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 4: Engagement and support of schools

Key themes

  • This chapter draws on the views of 53 school staff from 50 schools. This is a small sample of in-depth discussions and their findings - while providing useful insight to experiences and views - cannot be extrapolated to the whole school population.
  • Most school staff involved in this review were aware of RIC priorities.
  • 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.
  • Senior staff developed skills around management, strategic change, recovery and supporting staff. Some particularly valued networks of senior staff during the pandemic, to reflect on key issues.
  • Most school staff and regional stakeholders 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 West OS, and the contribution of both live and recorded lessons.
  • 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.


This chapter explores RIC engagement and support of schools. It focuses on:

  • awareness of RIC priorities and activities among school staff (including headteachers, depute teachers, principal teachers and class teachers)
  • learning and leadership opportunities
  • the Covid-19 response
  • future plans for school engagement and support.

The impact of this engagement and support is explored in detail in Chapter Five.

For context, the interim review of RICs in 2018 found that school staff, regional and national stakeholders all felt that engagement with schools through the RIC was at very early stages. Often engagement with schools was targeted, working with a small number of schools to test ideas. At the time of the interim review, most school staff were very positive about the RIC concept, sharing best practice, making connections and building consistency, but largely felt that it would take time to see an impact in schools and for RICs to be visible to teachers in the classroom.


Awareness raising activity

RICs had undertaken a wide range of activities to raise awareness among school staff. This included:

  • RIC website, Glow, blogs, Twitter, Sway, Facebook and e-newsletters
  • encouraging local authorities to share information with schools
  • involving headteachers in RIC development days
  • directories or calendars bringing together learning opportunities
  • promotion of specific activities or events
  • sharing information with the local press.

RICs had communications strategies to ensure that school staff at different levels were aware of the opportunities available to them and monitored engagement levels to see what methods were working to engage target audiences.

The RICs had engaged with a range of different types of schools. For example, some support was targeted at particular schools based on attainment levels and school improvement plans. Some had focused more on support to secondary schools, for example around moderation or e-learning offers. Some had engaged most successfully with primary schools, due to capacity to engage. In some cases, previously targeted approaches were replaced with more universal offers during the pandemic, due to all schools needing to adapt to new ways of working.

However, a few found that some local authorities were protective of their staff to ensure they were not overwhelmed with information and performed a 'gatekeeping role', particularly during very challenging times during the pandemic. A few found that use of Glow was a challenge as some local authorities chose not to use it, and so explored alternative options.

Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - Short video

SEIC has produced a video about the SEIC plan and priorities, which was used to raise awareness of the RIC at in-service days. This was linked to wider learning events and professional learning opportunities.

Example: West Partnership - Use of Twitter

The West Partnership has over 5,000 followers on Twitter. It has found that social media platforms like Twitter are very effective for reaching teachers from across the region. The RIC has also developed an interactive website and continues to use a range of communication channels.

Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative - Branding

SWEIC uses a SWEIC branded template for its activities. Information is circulated by local authority central teams, as well as on the SWEIC blog and e-learning blog. SWEIC branding is also used on all RIC Teams meetings.

Example: Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC - Sway

FVWL RIC has introduced a more sophisticated and interactive tool for their e-newsletter, using Sway. There is a joint editorial team for the newsletter, involving workstream leads and Education Scotland.

School awareness of RICs

This evaluation involved 50 interviews with school staff across the six RICs. It found that most school staff (86%) were aware of RIC priorities. School staff pointed to online newsletters (email, Sway), websites and online networks, and social media (Twitter, Facebook) as key places to find out about RIC priorities and activities. Where school awareness of the RIC was highest these communications were supported by:

  • regular updates from local authority education officers - on a weekly or monthly basis
  • education officers talking with headteachers about RIC activities and priorities
  • regular discussion of RIC priorities at key forums such as headteacher groups
  • an effective system of cascading information from headteachers to school staff - with headteachers emphasising how careful they were about making sure that staff did not become overloaded
  • strong links with schools in the form of Board membership, workstream membership or secondments from schools to the RIC.

