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 2: Structures, governance and planning

Key themes

  • There was a high level of confidence in RIC structures and governance arrangements, among both regional and national stakeholders.
  • RIC partners felt able to collaborate, compromise and come to a consensus without any real difficulty, with clarity of vision and purpose and strong, trusting relationships.
  • Many felt 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.
  • Many felt that during 2020 and 2021 governance and partnership working had strengthened, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Overall RIC teams felt that they had access to the resource and workforce required, and that each local authority contributed well to the RIC. Some raised issues around the RIC not being able to appoint staff on a permanent basis.
  • A few, both at regional and national level, felt that there was scope to review whether the expertise within the RIC and Education Scotland regional improvement teams could be joined up more effectively and used to best effect.


This chapter explores RIC structures, governance and planning. It focuses on exploring the extent to which:

  • RIC structures and governance are embedded and working as intended
  • effective workforce and resource plans are in place
  • regional priorities reflect stakeholder engagement and use of data.

In reading this chapter, it should be borne in mind that RICs were established in early 2018. They are not intended to be formal bodies within the education system, rather to bring together local authorities and Education Scotland to add value through collective efforts. The interim review of RICs undertaken in late 2018 found that regional and national stakeholders were broadly content with the governance arrangements established for RICs, but a few were unsure about the rationale of the RIC concept.

Overview of RIC structures

Each RIC has a structure and governance arrangements designed to suit local and regional requirements. The main components of each RIC include:

  • Political oversight - A programme board or convenors group involving elected members, often the convenors and chairs or vice chairs of local authority education committees. Often the local authority chief executives were also involved in this type of group.
  • High level forums or boards - Mechanisms for Directors of Education or their equivalent to come together, often with the Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisor.
  • Workstreams, priority groups, networks or collaboration boards - Themed areas of work focusing on priorities for the RIC. Often sub-groups within this (Task and Finish). These groups met often, with specific tasks to achieve. In some cases, these groups are empowered to set their own priorities and self-direct their work, and in other cases they accept tasks or commissions from within the RIC. These groups generally involved RIC team members, local authority officers and senior officers, headteachers and Education Scotland regional improvement team members.
  • Wider stakeholder groupings - Groups or forums connecting with different stakeholders, including headteachers, teachers, young people, parents, wider teams such as children's services, and unions. In a few RICs, these wider stakeholder connections were in development.

Example: Tayside RIC - Local flexibility in structures

In Tayside, the way the RIC is set up differs slightly from other RICs as it covers collaborative improvement for children, young people and families more widely. The TRIC is led by a Strategic Group with multi-agency representation. There are five Priority Groups - of which learning and attainment is one. Other Priority Groups focus on themes including health and wellbeing, safeguarding and looked after children. Each Priority Group reports to a Leadership Group, which sits below the Strategic Group and provides clarity and support to the Priority Groups. Education Scotland regional staff are also represented across the five Priority Groups.

Views on structures and governance arrangements

Structures and governance

At senior level within RIC teams and wider regional stakeholders, there was a high level of confidence in RIC structures and governance arrangements. Overall, there was a feeling that RICs had shifted over the past two years onto a much more solid footing, and become embedded at local and regional level with strong relationships between partners.

"The Improvement Forum is strong and tight and has a clear purpose and works in a collaborative way." Regional stakeholder

Most regional and national stakeholders felt comfortable with local RIC governance. Stakeholders indicated that local governance structures had strengthened over time.

"Each RIC has come to a position that suits its own situation." National stakeholder

Many pointed to changes over 2020 and 2021 which strengthened governance and partnership working. In most areas, the pandemic encouraged Directors of Education and other senior education staff to collaborate to respond to Covid-19 regulations and restrictions, which helped to embed joint working arrangements at regional level. Many set up regular online meetings - on a weekly or fortnightly basis - and set up other daily communication systems to allow communication between strategic leads. This had helped to engage almost all local authorities actively in RICs from a very senior level. This was a real change since the interim review, when there were some challenges bringing senior, busy people together to progress RIC priorities.

"We have a strong collegiate partnership across the RIC that goes beyond the work of the RIC." Regional stakeholder

"The pandemic has been the catalyst for people to appreciate that there are different ways of working. This could have a huge impact on the system." Regional stakeholder

In one area, the pandemic along with wider changes had provided an opportunity to re-develop RIC governance, structures and performance model.

