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.
About this report
This report sets out findings of a review of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs). The review was commissioned jointly by Scottish Government and COSLA. The overall aim of the review was to secure an independent analysis of the development and early impact of the RICs, focusing on themes around governance, collaboration, engagement with schools, planning, evaluation, use of data and support for RICs.
The review involved a desktop review as well as interviews with:
- RIC leads (6)
- wider RIC team members, workstream leads and partners (24)
- Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisors (6)
- wider regional improvement team members (6)
- elected members (6)
- national stakeholders including COSLA, Education Scotland, Scottish Government, ADES and SOLACE (10)
- 53 school staff at 50 schools identified as being involved in RICs.
The review was qualitative and involved in-depth discussions with a sample of those involved in RICs. To maximise the value of the qualitative approach, and minimise impact on school staff time, during such a pressured time, the sample of 50 schools was drawn largely from schools identified as engaged in some way in RIC activity.
RIC governance, structures and resources
Since establishment in early 2018, each RIC has developed a structure and governance arrangements designed to suit local and regional requirements. RICs have developed over time, and there is now a high level of confidence among regional and national stakeholders in RIC structures, governance, decision making and leadership arrangements.
During 2020 and 2021, the pandemic encouraged more collaboration and development of strong, trusting relationships. Many stakeholders highlighted that there had been a real shift among elected members, with many becoming much more supportive and understanding of the added value of the RIC.
Overall, RIC teams felt that they had access to the resources and workforce required and that broadly each local authority contributed well. Areas for potential future development included ensuring all local authorities were fully invested in the RIC approach, using the expertise within the Education Scotland regional improvement teams to full effect, and building expertise around performance and data analysis.
Plans and priorities
Most stakeholders felt that priorities and plans were well underpinned by data analysis, but many highlighted that more could be done to continue to strengthen this at regional level. Most were very confident that priorities connected from school, local, regional and national level, with the National Improvement Framework being the thread that holds together the priorities across different levels - particularly around the themes of attainment in literacy and numeracy, improving health and wellbeing and closing the attainment gap. During the pandemic, RICs re-focused their work to meet needs in a rapidly changing environment, including an enhanced focus on e-learning.
Regional stakeholders largely felt that RIC plans were developed in a collaborative way, with a range of stakeholders involved in informing and developing plans and priorities. While most school staff felt that the RIC priorities were appropriate, around a third of the school staff taking part in this review felt that they had the opportunity to influence the priorities of the RIC. Some felt more work should be done to talk to school staff about RIC priorities.
Most school staff involved in this review felt that they had the opportunity to collaborate and share best practice through the RIC. Many collaborative opportunities focused on empowerment and confidence building around approaches, pedagogies and themes. In some instances, RICs have also supported direct connections between schools - across local authority areas. Through these links, headteachers and other senior leaders felt that they developed strong, supportive and collaborative partnerships.
Regional stakeholders felt that the RICs had enabled local authority officers to collaborate in new and enhanced ways. The pandemic had built stronger regional collaboration with Directors of Education, Heads of Service and other senior staff communicating on a very regular basis at regional level. This encouraged people at other levels to collaborate and connect, sharing skills and expertise.
Most regional stakeholders felt that this type and depth of cross authority collaboration would not have happened to this extent before the RIC. A few talked about a significant cultural shift taking place, with people pulling together between the authorities, and proactively identifying where collaborative effort is needed.
Most national stakeholders were positive that RICs created a space where people could come together to collaborate and share ideas, adding value to, rather than duplicating the role of local authorities. Some national stakeholders indicated that through the RICs, working collaboratively between local authority areas had become an accepted way of working within education.
The RICs have also encouraged collaboration around wider thematic areas including children's rights, early learning and childcare. In some instances, RICs have worked together nationally on issues such as resources for pupils with additional support needs and e-learning. Some felt there was scope for more of this type of collaborative work between RICs.
Engagement and support of schools
RICs undertook a wide range of activities to raise awareness of RIC priorities, plans and activities among school staff. This review involved conversations with 53 school staff at 50 schools identified as being involved in RIC activity. Most of the school staff involved in this review were aware of RIC priorities. Awareness was highest when school staff received regular updates from local authority education officers, by email, through online newsletters and through regular discussion of priorities. Awareness appeared to increase as school staff got involved in RIC opportunities such as training and events. As the work of RICs became more digital, many found this also increased awareness of the RIC. However, some highlighted that there remained challenges to awareness, particularly with school staff feeling under extreme pressure.