Some indicated that staff awareness of the RIC was increasing as staff got involved in courses, activities, events, training and professional development opportunities through the RIC. This was clear in fieldwork in some RIC areas, where awareness of and involvement in the RIC was high among school staff beyond headteachers. A few felt that particularly positive projects or approaches had helped to raise awareness of the role of the RIC among schools. A few school staff mentioned it was useful to have all of the information about RIC activities in a shared folder, and for all information to be clearly branded.

However, some highlighted that there remained challenges to awareness. During 2020 and 2021, school staff often felt under extreme pressure. A few indicated that they found that this meant that they looked inwards, rather than outwards. A few school staff also indicated that with so much going on in schools, there was almost too much information circulating and it could be hard to focus in on RIC activity and priorities. In one area, a few school staff indicated that the RIC was relatively low priority among schools as their focus was on recovery.

However, others indicated that the RIC had increased in prominence due to the need for support during the pandemic. A few felt that communications had improved recently, due to the RIC focusing in on a smaller number of priorities.

"The (RIC) has more prominence now and its work is being promoted more." Headteacher, primary school


Opportunities available through RICs

RICs provided a wide range of learning opportunities for school staff. These opportunities were designed to complement the learning available through local authorities and Education Scotland.

RICs provided online career-long professional learning for school staff on a wide range of topics. Through RICs, practitioners had also had opportunities to take part in wider online professional learning opportunities, such as the World Education Summit.

Example: West Partnership - Learning opportunities

In 2019/20, a total of 3,185 practitioners accessed professional learning opportunities provided by the West Partnership[6]. Learning opportunities were developed in response to support requests from teachers and local authorities. Many sessions were co-designed in partnership with Education Scotland's regional team.

Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - Learning opportunities More than 3,000 participants have attended one or more SEIC events. More than 92% of all schools have taken part in at least one event. This includes all secondary schools, and 90% of primary and special schools.

Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative – Numeracy

The numeracy workstream within SWEIC had a focus on professional learning, open to all schools and educational establishments. 290 practitioners signed up to the launch of the network in September 2020, and by summer 2021 there were 420 members. This helped the RIC to reach practitioners in the classroom. This work was led by the RIC working with Education Scotland Regional Improvement Team colleagues.

Example: Tayside RIC - Learning

The TRIC has provided school staff with a range of learning opportunities around digital technology, moderation and recovery after the pandemic.

  • Tayside RIC has set up the Tayside Virtual Campus and offers a range of Advanced Highers online, providing a greater range of subject choices to senior phase pupils. In 2021/22 all senior pupils can access Advanced Higher Computing, Advanced Higher French and Advanced Higher Spanish using entirely remote learning, with occasional live learning sessions and some group and one to one tutorials.
  • A Tayside wide digital pedagogy strategic action plan has been created and professional learning sessions are being held to support all practitioners on effective approaches to using technology to enhance learning.

In 2020/21 RICs shifted their delivery online, which most stakeholders believed was effective and was going very well. Some regional stakeholders indicated that since moving professional learning online, during the pandemic, uptake had increased. Being online helped to increase engagement through breaking down geographic barriers and empowering people to take part in activities. A few mentioned that this online engagement had been a key aspect of ensuring that the RIC supports class teachers and support staff.

"At last we have managed to get through the classroom door." Regional stakeholder

"We moved online, there's no going back now, there are no longer any class cover barriers." Regional stakeholder

School views on learning

School views on learning were explored through qualitative discussions with 53 staff at 50 schools. Schools selected for inclusion in the review were largely those which had been involved in RIC activity in some way. Most school staff involved in this review (66%) felt that they had learned new things through the RIC and most (68%) felt they had developed their skills.