"We now have a better understanding of where we would like to see the RIC." Regional stakeholder

Decision making

In terms of decision making, there was a high level of confidence that within each RIC partners were able to collaborate, compromise and come to a consensus without any real difficulty. This was helped both by having clarity about vision, purpose and priorities at local level, and by individual partners having strong and trusting relationships.

In some cases, as structures have become embedded this has enabled key RIC decisions to be taken at a more operational level within the RIC structure, helping to empower people and embed a collaborative and collegiate approach to working together.Involvement of elected members

Many regional stakeholders highlighted that there had been a real shift among elected members, with many becoming much more confident in the RIC, supportive and understanding of the added value of the RIC. Most national stakeholders also indicated that there was now much more buy-in of RICs at elected member level.

"The RIC has got good political buy-in and good synergies with local priorities." Regional stakeholder

"Elected members now accept RICs, they are embedded locally." National stakeholder

"Elected members are really interested in and positive about the work of the RICs." National stakeholder

Most elected members involved in this review indicated that they felt that RIC structures were transparent and comfortable and were happy with decision making arrangements. Most felt content with the updates that they received on RIC work and felt involved in discussions about progress and priorities. They felt that elected members had accepted the role of the RICs, and there were no longer major tensions or concerns.

"I am comfortable with the RIC's structures and governance, it is transparent and clear." Elected member

"Political oversight is good at the local level." Elected member

Elected members commented that initially RICs were treated with a great deal of scepticism. A few felt that their role had shifted from a scrutiny role, to ensure RICs add value, to a more collaborative and supportive role. However, in one area one elected member felt that there remained political sensitivities around the RIC and challenges managing different political agendas at the local level.

Some elected members felt that the pandemic had helped to demonstrate how important it was that local authorities worked together and collaborated on key issues. This was a real change since the interim review when there were more varied views on the value and role of the RICs and how they fit within the Scottish education system.

Wider stakeholder views

Wider regional stakeholders indicated that RIC structures felt collaborative and inclusive. However, some felt that there was still more to be done to embed the RIC, to make sure that people at all levels in the education system understand the role of the RIC. A few in one area felt that RIC governance was not yet quite right and could have a stronger and more accountable architecture.

National stakeholders involved in this evaluation also indicated that they were broadly comfortable that RIC structures were well established and working as expected. National stakeholders felt that RICs each had different structures, identifying structures that reflected local circumstances in an empowered way. A few indicated that they felt decision making arrangements had been strengthened over the past year.

"Flexibility is a key strength of the RICs, they have been able to respond and adapt to their own local circumstances." National stakeholder

"There is now a stronger shared vision within the RICs, this has come in the face of adversity." National stakeholder

"People are now clearer on the additionality that RICs can bring." National stakeholder

Views on resources and workforce


Each RIC is led by a RIC lead, at Director of Education level. Most of the RICs have used a rotation model to share the role of RIC lead between local authorities. While many felt that this helped to build ownership and connection with the RIC, a few felt that there were both pros and cons to this approach. Taking on the RIC lead role helped to bring prominence to the RIC within that local authority area. However, rotating the lead meant that time needed to be spent on transition. Over time, RIC leads had learned that the role needed to be undertaken by a very senior member of staff in order to be effective.

Day to day delivery

Each RIC lead has access to support to deliver RIC activity on a day-to-day basis. This includes:

  • Dedicated development officers - RICs had appointed development officers, dedicated workstream leads full or part time) or dedicated Quality Improvement Officers and Quality Improvement Managers.
  • Support roles - RICs had dedicated business support roles, engagement officers, data analysts and data officers (on a full or part time basis).

It is worth noting that as many roles were secondment opportunities, the RIC teams fluctuated over time. At the time of this review, some RICs were recruiting to continue the roles of seconded staff, or to expand their teams to include new roles - including staff focusing on e-learning or learning teaching and assessment. Due to the pandemic, there had been a higher level of turnover in some areas than usual, with some staff needing to return to their substantive posts or take on other roles.

In some cases, administrative and practical support (around finance, communications or business support) were provided through partner local authorities taking on the role.

