Schools - Regional Improvement Collaboratives: review
This report sets out findings of a review of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs). The review was commissioned jointly by Scottish Government and COSLA.
Chapter 6: Support and funding
- Education Scotland regional improvement teams have co-produced, led and been involved in a wide range of RIC activities, including supporting networks, delivering learning, quality assurance, peer review and direct support to schools.
- Education Scotland provides support to each RIC in a bespoke manner. Regional stakeholders felt that collaborative relationships had strengthened over time.
- Some regional and national stakeholders felt the partnership between RICs and Education Scotland regional improvement teams was useful and helped to drive improvement, with access to specific support and guidance. Some felt that there remained some tensions in the relationship due to a lack of clarity around the role of Education Scotland.
- Stakeholders felt overall existing funding levels were broadly appropriate, but that a longer-term funding commitment would allow RICs to take a more strategic and ambitious approach and enable staff resources to be managed more effectively.
- Overall, regional stakeholders felt that the policy direction around RICs so far had been clear, but it was important to have clarity on the future, including confirmation of how RICs fit into the education system in Scotland as broad changes are being made.
This chapter explores views on RIC support, funding and guidance. It focuses on:
- partnerships between RICs and Education Scotland Senior regional improvement teams
- funding processes and any suggested improvement to this.
For context, the interim review of RICs in 2018 found that regional stakeholders felt that the support offered by Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisors was good and helpful. At that time, regional stakeholders were interested to see how the regional offer of support from Education Scotland would develop in the future. Since then, Education Scotland developed its core offer of support to RICs and to schools over 2018/19 and created six Regional Improvement Teams. This involved recruiting additional staff to provide further expert support to each RIC. These teams support the RICs as well as help local authorities, schools, practitioners and other educational partners.
At the time of the interim review, regional stakeholders also welcomed the availability of resources to support the next phase of RIC activity, with most feeling that early phases of RIC development were challenged by limited resources and tight timescales. Since then, between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the Scottish Government has committed a total of approximately £21 million of additional funding support to the RICs.
Partnerships with Education Scotland
Education Scotland regional improvement teams have been involved in a wide range of RIC activities. Senior Regional Advisors were able to provide support and challenge at RIC meetings, co-ordinate resources and support from Education Scotland - regionally or nationally - and provide strategic support in a bespoke, fluid and organic manner rather than as a standard product or offer.
"It feels as if we have been on a journey to become more collaborative. We are definitely in a better place." Regional stakeholder
Through the wider regional improvement teams, scrutiny staff and national staff, Education Scotland also provided support including:
- quality assuring and peer reviewing learning resources and materials
- supporting establishment of and co-facilitating virtual networks
- supporting delivery of professional learning activities
- delivering festivals and events
- directly supporting school leaders and practitioners
- signposting to specialist colleagues
- supporting schools to share practice
- providing tailored direct support to schools as identified by local authorities and RICs.
Example: Northern Alliance - Joint work on pupil equity
Education Scotland worked with the RIC to offer the Pupil Equity Week programme, with approximately 900 teachers engaging with the offer. From this event, work is now being taken forward by schools looking at the cost of the school day. Schools are now making more effective use of data to improve outcomes for individual children and young people through engagement with class based improvement projects and analysing data over time.
Example: Tayside RIC - Sharing resources
As part of the TRIC school improvement project, central officers from across the RIC authorities are creating a practical toolkit to support schools in effective self-evaluation for improvement in learning, teaching and assessment. Resources from each of the local authorities are being collated and quality assured to create an interactive resource for all Tayside schools to support their professional learning and self-evaluation. Central officers have worked with colleagues from Education Scotland through regional staff and HMIE.
Senior Regional Advisors worked very closely with RIC leads and Directors of Education during the pandemic - with daily contact over critical periods. They were able to provide information, act as a sounding board, support problem solving and ensure voices were heard at national level. In some cases, Senior Regional Advisors helped to co-ordinate and manage requests for information from Scottish Government.
The views of regional and national stakeholders on partnerships between RICs and Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisors and wider regional improvement teams were mixed.
Some regional stakeholders felt that the partnership was useful and helped to drive improvement. These stakeholders talked of the Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisor feeling very much part of the team, having a good relationship, sharing information and guidance, and participating in regular one to one and group discussions. Often these relationships had developed and strengthened over time, and there was now a close and embedded relationship, with Education Scotland regional improvement teams collaborating and supporting delivery of RIC priorities and workstreams. Stakeholders talked of being able to access specific support, for example through Attainment Advisors, NIF Officers or Community Learning and Development staff.
"It is about the sharing of the resource to benefit the workstreams and the young people." Regional stakeholder
National stakeholders indicated that over time, partnerships between the RIC and regional improvement teams within Education Scotland had developed and strengthened.
Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative - Joint work
As part of the SWEIC's work on improving attainment in broad general education, a great deal of work took place to develop shared approaches to assessment and moderation across the four local authorities. For example, Quality Assurance and Moderation Support Officers (QAMSO's) in each of the local authorities worked together to get consensus and agree a consistent approach to four stages in a level at broad general education.
Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - Joint work
In SEIC, Education Scotland co-designed and co-delivered the depute head Connect programme. Education Scotland's South East Improvement Team also co-designed and co-delivered the Inclusion and Equity professional learning programme, and played a key role in the Intensive Quality Improvement Programme. This programme aimed to use the model of improvement to support schools to enhance learner attendance or engagement. The South East Improvement Team also led the SEIC's Digital Needs Analysis leading to a shared logic model and digital improvement plan across the SEIC. Education Scotland also provided tailored support to individual schools following up on previous inspections.