Through RIC activity school staff involved in this evaluation indicated that they had learned about a wide range of topics, including:

  • pedagogies and concepts for teaching topics such as numeracy, literacy or play
  • improvement methodologies
  • evaluative writing and providing feedback
  • progression and achievement of a level
  • digital learning and how to engage pupils online
  • closing the attainment gap
  • community connections.

As a result, headteachers felt that staff skills were refreshed and updated. Staff developed their knowledge, practice and self-confidence.

"It has really got me thinking about the way I work in class and why I do things, and highlighted the importance of reviewing practice." Principal teacher, primary school

"Staff are now much better at providing focused feedback." Headteacher, primary school

The learning opportunities also encouraged staff to become more inquiring and ask themselves questions about what they do and how they do it. Staff became empowered, and more able to reflect and drive forward improvement in their own classrooms for their pupils. Some school staff also felt that learning in this way helped to give them a wider strategic view.

"Teachers are starting to question their understanding of learning intentions and success criteria." Headteacher, primary school

"This is having a positive impact on what is being delivered in the classroom." Headteacher, primary school

Schools also went on to have collaborative discussions about approaches, inspired by the new learning, and to develop new resources, approaches and frameworks. Some school staff reported that there was an increase in the level of professional dialogue between staff and senior management, with staff feeling inspired and motivated. In some cases, learning informed school visions and school improvement plans.

"Staff are really enthusiastic and inspired and feel empowered to change how they do things." Headteacher, primary school

"It has had such a positive impact on school improvement, and on how we assess achievement and report on this." Headteacher, primary school

Some staff became champions or leaders on new approaches, supporting others to develop their skills in new areas and embedding approaches within the school. A few highlighted the value of consolidating and reinforcing their learning through sharing their ideas and practice.

Example: Learning and skills

One staff member found that through the learning opportunities available through the RIC, she changed her ideas and pedagogy. She took part in RIC learning opportunities focusing on assessment, moderation and improvement science. She then went on to study at university to help tie together her learning.

"I am now more equipped to challenge the traditional methods and look for new ways of doing things… The (RIC) has really helped to make this happen." Principal teacher, primary school

"Staff have been empowered by contributing and presenting. It is reinforcing their own skills, understanding and knowledge." Headteacher, primary school


Most RICs had undertaken a range of activity on supporting leadership activity. This included

  • promoting and creating pathways into learning and development opportunities for headteachers, deputes, staff in middle leadership and practitioners who wish to develop a leadership pathway
  • tailored resources and programmes for leaders
  • networking opportunities and learning sets for headteachers, deputes and other senior leaders
  • wider wellbeing support for leaders through the pandemic.

This activity involved connecting into other existing leadership activities, recognising the key role that Education Scotland could play in supporting leadership activities and identifying needs. Regional stakeholders involved in a few RICs indicated that they had been quite careful about the leadership support made available through the RIC, as they did not want to duplicate what others were doing and felt there was quite an active landscape around leadership activity. A few found that plans for leadership support had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.

Some senior school staff involved in this evaluation had participated in leadership activity directly, or members of their senior team had taken part. Senior staff had taken part in learning activity including:

  • events and workshops focusing on leadership skills
  • networks bringing headteachers or other senior staff together
  • leadership courses developed or promoted by the RIC.

A number of senior staff indicated that they had taken part in activity to build skills around leading in a time of change, during the pandemic. Some highlighted that they particularly valued networks of senior staff at headteacher and depute level during the pandemic.

"It has made such a difference knowing that you were not the only ones going through such challenging times." Principal teacher, primary school

"The RIC has provided the platform to form new partnerships both within and beyond my local authority." Headteacher, secondary school

Senior staff who had been involved in leadership development activity felt that they had learned a wide range of skills, which they could then bring back to the school to support staff. Key areas of skills development included around:

  • management and coaching
  • strategic change
  • recovery
  • supporting staff and staff planning
  • assuring quality of teaching
  • professional dialogue
  • improving attainment
  • pupil voice
  • using data.

