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 3: Collaboration and partnership

Key themes

  • Most school staff involved in this review felt that they had the opportunity to collaborate and share best practice through the RIC.
  • Regional stakeholders felt that the RICs had enabled local authority officers to collaborate in new and enhanced ways. The pandemic had contributed to building stronger regional collaboration.
  • 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 regional and national stakeholders talked about a significant cultural shift taking place, with people proactively collaborating between local authority areas, and working collaboratively becoming an accepted way of working in education.
  • 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.
  • The RICs have also encouraged collaboration around wider thematic areas including children's rights, early learning and childcare.


This chapter explores the extent to which RICs are supporting collaboration at school level, local authority level, and with wider stakeholders.

For context, the interim review in 2018 found that while in some areas a culture of joint working had developed at senior officer level, others felt it was too early to point to changes in joint working across the region. There were challenges to joint working including taking the time to buy into and understand the concept of RICs, as RICs had only very recently been set up.

At the time of the interim review, there were very early examples of schools sharing practice in a more structured way than before, but stakeholders felt that engagement with schools through the RIC was at very early stages. Head teachers and other school staff largely felt that it would take time to see an impact in schools.

School level collaboration

Each RIC undertook work to support schools to collaborate and share practice across the region. A sample of 53 school staff from 50 schools took part in this review, largely those who had been involved in RIC activity to some extent. Most of these school staff involved in this evaluation felt that they had the opportunity to collaborate with other schools through the RIC (86%) and share best practice (76%). The RICs supported schools to connect through:

  • establishing thematic groups, learning networks and learning sets
  • facilitating school to school connections
  • bringing people together through events and enabling people to continue these professional relationships beyond the events.

Thematic groups and networks

Many schools had taken part in groups and networks which enabled them to collaborate and share practice around specific themes. School staff and regional stakeholders gave a wide range of examples of this type of collaboration. Many school staff mentioned that having online collaboration opportunities helped to enable more staff from their school to be involved.

"The networks allow people to seek out critical friends across the RIC." Headteacher, secondary school

Many collaborative opportunities focused on empowerment, and improvement through empowering school staff to share best practice, ideas and approaches. This included collaborative learning networks and learning sets, focusing on a wide range of areas such as evaluative practice. These approaches helped to reassure practitioners and build confidence, gain a wider perspective, access a wide range of resources and develop skills.

"Collaborative working is amazing, you can see it when professionals get together and have rich dialogue with each other." Headteacher, primary school

Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - Networks

There are 18 specialist networks across the SEIC - such as the early years network, and the special schools headteachers network. These networks, supported by the SEIC team and Education Scotland's South East Improvement Team identify their own priorities independently, evaluate their work and share practice.

The RIC, supported by Education Scotland, also undertook Pedagogy Pioneers activity with schools, to share practice, resources and build capacity. Practitioners recorded examples of best practice and had online sharing sessions for staff in other schools. The resources were then made available on the SEIC website. The RIC also held 'practitioner parties' during 2020, where staff shared their experiences of blended learning and digital approaches.

Example: Northern Alliance - Emerging literacy

Northern Alliance also has over 30 class teacher networks, with over 1,300 active memberships. This is part of a Connect, Collaborative, Innovate, Test and Improve model. Practitioners can connect through professional learning opportunities, and then collaborate and share best practice in a non-judgemental environment.

Many schools talked about the Emerging Literacy programme, which involved P1 and P2 teachers sharing practice across schools. School staff felt that this helped to develop and upskill staff in terms of how to teach reading skills, track progress and assess children.

"Practice has really changed at P1 level due to the Emerging Literacy programme." Headteacher, primary school

"I think I've got a stronger understanding of literacy as a whole. It's improved my practice, and my ability to support other practitioners." Headteacher, primary school

Through this work, class teachers have developed their skills and gone on to take up key leadership roles within the programme.

One headteacher highlighted that this approach improved attainment in literacy in early years, explaining that despite young children having missed two full terms of school due to the pandemic, literacy attainment for these pupils has not fallen.

Example: Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC - Reading networks

The FVWL RIC has been involved in joint work with the Scottish Book Trust to develop a reading network "to collaborate and build a learning culture" and pilot Reading Schools accreditation. Schools also shared best practice around reading for enjoyment, where pupils got involved in choosing books and furniture to create cosy, informal reading spaces in schools.

"We share and collaborate with others who we might not have met before." Depute headteacher, primary school

The RIC has also established networks of practitioners focused on particular topics - such as primary literacy or additional support needs. These Hubs were developed due to demand from practitioners attending RIC events and connect people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to connect.

