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 7: Conclusions
This review explored the development and early impact of the RICs, three years after they were established. The review was largely qualitative and involved a desktop review as well as interviews with RIC leads, RIC teams, Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisors and wider regional improvement team members, elected members, national stakeholders and schools.
It should be noted that discussions with schools involved 53 interviews with staff from 50 schools - out of more than 2,500 schools and more than 2,400 early learning centres in Scotland. The schools selected were largely involved in RIC activity, to ensure the valuable time of school staff was used most effectively. Qualitative research can provide an in-depth understanding of experiences, feelings and behaviours but findings cannot be extrapolated to the whole school population.
RIC governance, resources and plans
This review found that there has been real progress since RICs were established, and since the interim review in late 2018. There is now a high level of confidence in RICs - in terms of their governance, structures and plans - and they have become established within the education system. There has been a real shift among elected members, with many becoming much more supportive and understanding of the added value of the RIC.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a considerable impact on schools and the education system. RICs strengthened their collaboration during this time, using existing networks to build their response to this crisis. Although this was an extremely busy and pressured time for all in the education system, the pandemic fostered stronger regional collaboration at all levels, including staff at very senior levels. The RICs helped local authority officers to collaborate in new ways and working collaboratively between local authorities became an accepted way of working.
While the pandemic put intense pressure on schools, most found that they were able to collaborate, share, learn and develop skills through the RIC. The RICs helped many schools to look outwards and learn from what others were doing, with a focus on outcomes for children and young people, at a time when the pressures may have made people feel unable to do so otherwise. The RICs also helped to provide opportunities for school leaders to collaborate and support one another through extremely difficult times, with headteachers and other senior leaders highly valuing the opportunity to work with one another through strong, supportive partnerships.
Engagement and support of schools
Since the interim review in 2018, there has been a real shift in awareness of RICs among schools. Most of the school staff involved in this review were aware of RIC priorities, and staff at different levels - beyond the headteacher and other senior leaders - had often been involved in RIC activities. Many found that as their work shifted online, due to the pandemic, this helped to increase awareness of and participation in RIC activities, particularly beyond the headteacher.
Through the opportunities made available through RICs, school staff learned new things and developed their skills. This helped staff to become more inquiring, reflective and drive forward improvement in their classroom. Senior leaders also developed skills around management, change, recovery and supporting staff.
During the pandemic, many schools were grappling with similar issues and looking for support or ideas around the same topics. The RICs, working with Education Scotland, helped to provide a co-ordinated regional approach to this support - particularly around online and blended learning and the SQA alternative certification model.
Evaluation and impact
From this review, there is evidence that RICs are having an impact on developing the skills of school staff, delivery of lessons, skills and consistency around assessment and moderation, leadership and improvement planning skills, collaboration between local authorities, and online learning opportunities for pupils.
RICs have developed systems to track the impact of their work and are on a journey around demonstrating impact. In their first three years, RICs have worked to refine their role, focus in on intended outcomes and develop appropriate measures.
There are many different ways in which RICs could facilitate and support collaboration for improvement - many different outcomes they could aim to achieve. The strongest evidence this review gathered around RIC impact was in relation to drivers for improvement - building teacher professionalism, strengthening assessment of children's progress, strengthening school leadership, school improvement and (in time) strengthening performance information. These are important outcomes for strengthening schools and the system, which should then result in ultimate benefit for children and young people in terms of improvement in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.
With the purpose of RICs being to support collaborative working, to secure excellence and equity in education, it is important to be focused and realistic about what impact RICs are expected to have, within the wide range of other activity taking place to support positive outcomes for children and young people.
Support and funding
Education Scotland regional improvement teams have co-produced and led a wide range of RIC activities, in a bespoke way, adding value and providing support and guidance. While collaborative relationships have strengthened over time, some expressed a need for more clarity about the role of Education Scotland within RICs and there remained some issues around effective joint working.
Overall funding levels for RICs were felt to be broadly appropriate, but there was a clear demand for a longer term funding commitment to allow RICs to take a more strategic and ambitious approach, and manage staff resources more effectively.
Many sought clarity on the future role of RICs, including confirmation of how RICs fit into the education system in Scotland as broad changes are being made. This would include clarification on national expectations of RICs and their purpose. This should be developed in a way which involves RICs, which are now felt to be established enough to feed into these conversations at national level.
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