Review of regional collaboration in education finds many positives


In December, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) published a review of Scotland’s Regional Improvement Collaborations (RICs).

Scotland’s six RICs were set up in early 2018, bringing together the education departments of local governments in the regional areas. They bring together a range of professionals with a focus on supporting teachers and other school staff working with children and young people to improve their wellbeing, attainment and outcomes.

The largest RIC is the West Partnership, which comprises eight council areas and takes in 35 percent of Scotland’s school age children. Our researchers provide expert strategic advice to the West Partnership board, support and facilitate groups and networks to develop collaborative inquiry approaches and evaluate the work the West Partnership carries out to understand its impact and the value it adds to local authorities.

ROC interim evaluation

Our work with the West Partnership was mentioned and our interim evaluation that found the partnership was promoting a collaborative ethos and workstream activity was starting to impact on learning and teaching in the classroom.

The Scottish Government COSLA review started in 2020 and was paused because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It started again in the autumn of 2021, after schools had experienced significant periods of change, stress and restrictions, with the pandemic continuing to have a major impact on schools.

In addition, in June 2021, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Education announced the Scottish Qualifications Authority is to be replaced, and a new specialist agency for curriculum and assessment is under consideration. Reforms of Education Scotland are also underway.

Confidence in RIC structures and governance

Against this backdrop, the review found a high level of confidence in RIC structures and governance arrangements. During 2020 and 2021, many of those questioned felt that 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.
  • RICs have enabled local authority officers to collaborate in new and enhanced ways. Some felt a significant cultural shift had taken place, with proactive, collaborative working becoming an accepted way of working in education.
  • Most school staff involved in this review were aware of RIC priorities and felt they had the opportunity to collaborate, share best practice, learn new things and develop their skills through the RIC.
  • Working with colleagues from Education Scotland, RICs played a key role in contributing to Education Scotland’s national e-learning offer and supporting secondary schools with the SQA alternative certification model.

Evidence of impact

The review says there is evidence RICS have an impact on

  • developing the skills of school staff and delivery of lessons
  • skills and consistency around assessment and moderation
  • leadership and improvement planning skills
  • building a collaborative culture between local authorities
  • new online and blended learning opportunities for pupils.

The review identified key themes, such as a high level of confidence in the RIC structures and governance, and that the partners felt able to collaborate. Many felt elected members had experienced a real shift, with a growing appreciation and understanding of the RICs.

Governance and partnership work had strengthened, in part because of the pandemic, many felt.

West Partnership examples

The West Partnership’s work was highlighted throughout the report. Examples of good practice included sharing resources between local authorities, with one council providing human resources expertise, another finance, another project management and another digital support.

Collaboration and empowerment were other good examples the report picked up, quoting the West Partnership’s Improving Our Classrooms programme, which started at Glasgow City Council and expanded across the RIC, showing that schools are growing in confidence to share work initially at regional level, which can then be broadened to a national reach.

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. It increased the intensity of joint working and made local authorities more open to sharing.

Dealing with new situations and needing to adapt quickly helped relationships within the RICS deepen and strengthen.

Access to virtual meeting spaces enabled people to develop online support networks, share practice online and participate in online events, webinars and Teams meetings. Some felt that this enabled more people to take part, as it negated the need for travel.

Twitter and the West Partnership website

Other highlighted examples of the West Partnership’s work included its use of Twitter as an effective way to reach teachers across the region and its interactive website, and the learning opportunities the RIC offers, such as the 3,185 people able to access those in 2019/20.

The Partnership’s leadership activity connected to Education Scotland’s national offer changed to virtual during the pandemic, with one stakeholder calling it “game-changing” and a “much more effective way to engage”

The West Online School allowed local authorities in the West Partnership area to work together to support remote learning and has been extremely successful, both regionally and nationally. It is now part of the national e-learning offer and accessible to all schools in Scotland.

The Partnership has also evaluated its events and programmes – for example, of the 150 staff who attended evaluative writing professional learning through the RIC 80% indicated that they felt their confidence levels improved.

In general, the review found that there has been real progress since RICs were established, and since the interim review in late 2018. There is now a high level of confidence in RICs – in terms of their governance, structures and plans – and they have become established within the education system.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a considerable impact on schools and the education system. RICs strengthened their collaboration during this time, using existing networks to build their response to this crisis.

Although this was an extremely busy and pressured time for all in the education system, the pandemic fostered stronger regional collaboration at all levels, including staff at very senior levels. The RICs helped local authority officers to collaborate in new ways and strengthen collaborative relationships between local authorities.

You can download the Scottish Government/COSLA review of RICs in full on the Scottish Government’s website.

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We are the Network for Social and Educational Equity, based in the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. We work with governments, educational institutions, local authorities and teachers to promote educational change.

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About NSEE

The Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) is part of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (ROC) at the University of Glasgow.

It works in collaboration with schools, local authorities, Education Scotland and partner services to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in young people’s education.

NSEE helps schools to use appropriate evidence and data within collaborative working approaches to critically examine context and current arrangements, make changes based on evidence, monitor the impact of these changes and reflect on what they learn.

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