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.
5. Engagement with schools
School staff, regional and national stakeholders all felt that engagement with schools through the RIC was at very early stages. Often, engagement with schools was targeted, working with a small number of schools to test theories of change and demonstrate proof of concept.
Regional stakeholders indicated that awareness about the support that the RIC can provide, and what is provided by the local authority, was a work in progress. Most felt strongly that the key point of initial contact for schools should be their local authority.
The interviews with schools through this research focused on those who had been involved in the RIC in some way. All had heard of the RIC for their region and most knew who their RIC lead was.
School staff felt that the purpose of RICs related to sharing best practice, making connections and building consistency. School staff felt that this was being done with the aim of supporting school improvement, and ultimately improving outcomes for children and young people. Most were very positive about the RIC concept.
Headteachers and other school staff largely felt that it would take time to see an impact in schools. Most felt that up to this point, the RIC had probably not been visible to the teacher in the classroom.
Some gave early examples of sharing best practice in a more structured way than before. Those involved in sharing practice enjoyed seeing what others were doing, felt it brought a fresh perspective, were energised and were picking up ideas of how to do things differently in their own school.
Some school staff highlighted examples of how their skills had developed through being involved in the early work of the RIC. Some had been involved in targeted work around leadership, self-evaluation, improvement methodologies, moderation of assessment, parental engagement, maths, early literacy and equality. Some gave examples of how the RIC had influenced their practice and school approaches in these areas.
5.1 This chapter explores:
- the approaches RICs have taken so far to engaging with schools;
- awareness of RICs among school staff - mainly headteachers;
- the impact of RICs on schools so far - over the first few months of RIC activity; and
- the approaches RICs have taken to ensuring that schools understand what is available from the RIC, and what is available elsewhere.
5.2 This chapter is largely based on interviews with 47 headteachers and principal teachers in 42 schools across Scotland.
5.3 It is important to note that these interviews were specifically targeted at schools which had been involved, in some way, in the RIC.
5.4 The chapter also includes reflections from regional and national stakeholders in relation to their engagement with schools.
RIC approaches to engagement with schools
5.5 Most regional and national stakeholders felt that engagement with schools through the RIC was at very early stages. Stakeholders felt a sense of achievement in establishing their RIC, developing plans, and beginning early stages of engagement. One national stakeholder emphasised that it was a huge achievement that the RICs have developed into something identifiable over their early stages of development, and that it was too early to assess or review levels of engagement with schools.
5.6 Regional stakeholders highlighted that engagement with schools had been targeted, working with a small number of schools to test theories of change and demonstrate proof of concept. Some were reticent about approaching schools and teachers until they had something that all frontline teachers could use in their schools.
5.7 Most RICs had undertaken awareness raising work with headteachers. Approaches varied between different regions, but included:
- RIC launch events and PEF events (jointly with the Scottish Government);
- letters, newsletters, bulletins and question and answer papers;
- presentations to headteacher forums and groups - and providing copies of presentations for headteachers to use with their staff;
- developing a social media presence for the RIC - and using video clips to provide information about the RIC plan;
- consultation with headteachers (and in some cases class teachers);
- conferences for headteachers and teachers - focusing on key themes such as maths; and
- meeting with trade union representatives.
5.8 Regional stakeholders felt that the PEF events were a good opportunity to raise awareness of the RIC. Some were focusing on developing digital approaches to engage with schools in the future, particularly those operating over large geographical areas. For example, in one area, partners were setting up a RIC Hub and Microsoft teams to help connect headteachers, practitioners and schools. In another area, the RIC set up a shared database to help share priorities, information and best practice between schools, as part of the school improvement workstream.
5.9 National stakeholders felt that within each RIC area, some schools would have been very involved in RIC activity, while others may not know what the RIC is.
5.10 In most RIC areas there had been some engagement beyond headteachers with a small number of schools involved in RIC workstreams. These schools were more heavily involved in RIC activity, with a wider range of staff involved including principal teachers and class teachers. And in one area, 80 principal teachers had been brought together at a regional event focusing on closing the poverty related attainment gap.
Clarity of provision for schools
5.11 Regional stakeholders indicated that awareness about the support that the RIC can provide, and what is provided by the local authority, was a work in progress. Most felt strongly that the key point of initial contact for schools should be their local authority. Stakeholders stressed that the RIC was a collaboration, not an entity within the education system. Local authorities were seen to be the most appropriate place for ongoing support and challenge, with schools signposted by authorities to other sources of support as needed.