A few school staff also indicted that they had learned wider skills, including strategic thinking and planning, through being involved in RIC workstreams, on the Board or on secondment to the RIC. The opportunity to be involved in activity beyond their own school was viewed positively by many, supporting the professional learning and development of staff. A few also mentioned that barriers had been broken down between local authorities and schools, and the RIC enabled senior staff to reach out to wider colleagues within the central team or access support through Education Scotland.

Example: South East Improvement Collaborative - Leadership activity

The SEIC commissioned work by Drummond International on 'The Real Value of Safe Leadership'. The RIC used this to develop a package of resources. The SEIC also worked with Columba 1400 to develop a tailored programme for headteachers and developed safe place networks for headteachers so that they could link up with other colleagues across the RIC. The SEIC also provided wellbeing coaching and support for senior leaders and introduced virtual Depute Connect Collaborative Leadership networks, in partnership with Education Scotland, to promote quality improvement through self sustaining networks.

Example: West Partnership - Leadership activity

Within the West Partnership there are a wide range of leadership support activities supporting leadership at all levels. This includes Virtual Learning Networks, coaching and mentoring support, the 'Improving our Classroom' programme and pathways into existing local and national leadership programmes.

Leadership activity has been carefully connected to the Education Scotland national offer for leadership, and to local authority priorities around needs. During 2020, the West Partnership local authorities reported that some depute heads were not ready to do the Education Scotland 'Into Headship' course but did require some rich leadership opportunity. In response, the RIC developed an existing local authority's 'Thinking about Headship' programme for depute heads.

The West Partnership quickly recognised that the demand on school leaders during the pandemic was extraordinary. Leaders also wished to collaborate with others beyond their own local authority. In response, the RIC created Virtual Leadership Networks for headteachers and depute heads, which had very high uptake. Over 300 headteachers and depute heads participated in the networks. The networks were accompanied by wellbeing support.

"The virtual networks have been a 'game-changing' moment, they are a much more effective way to engage." Regional stakeholder

The West Partnership has also developed two pilot headteacher learning sets, which were led by external facilitators. Feedback from participants was very positive and many continued to meet after the facilitation support was complete.

Supporting schools through the pandemic

Most school staff involved in this evaluation (82%) felt that priorities and activities had changed over the past year, in the context of Covid-19. School staff felt that there had been an enhanced focus on:

  • digital and online learning for pupils
  • online skills development and leadership opportunities for school staff
  • core priorities of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing
  • supporting schools through times of pressure and into recovery.

As the work of RICs became more digital, with more of a presence online, on social media and through Teams, many school staff found that this increased awareness of the RIC. The online presence was particularly helpful in rural and island areas.

"Going online meant that more people could get involved." Headteacher, primary school

Generally, school staff felt that the support they received through the pandemic was largely led by their own local authority. However, many felt that the RIC may have provided a framework for local authorities to work together to co-ordinate their support to schools - including around online learning and the SQA alternative certification model. In a few cases, school staff were aware that approaches were co-ordinated - for example on health and safety.

"It was a real advantage having someone to co-ordinate the Covid Health and Safety guidance across the RIC." Headteacher, primary school

Online learning opportunities for pupils

During 2020 and 2021, RICs were involved in creating online learning opportunities for pupils. This area of work came about in response to the pandemic. RICs either introduced digital or e-Learning workstreams, or increased the priority and focus given to existing digital workstreams.

During times when schools were closed, and online or blended learning was in place, RICs played a key role in contributing to the range of ways in which pupils could learn from home. Firstly, some RICs provided guidance and training to schools on how to operate digital learning effectively - including setting up digital classrooms, delivering lessons online and approaches to effectively engage pupils. Some RICs played an important role in enabling schools to collectively learn from experience and share best practice across the region.

