Report and resources from a collaborative action research inquiry in Fife which looked at the role of partnership working with schools to address the needs of young people with additional support needs.

Fife is one of the four case sites where What Works Scotland has worked with community planning partnerships to undertake collaborative action research into public service reform.

Key findings

  • Need for more time and resources for organisations and individual practitioners to know what is available for young people.
  • Identified:
    • the need to encourage more sharing of good practice
    • the need for time and resources to liaise with partners and enable effective partnership working
    • the importance of spending time getting to know your partners
  • Plans for a partnership day at Kirkcaldy High School to engage all partners that work directly with young people with additional support needs.
  • Resolution to continue to take the time to step back and look at changes, and include all partners as part of the reflective process.
  • Recognition that measuring outcomes will likely involve qualitative rather than quantitative work.
  • Better understanding of the challenges facing the third sector and how this might affect how partnership work.
  • Relationships were developed and strengthened.

The inquiry

The group of practitioners – called the Partnership Innovation Team (PIT) – which undertook this collaborative action research inquiry asked this question: “How can schools work better in partnership to support young people who need additional support?”

The Schools PIT initially sought to explore a schools intervention programme that offers alternative activities for some high school students. But because the group membership and focus changed, in early 2016 the group decided to focus more generally on approaches to partnership working with schools, and how organisations can better respond to the needs of young people with additional support needs.

The context

The Schools PIT operated from an understanding that educational underachievement has a long-term impact on individuals’ lives that is related to future success in the labour market, poor health, risky behaviours, and levels of civic engagement; and which also links to how the UK economy performs over time.

The members of the Partnership Innovation Team

For much of the time of the inquiry the group included:

  • Local government: Based at the centre with Fife-wide functions:
    • Policy officer (Policy and Research Team)
    • Analyst (Research team)
  • Local government: Kirkcaldy-based practitioners
    • Integration manager (Education)
    • Community education workers
  • Schools-based:
  • Third sector
    • YMCA general secretary
    • YMCA  programme manager
  • What Works Scotland
    • Research fellow, University of Edinburgh

Inquiry activities

The Partnership Innovation Team met six times for PIT meetings and once to run the focus groups. Members also participated in facilitated sessions, events, and national retreats as part of the wider What Works Scotland Fife CAR programme times.

They created a data collection plan to explore partnership practices between schools-based practitioners such as teachers and educational psychologists, and practitioners based in other public and third sector organisations such as youth workers, community development, community education workers, and so forth).

They developed a short questionnaire to gather practitioners’ views about partnership working. After the responses were collated, coded, and grouped the PIT decided to explore some of the issues in more detail.

They used focus groups to gain an understanding of partnership working that went beyond attendance at meetings and considered the day-to-day and wider activities that comprise and improve collaborative working. The policy analyst and policy officer used the KETSO facilitation tool to facilitate the focus groups. Ketso offers a structured way to run a workshop, capture the discussion and ideas and is designed to allow all participants a say and encourage effective engagement. The PIT members considered the question ‘How can schools work better in partnership to support young people who need additional support?’ and various themes including participation, roles and responsibilities and common vision.

There were two aims for the focus groups: firstly, to provide information for the inquiry work, and secondly, to improve partnership working and relationship building by bringing people together to discuss partnership.

The story of the Schools PIT is presented in this animation by Catriona Maclean, Analyst in Fife Council’s Research Team.

See a transcript of this presentation on the PowToon website

Key outcomes of CAR

  • The process of working together, having meetings and conducting focus groups in the school developed and improved the context in which the individuals will continue to work.
  • By working together there were changes in individuals’ practice, their connections and working relationships with colleagues and their understanding of other’s contexts
  • Process offered time and space to develop relational practices.
  • Understanding that for the group to develop and progress it needed to start with a smaller group of practitioners with positive relationship histories and then could bring in other and more diverse views. It takes time to build trust and understanding.
  • Development of the practice of balancing task-based working with critical reflection.

What was the impact of using a collaborative action research approach?

The PIT members reflected that bringing together new people to build an inquiry team was challenging. For some members the process of creating change and action through dialogue and discussion was unnerving and a very real frustration at the beginning of the inquiry process; there was a range of individuals with different experience of working in teams or using meetings as spaces to discuss and negotiate interests.

Over time the practitioners increased their effort to ensure that each meeting had a clear purpose, that members had specific actions, and so members became more comfortable with the process and clearer on what they were doing (individually) and what they were trying to achieve (collaboratively).

The group developed to balance task-based working with the inclusion of critical reflection and the PIT members highlighted in their final report that “immediately after specific events there was time to reflect and discuss what had been learned before collaboratively deciding on the next steps.”

This learning and the insights from practitioner’s individual reflections point to the critical place of relational practices, and suggest that processes like CAR provide space and time for such practices to evolve.

The members all indicate in some detail that the process has influenced them in some way, be it their practice, their connections with other colleagues, their understanding of other’s contexts, and the raising awareness of the issues facing young people with additional support needs. It is clear from their comments that they regarded the process as complicated but positive.

“I have a better appreciation of the constraints and issues that face operational staff and the issues of logistics which on paper may seem trivial but in reality can take a great deal of effort to overcome.”

Download the report

Collaborative Action Research Report: Working in Partnership to Support Students with Additional Needs (PDF)

The report was written by Dr Hayley Bennett, based on the practitioners’ inquiry and the information they provided in their populated reporting template.

Related resources

Fife case site page
All the collaborative action research projects by practitioners in Fife and What Works Scotland.