Example: West Partnership - Collaboration and empowerment

The West Partnership 'Improving our Classroom' programme started as a Glasgow City Council project and then expanded across the RIC. It supports teachers to focus on pedagogical improvement through self-evaluation, developing collaborating between different schools, and empowering teachers to make change through collaborative action research. One school involved in this research indicated that the Improving Our Classroom programme helped to strengthen teachers' practice, ultimately having a positive impact on children and young people.

"For my staff, I can see that it has had an impact." Headteacher, primary school

The West Partnership uses story boards to capture and showcase best practice. Following a process of local authority, RIC and Education Scotland quality assurance, storyboard exemplars are shared on the West Partnership website. Where highly effective and innovative practice is identified, the RIC works with Education Scotland's regional team to share these exemplars at national level, through the National Improvement Hub. Schools are growing in confidence to share work initially at regional level, which can then broaden to a national reach.

Some school staff talked about the value they gained from visiting other schools around a specific theme. For example, one school for children with additional support needs had taken part in a shared learning experience for special schools, with staff spending time in different schools and sharing feedback and learning from this. Another took the same approach with family learning. Sometimes these connections were directly supported by the RIC, and other connections developed organically through school staff attending events together and continuing relationships afterwards. When the pandemic emerged, the relationships in place helped these headteachers to connect and share different approaches to dealing with the restrictions and requirements.

A few regional stakeholders also indicated that they felt the RICs helped schools to feel more confident about sharing their own approaches. A few stressed that this is done in a way which ensures schools recognise they are not telling others what to do, but how to think about different approaches and develop ways that suit their own context.

School to school connections

In some instances, RICs have also supported direct connections between schools, across local authority areas.

Some headteachers talked about being paired with or developing relationships with other schools in different authorities, developing supportive and informative partnerships enabling the sharing of ideas and approaches, mentoring and coaching. Some developed links with similar schools, and others talked of the value of working with very different schools in other authorities, with very different demographics but with similar ethos and ambition.

Through these links, headteachers and other senior leaders developed strong, supportive and collaborative partnerships. For example, one school highlighted that they had also set up joint in-service days for staff and job shadowing opportunities, which helped to develop staff skills. In one case the connection also encouraged staff to move between schools as senior opportunities arose, moving to work in areas with higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

"Overall, the impact has been immeasurable…Being able to get an outside perspective is utterly invaluable." Headteacher, secondary

Regional stakeholders also indicated that due to the RICs, headteachers were more likely to contact their peers outwith their own local authority. A few mentioned that they were starting to see secondments between authority areas. Some national stakeholders also highlighted that collaboration between schools had developed through the RICs.

"The language of collaboration was introduced through RICs and is now reflected at school and practitioner level." National stakeholder

"Practitioners now know that it (collaborative working) is expected of them, and they have permission to do it." National stakeholder

Sharing data

Of the 53 school staff taking part in this review, just over a third felt that the RIC had helped them to share data analysis or research (36%). Some school staff indicated that this had been limited so far, but there was potential to do more in the future.

A few school staff gave examples of how the RIC had helped to share data through:

  • using improvement science and small tests of change
  • bringing schools together to think about how to gather and analyse data to inform future approaches
  • looking at how to use data to inform support for children on themes such as literacy, maths and curriculum development.

Some school staff indicated that there was more to be done to build the confidence of all staff to deal with data, analysis and research. 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.

Regional stakeholders agreed that there was more to do in sharing data between schools. Some gave examples of work that had been done at RIC level, including training schools on effective use of data. Some felt that the pandemic had impacted on their ability to focus on use of and sharing of data. Others felt that there was a nervousness and sensitivity about sharing data between schools. Many indicated that there was more to do to support teachers at classroom level to use and understand data.

"Last year there was less focus on data, and more focus on supporting the Covid learning gaps." Regional stakeholder

"There are still some sensitivities to be managed around data sharing." Regional stakeholder

Local authority collaboration

Senior level collaboration

Regional stakeholders felt that the RICs had enabled local authority officers to collaborate in new and enhanced ways.

For example, at senior level, Directors of Education (or equivalent) met regularly. As the pandemic emerged, directors met more regularly, online, sharing issues and discussing how to deal with new challenges. Most met weekly or fortnightly online, and also communicated regularly informally - for example through What's App groups. Some communicated on a daily basis during the pandemic.

Heads of Service level staff across RIC authorities were also collaborating regularly. The lead from the Directors, and recognition of the power of working together, helped other managers and senior staff, such as Quality Improvement Managers and Officers, see the value of working together strategically on a regional level.

Senior education staff found that this collaboration demonstrated the power of positive collaboration and reduced the pressure on individual staff members. The opportunity for very senior staff to work so closely together provided a strong support network as well as a professional learning experience.