Example: West Partnership - Sharing resources

In the West Partnership, in addition to secondments to the RIC core team, individual local authorities provide different types of support to the RIC. For example, one authority provides human resources expertise and support, another finance, another project management expertise and another digital support.

Each RIC lead also had access to wider support including:

  • Support from Director of Education (or equivalent) peers across the RIC authorities
  • Education Scotland Senior Regional Advisors and regional improvement teams
  • Support from wider peers and colleagues including local authority chief executives, elected members/ chairs of education committee.

Views on resources and workforce

Overall, RIC teams felt that they had access to the resources and workforce required. This is a shift since the interim review, in 2018, when resources to support all six RICs had just been announced and work to set up the RICs had been done largely without additional funding or resources.

Although regional stakeholders were broadly content with the resources and workforce available to them, some raised issues around the RIC not being able to take staff on a permanent basis. While temporary staff secondments provided development and learning opportunities, it meant that the RIC lost continuity and it could take time for new staff to build relationships.

Regional stakeholders felt that each local authority contributed well to the RIC, and workloads were shared effectively. Having a dedicated RIC team helped with this, as did rotating the RIC lead role and ensuring that workstreams and priority group activities were led by different authorities. However, a few felt that some areas were more invested in the RIC approach than others which resulted in them carrying a larger share of the workload. For example, in one area regional stakeholders highlighted that the local authorities which had taken a turn at the role of RIC lead appeared more invested than those that had not yet done so.

A few, both at regional and national level, felt that there was scope to review in the future whether the expertise within the RIC and Education Scotland regional improvement teams could be joined up more effectively and used to best effect. For example, a few felt the RICs could do more to draw on the intelligence and resources held by Education Scotland, acting more as a collective regional team with a blended approach.

"We need to take small steps and create common spaces and move towards creating a blended bio space longer term." Regional stakeholder

A few indicated that there were gaps in their team in terms of performance analysis and data analysis, feeling that this expertise was not available within the RIC authorities.


Use of data

RICs identified priorities through considering a wide range of data including information on:

  • engagement with school - attendance, absence and exclusions data
  • attainment levels - including achievement of Curriculum for Excellence levels, qualification levels and Broad General Education data and information on the poverty related attainment gap
  • health and wellbeing data
  • school leaver destinations.

RICs organised this data around the National Improvement Framework priorities, and used school inspection reports, school improvement plans and Insight benchmarking for secondary schools to inform their plans. Data was correlated with evidence about the profile of the school and pupils, including information from Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and information on looked after children.

Most regional stakeholders felt that priorities and plans were well underpinned by data analysis. Within the RICs, local authorities had developed data sharing agreements, and could now share their data. In most cases, RICs had access to the information they needed in order to prioritise activities. However, there were some gaps:

  • Data for 2020 and 2021 - Due to Covid-19 some data, such as SQA data and Curriculum for Excellence returns from schools, is either not as reliable, has gaps or is not available for certain time periods.
  • Sharing data - A few stakeholders highlighted that data sharing agreements were not fully signed off or had only just been signed off - between local authorities, or with Education Scotland - and there remained some sensitivities in sharing data[5].
  • Rural poverty - In one area partners are working on exploring what rural poverty looks like and how it is different, in order to prioritise and target support.

"It is underpinned by evidence but could be better." Regional stakeholder

A few regional stakeholders highlighted that during 2020/21 there were fewer conversations about data informing planning, as there was a focus on immediate crisis support.

Some national stakeholders felt that RICs were using data well to inform their plans. A few national stakeholders felt that while committed to using data, there was a need to improve how data was used and analysed to inform their plans and priorities. A few indicated that the effective use of data was an issue across public policy and practice in Scotland, not just within the RICs. A few national stakeholders felt that some RICs had been stronger on using data to inform their plans and priorities than others, and that the RICs could learn from one another around the use of data.

Connecting priorities

Regional stakeholders were very confident that priorities connected from school, local, regional and national level. Many talked of the National Improvement Framework (NIF) being the thread that holds together the priorities across different levels. Many felt that school plans and local authority plans were already focused on the NIF priorities, providing consistency and a clear focus for the RIC. Regional stakeholders were confident that there was clear alignment of plans in both directions - to national level, and to local and school plan level.