"Lots of CLPL, guidance and support was provided to teachers to enable them to deliver lessons online during lockdown." Headteacher, primary school

"We were all encountering the same challenges, being able to learn from each other was really helpful." Headteacher, special school

"There has been lots of support for digital pedagogy around digital learning." Headteacher, primary school

RICs have also played a key role in contributing to the national e-learning offer, through live and recorded lessons. In discussion with school staff, some indicated that they had used these online resources. However, many were not aware of what resources were RIC resources, and some indicated feeling a bit overwhelmed due to the volume of resource and information available.

Example: Northern Alliance - e-Sgoil

The e-Sgoil offers support for schools and learners. It launched in the Western Isles in 2017 and developed into a RIC wide programme and then a nationwide community for online teaching and learning offering live, interactive, online experiences as part of the national e-learning offer. During the pandemic, a new approach - i-Sgoil - was also further developed. This programme focuses on support for pupils experiencing interrupted learning.

Schools felt that this was a good example of collaboration. Schools can pick up online lessons which are accessible and relevant to pupils. Staff are using the approaches such as virtual classroom, and those that learn about it at RIC events then cascade this within their school - leading to more consistency of delivery.

Example: Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC - Virtual learning

At the beginning of 2021, FVWL RIC placed a renewed focus on virtual learning. The timing meant that they were able to use the learning from the first lockdown to inform approaches and support during the second lockdown. The group explored and shared what the different local authorities were using in terms of digital platforms and devices, local authority digital strategies and blended learning guidance, and how this connected to the national e-learning offer.

"We made stratospheric leaps in knowledge." Regional stakeholder

Education Scotland's regional team supported the RIC well on this and encouraged a focus on digital needs analysis. Each local authority had a one to one with Education Scotland and completed the needs analysis template, and then agreed a collaborative approach. An Easter School supported study opportunity was created.

Working jointly with e-Sgoil, a joint programme was created involving both live lessons and recorded sessions. e-Sgoil let the RIC know what live lessons they wanted, and the RIC identified six practitioners to deliver live lessons nationally. In FVWL there was a high volume of sign ups to e-Sgoil over this time.

"We were creators as well as consumers." Regional stakeholder

Recorded lessons were also set up, through a RIC YouTube Channel. These were RIC branded, consistent in structure and quality assured. Lessons were 45 minutes long and focused on answering SQA assessments. There were 5,500 views over 90 days. All four authorities were also supported to sign up to West OS, for access to further recorded lessons in 10 to 15 minute sessions.

After Easter the RIC created a Sway to share all of the supported study resources/ opportunities and asked schools to share through their online classrooms with young people and parents/ carers. There were 2,500 views of the Sway and feedback shows the value of having all the links in the one place.

Example: West Partnership - West Online School (West OS)

West Partnership local authorities worked together across the RIC to support remote learning. The whole system of education changed overnight for schools, during the pandemic and associated school closures. The RIC established West OS, to support digital delivery and develop resources for schools, practitioners and learners. The platform has been extremely successful both regionally and nationally, and is now part of the national e-learning offer and accessible to all schools in Scotland. Every school in the West Partnership area has used West OS in the 2020/21.

"The RIC took the lead in developing digital learning, this took the burden off local authorities and saved everybody re-inventing the wheel." Regional stakeholder

Practitioners from other RIC areas also supported the development of content for West OS. For example, over 100 teachers in the Tayside area volunteered to upload lessons to the West OS platform.

"Covid has turbo-charged collaborative working." Regional stakeholder

RICs have learned from this experience of providing online learning for pupils and are continuing to explore how online learning opportunities can be best used in the future. For example:

  • South West Education Improvement Collaborative is piloting online Advanced Highers during the 2021/22 academic year and launched its new virtual learning campus for pupils in summer 2021 - @South-West Connects.
  • Tayside RIC has set up Tayside Virtual Campus, where the RIC is able to offer a range of Advanced Highers online, providing a greater choice of subject choices to senior phase pupils. In 2021/22 all senior pupils will be able to access Advanced Higher Computing, Advanced Higher French and Advanced Higher Spanish using entirely remote learning, with occasional live learning sessions and some group and one to one tutorials.
  • South East Improvement Collaborative worked with the University of Edinburgh to deliver targeted remote learning support to senior phase pupils. University students provide support to pupils using the TutorEd tutoring programme. Twelve schools took part in the first pilot, and the RIC plans to continue with this in the next academic year.
  • Forth Valley and West Lothian RIC is exploring how to retain the best elements of online and blended learning for the future. They know that some learners - particularly those with autism or mental health needs - found online learning very effective.

