Monday, 15 October 2018

Scottish Education under reconstruction - Regional Improvement Collaboratives must hit the ground running


New System for Scottish education must show itself fit for purpose

The Scottish Government’s 6 new Regional Improvement Collaboratives for Education will be subject to some close attention in the coming months. They simply must deliver, if they are to achieve credibility as engines of excellence, rather than being a mere managerial miasma. As Archie MacPherson would put it, ‘They’ll have to set out their stall early doors.’

And these RICs are central to Scotland’s Education Governance arrangements. In delaying the Education Bill, Mr Swinney wishes for transformation through “collaborative and collegiate” action. My own authority, The Highland Council, is one of 8 within the dramatically titled ‘Northern Alliance’. Its Byzantine agenda has 4 Priority Areas, to be implemented through 16 Workstreams and 6 Drivers, and seeks connections, networks, synergy, the alignment of Progression Frameworks and evidence of positive impact.

These are the 4 Priorities:
Ø  Improvement in attainment, particularly literacy and numeracy
Ø  Closing the outcome gap between the most and least disadvantaged children
Ø  Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing
Ø  Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school leaver destinations for all young people

A reasonable set of priorities, drawn from the National Improvement Framework. This document, originally published in January 2016, serves as a go-to for all Improvement Planning, including at school level. Which is where we might be fearful for the shiny new RICs: because these overarching national targets – which inform all curriculum design and planning – are already part of the furniture, as it were, in every locality and every Associated School Group. We in schools already plan, deliver, assess and evaluate in the shade of these targets. Nothing to see here.

So, early days maybe, but in a context where the School Improvement Plan has pride of place in every classroom, and Mr Swinney’s Empowerment agenda is likely to devolve further functions to school senior management, whither, and wherefore, the Regional Improvement Collaborative? Surely its raison d’être is against the grain of more localised impetus?

Well, unless the RICs act meaningfully on pedagogical matters, relevantly and supportively analysing and employing the (evolving) research evidence base, they may struggle to justify their existence. Revenant à nos moutons: the Northern Alliance has an impressive mission statement, promising “to develop and learn as programmes embed and develop…working in partnership nationally, regionally and locally…(to) develop impact and drive improvement across the country.” 

How useful it would be, for instance, if the excellent Education Endowment Foundation report, Improving Secondary Science, which has just been published, could inform not just the NIF toolkit, but school-based research and piloting? How promulgating the substantial insights this report gives us, into the efficacy of different in-class pupil groupings, and specific forms of meta-cognition and feedback, could add a cross-curricular lustre to the RIC and its work, otherwise unavailable through its data-collation, conferences for those who won’t be missed at school, and generalised exhortations to improve? 

In short, how about a Regional Improvement Collaborative as a beacon of ideas and inspiration at a time when actual classrooms in actual schools may be short of resources or even staff? When those in schools and local authorities may be working their butts off trying to meet the needs of the 26% of children with additional support needs, as well as the other 74%? Schools need support, not more Sisyphean boulders.

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