5.12 However, in some areas, RICs were beginning to co-ordinate their support and develop regional approaches such as:
- developing a regional directory of support;
- developing a regional subject specialist network for secondary schools; and
- establishing joint systems for career long professional learning.
5.13 Regional stakeholders indicated that care needed to be taken to be clear that RIC activity focuses on what can be achieved jointly, as stated within their plan. There was some concern that RIC leads were being asked to act as a conduit to schools, when this role should continue to be undertaken at local authority level.
"There is a kind of expectation that the RIC will do everything… RIC activity needs to be related to the priorities in the plan."
5.14 It was clear that in some areas, there were different views about the types of activity the RIC should be getting involved in, between partners, and to what extent schools should be able to drive activity.
Example: Barriers to school led approaches
In one area, headteachers attended an event and decided to get together and develop a common approach to maths across the authorities. However, a regional stakeholder reported that one of the Directors of Education was not comfortable with this approach and did not feel that this is the type of work the RIC should be doing. The headteachers therefore ceased their work in this area.
"It shows that at the end of the day, one individual director can say no. We all need to cede a degree of autonomy."
Example: Barriers to school led approaches
In one area, school staff booked to go to RIC sessions under one of the workstreams but were then told they were not to attend. At this school teachers felt it wasn't clear what parts of the RIC the local authority was committed to, and weren't sure which workstreams the authority was participating in.
5.15 In one area, regional stakeholders reported that there was some concern from teachers and headteachers about who they were accountable to, and the RIC worked hard to make sure they understood they remained accountable to the local authority who employs them. However, in two other areas regional stakeholders felt that teachers really wouldn't notice much difference and wouldn't mind whether it was the RIC or local authority providing the support - as long as they were able to access the help they needed.
"Some fear that this is another layer of bureaucracy. But it should be a creative space, an experiment… a test bed for innovation. It is a space not a place."
School staff awareness of RICs
5.16 All of the school staff involved in this research had heard of the RIC for their region. Most knew who their RIC lead was - and those who did not largely referred to a workstream lead who had led the area of work they had been most involved in.
5.17 Interviews with headteachers and other school staff who had been involved in the RICs indicated a clear view that the purpose of the RICs was to:
- share best practice - sharing experiences, approaches and insights across the whole region, beyond local authority boundaries;
- make connections - developing professional networks and enabling professional dialogue, with access to a wider range of people to support schools;
- build consistency and shared priorities - encouraging consistent practice and building common approaches to learning and teaching; and
- share resources and build capacity - in some areas, school staff felt the RIC was there to help authorities to share resources and costs and add value through collaboration.
5.18 School staff felt that this was being done with the aim of supporting school improvement, and ultimately improving outcomes for children and young people.
"We want to keep quality high so that children have uniform quality experiences across the authorities."
Headteacher, early years
"I see it as an opportunity to pick other people's brains and to share ideas and approaches."
5.19 Most school staff were very positive about the RIC concept, welcoming the opportunity to learn from others and share practice.
"We are always keen to learn from other colleagues. It's really good for teachers to be aware of what other people are doing."
"As a headteacher it's about learning and challenging my own practice and improving my school."
"It's what we are looking for. We can all help each other through sharing best practice and true collaboration."
5.20 Many were very positive about the opportunity for cross-boundary working that the RIC could offer.
"We are beginning to see the light in terms of the power of collaboration, and not being bound by the local authority."
"To share good practice and raise attainment across the authorities, rather than us all reinventing the wheel."
5.21 However, one headteacher felt that the RIC had been forced on local authorities and could not yet see the value for schools. A few stressed that RICs should enhance, and not replace, the support function of local authorities.
"I am not sure where the RICs fit, they have been forced upon us. Where's the added value?"
School involvement in RICs
5.22 Overall, many headteachers felt that communication through the RIC had been good. There was recognition that RICs were still in early stages, and a feeling that leads had tried hard to communicate with headteachers. A few indicated that the pace was good, and not too quick, which could be overwhelming. A few pointed to good use of newsletters, events for headteachers and online communication such as Sway presentations.
5.23 Most headteachers had been involved in the RIC through conferences, events, launch sessions or briefing sessions. School staff felt positive and excited by events bringing people together and valued the opportunities to share good practice.
