Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Making effective collaboration in Scotland a reality – Gillian Hunt

The Scottish Government seeks to ensure that every child and young person succeeds, regardless of their background.  They aim to raise attainment, promote the highest standards of literacy and numeracy and close the gap between disadvantaged and more affluent learners. This cannot be achieved using the resources available within the education system. We need to listen to, learn from, and collaborate with the third sector. But first, we must overcome a reluctance to do so.

I challenge the new First Minister and their Education Secretary to refocus attention on education, and to ensuring that all of our children and young people succeed.  I urge them to recognise the need to create a new system, an ecosystem and to actively promote and support the contribution of third sector organisations to this ecosystem.

To explore the issues above I had conversations with more than 30 individuals, from public, third and private sectors, to produce a paper entitled, ‘An Ecosystem: what we need for effective collaboration in Scotland’.  This was published by Reform Scotland in December 2022, with follow up articles, ‘Charities should have a bigger role in Scottish schools’ in the Times Education Supplement Scotland and ‘We must have more charity involvement in schooling’ in The Herald.

The purpose was to explore the barriers to collaboration, examine examples of co-operation between the third sector and government (national and local) and suggest lessons learned from these experiences.  I concluded the paper with four recommendations to make collaboration more effective: set up an organisation to map third sector collaboration; require schools to nominate a staff member to be responsible for third sector relationships; simplify funding and allow it to follow the individual; and sectors to learn with and from each other.

I received a significant response to the paper: from around 100 individuals resulting in a further 32 conversations. Respondents were from public sector and government organisations, Scottish Parliament, third sector organisations, the private sector and parents.  I believe the response illustrates a desire for discussion and debate in this area, that people want something different to happen: reform is clearly sought.  There was consensus that there is too much talk and analysis of problems in Scotland, and little action.

In consideration of the responses which supported them overwhelmingly, I propose that the four recommendations remain.  Where my thinking has changed around the recommendations, is noted below:

  • A small national organisation to map collaboration is set up, commissioned by Scottish Government. This work may be done by an existing third sector organisation.  A national co-ordinator should be appointed to lead and manage this team.  The first task would be to seek out information that already exists, holding a meeting with organisations, such as SCVO, who hold that information.  The team would act as the point of contact for organisations seeking collaboration and partnership.  Information on good practice would be gathered and inter-sector professional development offered.  Local authorities would map their own collaborations and partnerships and share with this team.  In practice, coordinating nationally, acting locally.
  • Responsibility for managing collaboration cannot be an additional task but must be an organisation’s way of operating. Scottish Government must recognise and facilitate the autonomy of head teachers and their staffs. Developing this way of working should begin in initial teacher education.
  • Almost all respondents pointed to the fact that, money talks, that it levers behaviour. Where an organisation spends its money shows where its commitment lies.  There was overwhelming support for longer-term funding and simpler procurement processes.  Where we can affect change is by following the principles in Pupils Equity Fund (PEF) National Guidelines with regard to the involvement of stakeholders and collaboration with, and use of, third sector partnerships.  Though working within agreed national and local guidelines, the decision on PEF spend must rest with head teachers.   All political parties should engage in discussion on use of PEF and make education a cross party issue.

Additionally we should:

  • Consider national and international examples. Learning from these would be published by the new organisation.
  • Set up consortiums of voluntary organisations to provide more consolidated approaches, thus reducing duplication of provision, competition for funding and provide more opportunity for impact.

 It is clear that the public and third sector often speak different languages and use different measures.  For example schools measure in attainment, attendance and positive destinations, while a third sector organisation supporting young people in school may be growing confidence and self esteem.  This in turn impacts on attainment, attendance and positive destinations, hence the two sectors need to know and understand how one facilitates the other.

There have been numerous stories which exemplify effective collaboration.  However, success stories alone do not change practice, these must be balanced with statistics.  It is crucial that we evaluate and share information from pilots with politicians and other decision-makers to enable them to make reform happen.

In conclusion we require a three-stage process to affect change: 

  1. Raise awareness – Start conversations, be clear about what the problem is, explore barriers, highlight current examples of effective collaborative working and make recommendations. This was achieved with the initial paper  ‘An Ecosystem: what we need for effective collaboration in Scotland’, subsequent articles and follow up conversations.
  2. Pilot and evaluate – It is helpful to show how an ecosystem approach works, to demonstrate effective collaboration in practice. Two further reports are planned: a school operating as an ecosystem in its own community and a local authority mapping out partnerships and collaborations with a view to working as an ecosystem. The story of Dunoon Grammar School, winner of T4 Education’s World’s Best School for Community Collaboration will be published in May 2023, following interviews with pupils, staff, parents and partners.  An initial report on the local authority project is planned for the end of Ju
  3. Propose, then take action – The final stage is to effect change: to move from talk to action. This will begin with a presentation on findings from the two pilots above.  Evaluations will be shared and proposals made to decision-makers at a roundtable event and a members debate at the Scottish Parliament.

I now call upon the new leadership and cabinet of the Scottish Government to listen and take appropriate action, as noted above, to make collaboration between the public, third, and private sector more effective, in order to ensure that all young people in Scotland succeed.

Gillian Hunt is an education consultant.