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 1: Introduction

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.

Research aims

This review is covered in the partnership agreement between Scottish Government and local government relating to the establishment of Regional Improvement Collaboratives for education. The review was originally commissioned in early 2020, two years after the RICs were established at the end of January 2018. However, the review was paused in spring 2020 due to the public health situation and the emergence of Covid-19. The review therefore took place between May and October 2021.

The overall aim of the review was to secure an independent analysis of the development and early impact of the RICs. The review focused on themes around:

  • structures and governance
  • collaboration and partnership working
  • engagement with and support for schools
  • planning and evaluation
  • use of data
  • support and guidance for RICs.

In the context of Covid-19, the review also explored the use of digital and virtual approaches across all six areas of focus.

The findings will be used to inform and support further development of RICs, to reassure and inform wider stakeholders of progress to date, and to learn from evidence of the early impact of the RICs.


About the Regional Improvement Collaboratives

RICs bring local authorities together to secure excellence and equity in education. They are intended to:

  • provide educational improvement support to practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals - drawing on local authority staff, Education Scotland staff and others
  • provide focus across all partners through a regional plan and work programme - aligned to the National Improvement Framework (NIF)
  • facilitate and create the conditions to support collaborative working across the region.

RICs were not intended to be formal bodies within the education system[1]. They intended to bring together local authorities and Education Scotland to develop different ways of working, bring together capacity across a region and add value through collective efforts.

There are six RICs, involving between three and eight local authorities. They are:

  • Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative - involving Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling and West Lothian Councils
  • Northern Alliance - involving Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highland, Moray, Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils
  • South East Improvement Collaborative - involving Edinburgh City, East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian and Scottish Borders Councils
  • South West Education Improvement Collaborative - involving East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway Councils
  • Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative - involving Angus, Dundee City and Perth and Kinross Councils
  • West Partnership - involving East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire Councils.

The establishment of the RICs

The RICs were established following the Scottish Government's consultation on education governance and reform, during 2016 and 2017. In June 2017, the Scottish Government published 'Education Governance - Next Steps' setting out its vision of an education system centred around children and young people, with decisions taken as close to them as possible. As part of this, Next Steps set out the aim of establishing RICs to provide excellent educational improvement support for headteachers, teachers and practitioners through dedicated teams of professionals.

A joint steering group was set up to develop proposals for RICs, based on the policy direction outlined within Next Steps. The joint steering group involved Scottish Government, local government - including COSLA, SOLACE and ADES - and Education Scotland. The steering group produced a report setting out its interim conclusions in September 2017[2]. This report emphasised that RIC development was not about establishing a new formal body, but about developing different ways of working, bringing together capacity from across an area and beyond, to add value through collective efforts.

Scottish Government and COSLA entered into a partnership agreement to establish these new RICs for education, regional improvement leads were appointed, and initial regional improvement plans were required to be submitted for each RIC by the end of January 2018. This is the date from which RICs can be considered to be operational.

Support for the RICs

From mid 2018, the RICs have been supported through a package of support. In June 2018, Scottish Government and COSLA announced support to enhance regional capacity to support schools - through the RICs and Education Scotland working together. 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.

2018/19 was the first year that the Scottish Government provided funding to all six of Scotland's RICs, with the aim of supporting their first full Regional Improvement Plans produced in September 2018. Each RIC submitted an individual resourcing request, to support regional capacity building and planned RIC activity over the 2018/19 school year.

Between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the Scottish Government has committed a total of approximately £21 million of additional funding support to the RICs. The funding is provided from the Education Reform budget and the Attainment Scotland Fund (for regional activity related to closing the poverty related attainment gap). Access to support through Education Scotland regional teams has complemented this resource.

RIC development phases

RICs have developed in broad phases. Phase One covers the initial establishment of the RICs from October 2017 to August 2018. This initial phase was evaluated in autumn 2018[2]. During this Phase RICs delivered their initial interim plans in January 2018 and worked through the process of developing their first full Regional Improvement Plans.

Phase Two refers to the 2018/19 school year, following submission of their first full Regional Improvement Plans in September 2018.