5.24 Some schools had been involved in small scale work around specific workstreams, and this was highly valued. This had provided opportunities to network, a source of advice and support, and access to specialist training.
5.25 A few school staff felt that there was a need to focus on resourcing joint working, with some finding it hard to get time out of class to attend joint meetings, and fund travel and subsistence in geographically large regions.
"The logistics of collaboration are complicated and also expensive, due to the scale and geography of the region."
"Some funding is needed to help run the RICs, and to take some pressure off regional leads. If this is left to the goodwill of senior officers, then this might impact on the sustainability of RICs in the longer term."
Impact on schools
5.26 Headteachers and other school staff largely felt that the RIC had only recently been established, and that it would take time to see an impact in schools. Most felt that up to this point, the RIC had probably not been visible to the teacher in the classroom. A few school staff felt that this was because of a focus on small scale tests of change, with the RIC taking a gentle approach to testing ideas and then engaging with a wider range of schools.
"Headteachers and senior leads know about the RIC, but it has not had an impact at classroom level yet."
"My own school already has a clear plan on how to improve literacy and numeracy, so we haven't felt any impact of these workstreams… It hasn't been heavily influential."
Sharing best practice
5.27 Many headteachers said it was too early to see examples of schools working together across the RIC to share best practice. However most were very positive about the idea, and keen to take up opportunities to share best practice.
5.28 Some headteachers and principal teachers gave examples of sharing best practice through:
- Events - Launch events and briefings for RICs helped some schools to develop new connections and networks, although some were keen for this to develop into deeper joint working. Events focusing on particular themes, such as maths, literacy or closing the attainment gap, were valued as helping to develop new ideas and motivate staff to think differently about their practice.
"It was very collaborative… Everybody came to the table really positive about moving forward. I think it's really important to have these connections between authorities… for the benefit of children across Scotland."
Headteacher, early years
- Visits - Some school staff had visited other schools, nurseries or family learning centres across the RIC to learn and share good practice, or had hosted visits to their own school. Where this had happened, school staff were very positive that this had built relationships, enabled schools to learn from one another, and provided opportunities to discuss issues.
"We now have a database that can identify schools doing work in certain areas. This helps us to connect with other schools within and beyond our local authority area."
- Clusters, partners and networks - Through the RIC, some schools have been able to develop clusters or networks of similar schools across the region. For example, a few schools in areas of deprivation felt that the RIC enabled them to connect with schools with similar demographics. This could be small scale - for example breakfast meetings with a similar school in a different area - or larger scale - such as a forum or network to discuss maths, literacy or another key theme. This helped make sharing of practice particularly relevant, through linking with similar schools or focusing on a particular theme, across local authority areas.
"It was good to have the chance to talk to people from other schools… It was good to see examples and to have a set of comparisons."
5.29 Headteachers and other school staff involved in these approaches felt that the RIC had helped them to share practice in a more structured way, enabling this across local authorities. A few mentioned that they may previously have heard about what was happening in another area in a more informal way - for example through friends - but that the RIC was providing more structured opportunities for headteachers, principal teachers and others to come together. Those involved in sharing practice enjoyed seeing what others were doing, felt it brought a fresh perspective, were energised and were picking up ideas of how to do things differently in their own school.
"There is now a more structured approach to making collaborations happen."
"It is helping us to find out what others are doing."
5.30 Most regional and national stakeholders also felt that there were signs that schools were willing and positive about sharing practice, and that a culture of sharing practice was beginning to develop - in its early stages. For example:
- In one RIC area, stakeholders felt that school clusters at local authority level now have the disposition to look across the RIC authorities, to see what they can do together and what links they can make.
- In one area, there are twilight sessions for schools involved in tests of change to share their experience.
- In one area, headteachers have agreed to use a common approach to assessment and moderation across the RIC area.
- In one area, the RIC wondered about creating families of schools based on levels of deprivation. However, the schools wanted to work together on themes, like senior phase pathways. This is felt to be a more genuinely bottom up approach, led by the schools.
- In one area, a high school was identified as a centre of excellence for maths. The school has invited other local authorities to come and see what they are doing and share their experience. So far, two authorities from the RIC have benefited from this.
"The local authorities are talking to each other and we're starting to align priorities."
"Being able to share practice has been terrific. I've learnt lots."
Example: Joint work on equality issues
In one area, the RIC set up a group focusing on equality issues. One principal teacher found this a great opportunity to share best practice, find out what other schools were doing, learn new things and make new contacts. The principal teacher now feels more able to link with other schools across the region, and work with wider partners including equality forums and groups. There were also opportunities for pupils to get involved.