While in some cases, RIC priorities and activities were targeted to very local level, some regional stakeholders felt more could be done to target schools or year groups or connect schools together to share practice.

Most national stakeholders felt that RIC priorities were broadly consistent with the NIF priorities. One national stakeholder felt that more could be done to build consistency in priorities between the RICs, and better connect priorities across all aspects of the NIF.

Stakeholder engagement

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. This included local authority officers, headteachers and others involved in RIC structures. In some cases, wider stakeholders were included, such as professional associations, unions, parents and carers, and young people.

Example: Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC - Stakeholder engagement

The FVWL RIC held eight 'Wee Blether' style events to explore priorities. These events involved people involved in the workstreams, headteachers, central officers - such as Quality Improvement Officers, Scottish Attainment Challenge leads and wider education and children's services staff - and Education Scotland staff. There was also a survey for people who couldn't attend the events.

In many areas, Education Scotland regional improvement teams had become more involved in the planning process over time and were now very involved in creating and supporting RIC plans. RIC plans were developed iteratively and collaboratively, involving RIC teams and regional improvement teams. Education Scotland teams played a role in writing plans, creating graphics, making suggestions about priorities, challenging in a constructive manner, and engaging wider staff with national remits on key areas such as early years and community learning and development.

"It is our plan. It was co-created, and we have confidence in it." Regional stakeholder

Discussions with a sample of 50 schools across Scotland highlighted that some (around one third) felt that they had the opportunity to influence the priorities of the RIC. Almost half felt they did not have the opportunity to influence priorities, and a few were not sure. The same trends were seen across primary and secondary schools.

Most school staff felt that the priorities for their RIC were generally the right things to focus on and linked well with the priorities of their school and those of the National Improvement Framework. Some school staff involved in the evaluation had been involved in discussions about priorities through surveys, headteacher discussion groups and events. A few indicated that they were able to influence priorities through being on the Board.

"I do feel that I have a voice and can input to the work of the RIC." Headteacher, secondary school

Some school staff indicated that they weren't sure they directly influenced priorities, but that there was ongoing consultation and discussion through forums such as headteacher groups and through discussion with local authority education staff. A few also mentioned that they were aware that school improvement plans were discussed at local authority level, and then used to inform the regional improvement plan. However, some felt that more work should be done to talk to school staff about specific priorities for the RIC.

"They should ask schools what their priorities are to ensure that they are focused on the right things." Headteacher, primary school

A few school staff mentioned that they felt more connected to priorities before the pandemic, while others felt that the way schools were engaged had improved as time went on.

Re-focusing in response to the pandemic

Since spring 2020, and the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, RICs have re-focused their work to ensure that they meet needs in a rapidly changing environment. In some cases, the priorities remained the same, but with the work re-focused and an enhanced focus on e-learning. In other cases, the number of priorities was reduced in order to focus in on what was most important at the time.

Decisions about what to prioritise during 2020 and 2021 involved consultation with local authority central teams, workstream leads, headteachers and others to explore priorities.

"We checked in with each of the local authorities to see what would be beneficial for them and then agreed our updated priorities at the board." Regional stakeholder

In all cases, there was a renewed focus on e-learning, digital learning and blended learning. In areas where e-learning had been an existing area of work, this increased in priority. In other areas this was introduced as a new workstream or priority. Across the RICs, regional stakeholders found that it was evident that support was needed with issues like virtual classrooms, remote learning, online lessons, connectivity, access to devices, infrastructure and practicalities like linking in with external resources. The driver for this focus came from engagement with headteachers and moving at speed to try out different types of support, see what was useful and monitor demand. Over time, this type of work moved from helping tackle challenges and issues, to collaboratively developing robust digital strategies for the future.

The RICs also incorporated new areas of work as appropriate, where local authorities could add value by working collaboratively. This included specific work in some RICs on SQA qualifications, assessment and moderation, particularly the Alternative Certification Model used in 2020/21.

In discussion with 50 schools, many school staff were aware that in recent times the work of the RIC had been streamlined or re-focused in light of the pandemic. Many were happy that priorities had been reduced, feeling that this helped the RIC to be clearer and more connected to the needs of practitioners.

"(The RIC) priorities are now more streamlined, relevant and responsive. The means of delivery is also more streamlined." Headteacher, primary school



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