Officer level collaboration

RICs found that when people saw collaboration happening at senior level, it encouraged them to do the same. Officers working in local authorities found that it was valuable to connect with others doing a similar role, as often their role was unique in their own authority - particularly in the smaller authorities. Central officers have been able to build connections, improve their learning, share ideas and experiences and take this back to their own authorities. During the pandemic, Officers leading on key themes, such as e-learning, assessment and moderation, had regular, often daily contact.

The opportunity to take on secondment roles within the RIC also helped to provide experience and learning opportunities. In a few cases, staff were providing mentoring support between RIC authorities.

"It is the most effective form of professional learning." Regional stakeholder

Most regional stakeholders felt that this type and depth of cross authority collaboration would not have happened before the RIC. A few talked about a significant cultural shift taking place, with people pulling together between the authorities, working together, and proactively identifying where collaborative effort is needed.

"Staff in central teams now feel part of something." Regional stakeholder

"Through collective agency, the totality of improvement is greater than the sum of the parts." Regional stakeholder

"The collaborative landscape has changed. This will ultimately lead to a positive impact on children and young people as they move through school." Regional stakeholder

A few indicated that levels of engagement had been lower in one area, and that the value gained through collaboration depended on partners engaging positively at all levels.

"You will only get as much back out for your authority as you put in." Regional stakeholder

Sharing skills and expertise

In some cases, regional stakeholders felt that bringing together different authorities with different profiles helped to share skills and practice between officers with different areas of expertise. For example, in one area stakeholders highlighted that some authorities are Challenge Authorities, and some are not. This means that experiences are different, but officers have welcomed the opportunity to talk about experiences, explore what works and try out new things.

"It has given us more perspective, rather than seeing things through one lens." Regional stakeholder

Similarly, one national stakeholder indicated that over recent years many local authorities have lost subject leads and specialists within their central teams, as roles had become more generic. By pooling resources across local authorities, RICs had been able to provide access to support from subject specialists across the region.

"There is a real benefit in being able to pool resources and expertise at the regional level to support the improvement of pedagogy." National stakeholder

Elected member views

Elected members were positive about the impact RICs had on collaboration, believing that through the RICs people had become more outward looking, keen to work together and saw the value of collaboration.

"Originally we thought that the RIC would add another layer to the education service, but now we see it as a real strength." Elected member

A few elected members highlighted that there had been a degree of collaboration before the RICs were established, but that through the RICs the level of collaboration had increased, and people had greater recognition of the importance of working together.

"The RIC put collaboration into a structure and allowed it to flourish." Elected member

National stakeholder views

Most national stakeholders also highlighted that local authorities were working more collaboratively, and that approaches to working together had matured as the RIC had developed. 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.

"There is definitely more trust between local authorities and more sharing of advice, guidance and resources."

National stakeholder

"The concept of collaboration is now common currency." National stakeholder

Example: Northern Alliance - Collaborative working

In Northern Alliance thinking around collaboration has been driven by principles around building back better and drivers for whole system change. As part of this, the RIC has explored how to build the right conditions for effective and true collaboration and has developed a collaborative evaluation model. As part of this work, the Northern Alliance priorities were refocused and reduced, and the RIC team has done a lot of training on principles and models for improvement.

Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - SEIC associates

The SEIC, supported by Education Scotland, developed and trained a network of 50 SEIC associates focused on quality improvement, as part of the approach to developing an Empowered System. The SEIC associates explored the different approaches to school reviews across the authorities and reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of each to learn from each other. SEIC associates have been involved in school reviews outwith their own authority to further strengthen the review process.

"It's all about practitioners supporting each other." Regional stakeholder

Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative - Joint work

In SWEIC, the Education Scotland regional improvement team has provided a wide range of support. Locality work led by the Senior Regional Advisor and Senior Inspector for the South West Education Scotland locality team resulted in targeted support to schools, work with central officers and headteachers and other support work. Education Scotland's Regional Improvement Team also delivered QAMSO training and support with digital learning.

Collaboration on wider thematic areas

The RICs have also encouraged collaboration around wider thematic areas. In one case, the RIC encompasses children's services, and supports collaboration around a wide range of themes.

"There is good representation and commitment, across education, social work, health, third sector and public health." Regional stakeholder

Across the RICs, other areas where collaborative work has developed organically include supporting equality and diversity, community development, early years and hearing young people's voices in decision making. In some cases, RICs have drawn together practitioners on specialist areas of work including additional support for learning, home education and educational psychology.