Most school staff involved in this review felt that they had learned new things and developed their skills through the RIC. This helped staff to become more inquiring, reflective and drive forward improvement in their classroom.
Some senior school staff involved in this evaluation had taken part in leadership activity, through events, networks and leadership courses developed by or promoted through the RIC. Senior staff developed skills around management, strategic change, recovery and supporting staff, and some particularly valued networks of senior staff during the pandemic, to reflect on key issues.
Fewer school staff felt that the RIC helped them to share data between schools, and some indicated there was more to be done to build the confidence of school staff to deal with data, analysis and research generally, across both primary and secondary schools. Most felt that while data had been analysed and shared at a high level across the RIC, there was less sharing of data at school level.
During the pandemic, RICs supported schools by developing online learning opportunities for pupils for use during lockdown, as part of blended learning and more widely to increase pupil opportunities. RICs have also played a key role in contributing to Education Scotland's national e-learning offer, through the use and development of platforms such as e-Sgoil and the West Online School (West OS), and the contribution of both live and recorded lessons. RICs have learned from this experience and are continuing to explore how online learning opportunities could be best used in the future, for example through offering Advanced Highers online to provide greater subject choice to senior phase pupils.
Working with colleagues from Education Scotland, RICs also played an important role in enabling collaborative work to support secondary schools with the SQA alternative certification model used to award National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers in place of exams. The focus was on ensuring consistency in terms of approach, supporting teachers to gather evidence and encouraging schools to collaborate.
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 in the classroom - introducing new approaches and developing more consistency in pedagogical approach
- skills and consistency around assessment and moderation
- leadership and improvement planning skills
- building a collaborative culture between local authorities.
The RICs are also introducing new opportunities for learning for pupils, particularly through online learning opportunities during the pandemic and beyond. RICs have developed systems to track the impact of their work through to attainment, but this connection is challenging to track, with the RICs forming one part of a large system. There is some evidence of increases in pupil attainment, achievement, equality and inclusion across regions, but there is a very wide range of activity taking place to improve educational outcomes for young people in Scotland, and the direct link to RIC activity is more challenging to demonstrate.
While RICs have developed monitoring systems to demonstrate progress, outputs, demand and satisfaction with activities, there are gaps in terms of understanding the impact that RICs are having. RICs have been on a journey around setting realistic and focused priorities which can be achieved through collaborative working within the RIC, identifying clear intended outcomes, setting appropriate measures and demonstrating impact. At the time of this review, each of the RICs was working on further developing its ability to demonstrate impact.
The challenges demonstrating impact have been experienced in the context a global pandemic since early 2020 and a wide range of broader activity in education in Scotland. Some stressed that in exploring impact, it was important to be realistic about what RICs could be expected to deliver in terms of improvement given the amount of funding available to them, and the wide range of other activity to support improvement and equity in educational outcomes in Scotland.
Support and funding
Education Scotland regional improvement teams have been involved in, co-produced and led on a wide range of RIC activities, including supporting networks, delivering learning, quality assurance and peer review of materials, and direct support to schools. Education Scotland provides support to each RIC in a bespoke manner, and regional stakeholders felt that collaborative relationships have developed and improved over time.
The views of regional and national stakeholders on partnerships between RICs and Education Scotland regional improvement teams were mixed. Some felt the partnership was useful and helped to drive improvement, with access to specific support and guidance through working jointly. However, while many felt that over time relationships had strengthened, some felt that there remained some tensions in the relationship due to a lack of clarity around the role of Education Scotland, and a tension between being a partner in the RIC and co-producing activity, while also having a role in approving RIC plans. While the involvement of Education Scotland was generally felt to add value, there remained some issues around effective joint working.
Stakeholders felt that funding for RICs was vital, and that overall existing funding levels were broadly appropriate. However, regional stakeholders felt that a longer-term funding commitment would allow RICs to take a more strategic approach, focusing on improvement over time, increasing ambition and enabling 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 would include clarification on national expectations of RICs and their purpose, with this being 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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