Example: West Partnership - Joint work
Education Scotland staff work in partnership across all three workstreams. For example, this has included helping develop online learning opportunities through quality assuring remote learning resources and materials for West OS. Education Scotland also co-facilitated virtual networks for headteachers and other school staff, jointly with the RIC team officers.
Example: Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC - Re-visioning
In FVWL RIC Education Scotland played a key role during the pandemic through supporting the RIC to re-vision and re-structure. Education Scotland led sessions on developing a vision and values for the RIC and exploring governance options, with the aim of gathering views and providing options for the new RIC lead and partner authorities. Education Scotland focused on stimulating thinking and providing options, rather than suggesting a precise model.
Some regional stakeholders felt that there were some tensions in the relationship between RICs and Education Scotland regional improvement teams. Some felt there was a lack of clarity around the role of Education Scotland. As Education Scotland regional improvement teams became more involved in co-design and co-delivery, both regional and national stakeholders felt that there could be tension in the roles of planning activity, delivering and signing off plans. A few stakeholders suggested increasing the role of peer review, between RICs, may help with this.
"It is difficult to co-create a plan when one of the partners is involved in marking your homework." Regional stakeholder
A few regional stakeholders felt that while relationships had settled in at regional level, wider structures and systems within Education Scotland had not moved on in the same way. A few pointed to delays in accessing support, information or approvals from Education Scotland. A few said that they managed to make the relationship work, and that Education Scotland teams added value, but that it took a lot of effort and there could be issues around effective joint working. A few regional stakeholders felt that Education Scotland believes it has a role in sanctioning, governing or signing off the work of the RICs.
"You can see tension in the system. This is a barrier that needs to be removed." Regional stakeholder
A few regional and national stakeholders felt that RICs could do more to involve Education Scotland as a key partner, co-creating and co-delivering activities within a blended approach involving RICs and regional improvement teams. A few stressed that Education Scotland regional teams brought a large staff team and resource, to support and complement RIC delivery. Some felt that there was potential to further join up the offer, make the most of the regional improvement teams and reduce duplication and overlap. For example, a few felt that the environment was a little cluttered in terms of leadership and learning opportunities for practitioners.
Senior regional stakeholders all agreed that funding for the RICs was vital and made a huge difference to the capacity of the RICs and what they were able to do. Elected members agreed that funding added weight to the RIC and enabled the delivery of plans. Overall regional stakeholders felt that funding levels were about right.
"We have had staff able to engage fully and develop the workstreams." Regional stakeholder
Regional stakeholders felt that a longer term funding commitment, for example of three or five years, would be better than annual rounds of funding. It would:
- allow RICs to take a longer term and more strategic approach, focusing on improvement over the longer term
- simplify the planning cycle - which could be linked to wider plans such as Children's Services plans
- enable staff resources to be managed more effectively - reducing staff turnover and associated turbulence in RIC teams and ensure the highest quality staff are involved in the RIC
- enable RICs to be more ambitious and less risk averse in their plans
- reduce the amount of time spent planning and increase the amount of time spent delivering.
"I would like to see a move to a three year planning and funding stream." Regional stakeholder
"The year-on-year allocation of funding for RICs poses an issue for their sustainability longer term." Elected member
"We need a clear steer from government that RICs are here to stay." Regional stakeholder
Regional stakeholders had mixed views on the process of bidding for funding. While some found it very helpful, and were able to achieve what was needed, others felt it would be useful to review the funding approach and make funding proportionate to the numbers and profile of children in the region. One national stakeholder indicated that if a funding formula was introduced, it would be important to explore fair approaches to this as the RICs are very different.
A few regional stakeholders felt that while funding was important, it was also very important not to have too much funding as RICs may then be seen as separate entities. A few felt that it was a balance - people needed to see collaboration and RIC activity as their day job, but that certain support functions were also needed. A few, in one RIC area, felt that it was important that the balance felt right, if local authorities are having to make cuts then new posts through RICs doesn't always feel right. A small number of regional stakeholders questioned whether funding would be better going directly to local authorities or schools.
"It needs a mature debate around funding." Regional stakeholder
National stakeholders also felt that it was important to have a conversation around funding of RICs. Most felt that annual funding doesn't help and that longer term funding would provide more sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness. One national stakeholder felt that funding for RICs was not intended to be long term, and that any further funding would need to be clearly linked to demonstrable impact.
"More certainty is needed on funding, if RICs are to be sustainable." National stakeholder
Overall, senior staff involved in RICs felt that the policy direction around RICs so far had been clear, but that they were keen to know what would happen next for RICs. Some national stakeholders also mentioned that during the pandemic, there had naturally been less focus on the strategic role of the RICs at national level. Senior regional stakeholders had also found that due to the pandemic, their links with Scottish Government had been slightly reduced. Regional stakeholders were pleased that meetings involving RIC leads across Scotland were re-commencing after being paused during the pandemic.
Some stakeholders felt that it was important to have clarity on a range of issues including:
- reassurance that responsibility for education would remain with local authorities
- confirmation of how RICs fit into the education system in Scotland, as broad changes are being made
- careful consideration about how RIC and Education Scotland regional improvement team roles align
- confirmation of whether RICs will be a permanent feature of the Scottish education system, to provide stability.
Most national stakeholders also highlighted that it was important to clarify the role of RICs within the wider education system, including national expectations of RICs, the purpose of RICs and what we hope to gain from them.
A few national stakeholders also felt that national clarifications needed to be developed jointly, involving RICs - who were now in a good place to feed into these conversations at national level. A few highlighted it was important that national clarifications fit with the principles of an empowered system and bottom-up development of the RICs.
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