A key area where many local authorities have collaborated around RIC areas is the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scottish law through the UNCRC Incorporation Scotland Bill. The bill places requirements on public authorities in terms of children's rights. As the requirements are new, local authorities were starting from similar positions and found it valuable to collaborate on their response through RICs. Education Scotland has provided extensive support through 'Train the Trainer' UNCRC professional learning webinars - which colleagues from all RICs have attended - and additional materials, resources and support to take forward rights based approaches across educational settings.

In some areas, local authorities worked together through the RICs on the delivery of the expansion of early learning and childcare, from 600 to 1,140 hours for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds.

Regional stakeholders found this collaboration useful. Some felt that maintaining a relatively tight focus on education, and clear priorities within this, was useful for the RIC while others felt that there was potential to expand the regional approach to exploring issues around children's services, families and community.

Example: West Partnership - Wider themes

In the West Partnership, an existing network for Community Learning and Development Managers now connects into the RIC. Supported by Education Scotland and the RIC, CLD officers strengthened their connections with the RIC, developed a shared understanding of regional priorities and now link in with the RIC plan.

Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative - Wider themes

As the SWEIC has developed wider groups have been established around additional support needs, educational psychology, IT, early years and community learning and development. These groups represent growth in the willingness to work collaboratively across the South West and focus on better outcomes for children and young people.

Impact of the pandemic on collaboration

Most stakeholders felt that the pandemic had made a big difference to how local authorities worked together through the RICs. Most felt that the pandemic had increased the intensity of joint working and made local authorities more open to sharing and less protective or territorial about their own work. Dealing with new situations and need to focus and adapt very quickly has helped relationships within the RICs to deepen and strengthen.

"The phone used to light up every time there was a change to the restrictions." Regional stakeholder

Using online communication and collaboration tools increased their ability to regularly engage and work together, particularly in rural and remote areas where geography was previously a challenge. Access to virtual meeting space enabled people to develop online support networks, share practice online and participate in online events, webinars and Teams meetings. Some felt that more people were able to take part in this way, as it negated the need for travel.

"It has opened doors, there is stronger partnership working." Regional stakeholder

"Now collaboration happens at officer and school level. The relationships that have been built have been strengthened over the past year." Regional stakeholder

Regional stakeholders stressed how the pandemic and the need to adapt, flex and respond to an ever changing landscape helped to strengthen and deepen their joint working arrangements. The RICs provided a strong basis for a quick and effective response.

"We had a set of shared priorities and had built strong relationships. We had more agency to provide a collective response to our schools." Regional stakeholder

"As a RIC, we were more outward looking and able to use our collective brainpower." Regional stakeholder

Although the pandemic was extremely challenging for all in the education sector, it also provided some opportunities. It gave people a chance to work differently, support one another and connect.

"Lockdown opened doors for connections and collaborations… It brought people together, everyone was in the same boat. It was a shared experience. People were keen to connect – they didn't want to be isolated." Regional stakeholder

The use of technology meant that it was much easier for people in different geographic areas to connect and feel like equal partners.

"Working online and meeting remotely has made things more equitable, more people are able to get involved." Regional stakeholder

Collaboration between RICs

Regional stakeholders also gave examples of how the RICs were collaborating with one another and sharing their work at national level, including collaborating on resources for pupils with additional support needs, e-learning and assessment and moderation. Through performing a range of roles at both regional and national level, Education Scotland played an important role in sharing approaches across the RICs and co-ordinating national practice. Some felt there was scope for more of this type of collaborative work between RICs.

Example: E-learning

RICs are playing a key role in developing e-learning for pupils in Scotland. The national e-learning offer has been developed in partnership between the Scottish Government, Education Scotland, e-Sgoil, ADES and the RICs. It complements the online learning being provided by schools, local authorities and RICs. It covers:

  • Live learning - The live learning offer is through e-Sgoil, originally created to offer greater learning opportunities for pupils in Western Isles. Pupils from across all local authorities have registered for this learning. RICs have contributed live lessons to e-Sgoil.
  • Recorded lessons - The West Partnership provides a package of more than two thousand recorded lessons, through the West Online School (West OS). The other RICs have also contributed significantly to the recorded content.
  • Learning and teaching resources - Education Scotland has worked with practitioners to prepare, quality assure and share around 14,000 resources. These have also been shared through RIC networks.

Example: Collaboration between RICs

FVWL, the West Partnership and Tayside RICs are working together to develop National 1, 2 and 3 resources for learners with additional support needs in response to a gap in appropriate resources. The work was initiated by the Tayside RIC in partnership with the FVWL RIC. The RICs are creating a national project, creating a national bank of resources linked to West OS and e-Sgoil national e-learning offer.

"There is a real willingness to share information, help each other and get involved."

"The RIC took a strategic role and made things happen." Regional stakeholders



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