be very good, with individuals perceived to be very supportive. Advisors had helped with collating and sharing data, sharing information between RICs and providing both support and challenge.
4.19 A few stakeholders felt that the relationship between advisors and RICs could be variable due to the skills, capacity and individual workload of regional advisors. Some regional and national stakeholders suggested that RICs did not feel as supported as they could have been, and that there was a lack of clarity about the role of Education Scotland, and the support available to RICs beyond the regional advisor. However, two national stakeholders and some regional stakeholders felt that the new Chief Executive had helped to bring more clarity and a positive approach.
"The Education Scotland partnership is evolving and getting better."
4.20 One national stakeholder felt that there was a high level of expectation about phase two support, and that the dynamics of the relationship between RICs and Education Scotland could change depending on the support provided.
4.21 While regional stakeholders in one area found feedback on their phase one RIC plan useful, most others felt it was unhelpful and some felt it was a little patronising. Regional stakeholders felt that there should be more recognition of the expertise and skills of those involved in the RICs, through peer review, and more focus on working collaboratively with Education Scotland - as is planned for the phase two RIC plan review process.
4.22 A few regional and national stakeholders also highlighted that as Education Scotland became more involved in RICs, there was a need to think carefully about how RICs were reviewed and evaluated independently.
Working with Scottish Government
4.23 Some highlighted that the Scottish Government had worked jointly through:
- working with COSLA and others to explore the scope and terms of reference for RICs;
- facilitating discussion between RIC leads through the Scottish Education Council;
- offered access to the thoughts of ministers;
- facilitated access to key groups leading on education reform;
- worked with Education Scotland to produce guidance on RIC development;
- involved some regional stakeholders in developing guidance and templates for bidding for resources; and
- supported the development of PEF (Pupil Equity Fund) workshops based on RIC areas.
4.24 One regional stakeholder felt very included in the development of national policy and practice around RICs.
"We can be part of putting the picture together."
4.25 However, regional stakeholders largely felt that they were not working jointly with the Scottish Government. Most felt that the Scottish Government set the agenda, and they were expected to deliver. There was a perception that the approach was very top-down, which was hard to marry with the bottom-up approach of the RICs. Many felt that there was a lack of communication and some mixed messages. The tone and language used in some Scottish Government correspondence upset some stakeholders, and created a feeling of distrust and disquiet among some.
"There are so many changes about expectations going forward. What is the direction of travel?"
4.26 Most regional stakeholders were concerned about the timetable for developing RIC plans. One national stakeholder felt that civil service views were very fixed, and that there had been too much influence over RIC development from senior national political figures.
"There is a political requirement to be seen to make progress."
4.27 Some regional stakeholders felt that it would have been useful if the Scottish Government and Education Scotland had been further ahead and could have given clearer messages about resources and support earlier in the RIC development process.
Email: Keith Dryburgh
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