The alternative certification model

RICs 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 moderation approaches, supporting teachers to gather evidence and encouraging schools to collaborate.

Example: Tayside RIC - Moderation

The RIC created and developed a PT hub for Tayside principal teachers to establish effective networking and support around moderation practices and the SQA alternative certification model. The RIC also provided career-long professional learning with training sessions held for all QAMSOs across Tayside. Sessions were open to all schools on planning for high quality assessment and colleagues were guided through the work, including revisiting all key messages of the Moderation Cycle.

Example: South West Education Improvement Collaborative – Moderation

In SWEIC, the Assessment and Moderation workstream focused on literacy and numeracy. Practitioners and schools worked together, alongside literacy and numeracy leads for the four authorities. The groups worked to explore progress against critical indicators and identify areas for improvement. For example, a key focus was literacy and numeracy for P4s and P7s. The focus was on added value, and how they could work together to address this.

School staff talked about this work, feeling that through sharing practice across the region, confidence in assessment and moderation work increased among school staff.

During the pandemic, this workstream supported secondary schools in certain subjects around quality assurance of the Alternative Certification Model.

Future engagement with schools

Each of the RICs had clear plans and priorities for engaging with schools in the future. This included:

  • ongoing work to involve schools in setting priorities
  • building school to school links
  • data literacy for school staff
  • sharing practice online
  • co-ordinated learning offers across the RIC
  • leadership and development opportunities
  • moderation and assessment work
  • online learning offers for pupils
  • supporting networking to become self-sustaining.

RICs indicated a need to be flexible, agile and adaptable to support schools in the way that was needed at the time. Many were consulting with school staff to inform future RIC plans, priorities and activities.

"We have a real opportunity now to move to a more collaborative culture. People are more open now and less protective." Regional stakeholder

School staff involved in this review indicated that overall, they were content with current RIC priorities, and felt that it was positive to focus in on core priorities such as literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, digital learning and closing the poverty related attainment gap. Some felt that health and wellbeing was the main priority for schools, and it would be important to think about how best to support pupils around social, emotional and behavioural needs to enable effective learning for children and young people.

Some school staff cautioned that schools were exceptionally busy and that there was a need for stability of priorities, rather than introducing new ones. However, a few suggested more work could be done on[7]:

  • children's rights - with all schools working on their response to the UN Convention of Children's Rights being brought into Scottish law
  • transitions - with some children and young people finding transitions particularly hard during the pandemic
  • data analysis - to upskill staff in the use of data to inform their approaches
  • support for newly qualified teachers.

Generally, school staff were happy that opportunities to engage with the RIC were available but not required. Some suggested more work to extend the visibility of RICs to class teachers and support staff. There were mixed views on how best to do this. Some felt that headteachers should play a key role in filtering information to staff as appropriate. Some thought there could be tailored communication for different roles, perhaps through resources such as simplified versions of the RIC plan, or two minute videos on the RIC purpose and activity.

School staff enjoyed working jointly with other schools, and some suggested more work could be done to connect schools across the RIC area. A few felt there should be more networking opportunities on themes such as subject specific support for secondary schools, supporting children and young people with additional support needs, and Gaelic medium education.

A few suggested more should be done to speak to schools about their specific priorities for the RIC. A few highlighted that the future priorities of RICs would need be developed in the wider context of education reform in Scotland.



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