In September 2019, RICs produced plans for the 2019/20 school year. Part way through this year, in spring 2020, education was significantly disrupted due to the emergence of Covid-19 and corresponding school closure. In September 2020, RICs produced Regional Improvement and Recovery Plans for 2020/21, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. In summer 2021, RICs produced Regional Improvement Plans for 2021/22, again in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Evaluation method

This review involved five phases:

Phase One: Desktop review

We undertook a desktop review including a review of national guidance, regional improvement plans and annual reports, impact reports and evaluations. We also used the RIC interim review as a baseline for this review.

Phase Two: Regional level fieldwork

We held online or telephone interviews with:

  • Each RIC lead (6)
  • 24 RIC wider team members, support staff, workstream leads and wider partners
  • Each Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisor (6)
  • 6 Education Scotland regional improvement team members
  • 6 elected members.

These interviewees are referred to as 'regional stakeholders' throughout this report.

Phase Three: School level fieldwork

We held telephone interviews with a sample of 53 headteachers, depute teachers, principal teachers and class teachers at 50 different schools involved in RICs. Schools were identified in close discussion with the RIC team and Director for Education or equivalent in each local authority area. We gathered information on the range of schools involved in different types of RIC activity, in early 2020, and independently sampled these schools to include a mix of types and levels of involvement, school characteristics, geography and levels of deprivation. In spring 2021, when fieldwork with schools commenced, we checked this selection with the Director of Education in the context of the extreme pressure on schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 50 schools involved included 33 primary schools, 13 secondary schools, 1 school with joint primary and secondary provision, 2 early years centres and 1 special school. The 53 interviews involved 38 headteachers, 8 depute headteachers, 4 principal teachers and 3 class teachers. Three joint interviews took place, during which we spoke with two members of staff, at the request of the school. All of these interviewees are collectively described as 'school staff' throughout this evaluation.

The review aimed to involve between one and two school interviews per local authority. The research took place during the pandemic, when schools were under intense pressure in terms of capacity and dealing with Covid-19 cases and related isolation requirements. While schools were selected independently by the researchers, discussions then took place with each Director of Education and in some cases the schools initially selected were replaced with those with more capacity to participate in research at this busy time.

The final 50 schools able to participate were from 31 of Scotland's 32 local authorities, with between one and three interviews taking place in each authority. This meant that there were between five and 14 school interviews per RIC, dependent on the number of local authorities involved. We would like to extend particular thanks to the school staff who gave up their time to take part, during such a busy time.

It should be noted that this is qualitative research, and the 50 schools were not statistically representative of the more than 2,500 schools and more than 2,400 early learning centres across Scotland. Qualitative research can provide an in-depth understanding of experiences, feelings and behaviours, but findings cannot be extrapolated to the whole school population.

Schools were selected to provide a mix of characteristics:

  • 44% of the schools were in large urban or other urban areas. 32% were in rural areas and 22% were in small towns.[3]
  • 40% of the schools had more than 20% of their pupils in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland. And exactly half of the schools had less than 20% of their pupils in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland[4].
  • In 32% of the schools, more than 10% of pupils were minority ethnic.

Phase Four: National level fieldwork

We held online interviews with COSLA, SOLACE, ADES, Education Scotland and Scottish Government. We spoke with a total of 10 people through these interviews. The discussions lasted 60 to 90 minutes, and explored views on RIC governance, planning, collaboration, use of data, engagement with schools and support and guidance for RICs. These interviewees are referred to as 'national stakeholders' throughout this report.

Phase Five: Reporting and analysis

This report sets out the key themes under each of the six focus areas explored within the review. Where appropriate, quotes or examples are used to help to illustrate points. Notes from discussions were analysed using a system of manual thematic coding, which involves a researcher carefully reading responses to each interview question and coding key themes emerging. The researcher also reads the interview as a whole to ensure that responses are understood in context.

In analysing views, we explored any key variances of view between respondent groupings, including by RIC and local authority area, between different types of school and between teachers in different roles. Where differences of view have emerged, we have highlighted this within the report.

Views are reported completely anonymously. Quotes are tagged broadly, to provide an idea of the type of stakeholder commenting while preserving anonymity. Comments have been reported carefully to reduce the ability to identify the RIC area being discussed. When summarising views within bulleted lists, the points are listed broadly in order of frequency mentioned. Within the report, we used a broad qualitative scale to describe the proportion of participants who commented on particular themes and topics:

  • One/ an individual - a point raised by just one person
  • A few - two or three people
  • Some - less than half the respondents in that category
  • Many - more than half of respondents in that category
  • • Most/ almost all - a very high proportion of respondents in that category.



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