"Schools often work in isolation. They need to be able to find out what other schools are doing and learn from good practice."
Principal teacher. secondary
Example: Sharing practice through school visits
In one area, colleagues from the region came to one school to see how they were using Word Aware, and the school staff will be going to other authorities to see some good practice in other schools.
"I'm hugely into collaboration and normally we don't get out enough to see other places - so its hugely inspiring."
5.31 While for most the RIC was in its early stages of development, some school staff highlighted examples of how their skills had developed through being involved in the early work of the RIC. Some had been involved in targeted work around leadership, self-evaluation, improvement methodologies, moderation of assessment, parental engagement, maths, early literacy and equality. The headteachers who had been involved indicated that they had developed new skills through this involvement.
"It has upskilled me. I am now more knowledgeable about parental engagement."
"It has supported the leadership of the teachers. It's given them the opportunity to lead."
5.32 In some cases, skills development opportunities had extended to principal teachers, class teachers and support workers. For example in one school, in a region where the RIC was well established, classroom assistants had been upskilled and were adopting new approaches through the emerging literacy programme. In another school, two teachers attended events on moderation of assessment and returned to the school to cascade knowledge to all school staff. Headteachers felt that staff involved in these events came back to the school feeling more enthused and knowledgeable.
"It has brought more of a coaching approach to the way I lead my team."
Principal teacher, secondary
"I have really welcomed the support from the numeracy workstream. It has been a great opportunity for my school."
Example: Maths champions
In one school, a teacher was chosen to be a maths champion for RIC activity. This has involved "rich CPD for staff" and close joint working with other schools. Overall, school leadership felt the approach had worked well. The maths champion has received professional recognition, developed her leadership skills and progressed into a leadership role in the school.
5.33 A few headteachers also welcomed learning around models of improvement, which has helped to develop approaches to measure progress and impact within the school.
"The Scottish Government training was invaluable. It was a real treat being able to pick the brains of specialists… It has helped me to develop a more robust approach to evaluation."
5.34 Most headteachers indicated that it was early days in RIC activity and it had yet to influence practice in their school. However, some gave examples of how involvement in the RIC had influenced their practice and school approaches. This included:
- A new approach to numeracy developed by the RIC had influenced school approaches to numeracy. This was supported by in-service training for class teachers, and champions to support the new approach.
- A new approach to emerging literacy helped to introduce new practices in some schools, and increased collaborative work with speech and language. In one school, staff have thought about using different resources, and have consulted and planned their approach with nursery colleagues. This has had a real impact on planning. They have also developed their own online way of measuring attainment, tracking children from nursery to P1 stage.
- In one area, schools highlighted that the RIC has enabled discussions around consistent use of teachers' professional judgement across a range of subject areas. For example, a joint approach to the curricular progression framework has been developed for design and technology, within broad general education.
- After being involved in RIC work around moderation of assessment, one headteacher immediately implemented some changes - particularly around simplifying the learning intentions and success criteria.
- In one school, involvement in a RIC group around PEF and parental engagement encouraged the school to think about how it engages with parents. The headteacher attended the group and came back to discuss approaches with her depute and principal teachers. This has helped them to develop a more focused approach to engaging with parents.
"It has been collaborative and we have had the flex to take the learning where we wanted."
Acting headteacher, primary
"There is so much support available. It has had a very positive impact on the class and the children. I am a happier teacher and have a happier class."
Class teacher, primary
5.35 A few felt that the RIC approach gave them the ideas to develop practice in a way that suited their school.
"It has absolutely transformed my practice. I got to hear about the most current effective practices. It helped me change what I was doing, which, frankly, wasn't good enough. And now that has been spread across the school."
"It was worthwhile because it made me become really, really methodical about what I was looking for - to really think about what I am trying to teach. And I think that anything that makes you look at your teaching is useful."
"My eyes have been opened. It really helps you to have a more strategic approach to looking at priorities and what you are doing in school."
5.36 Almost all schools involved in this research said that they were not yet at the stage of sharing data across the RIC. However, some said that they had been doing work at regional level on how to measure impact, how to share data and how to target activities. A few said they had learned about data through the RIC.
"I learned a lot about our school and how it compares statistically across my cluster and neighbouring clusters."
Email: Keith Dryburgh
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