Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: December 2017

Minutes, agenda and papers of the first meeting of the Curriculum Assessment Board, held on 6 December 2017.

Attendees and apologies

Members and substitutes

  • Peter McNaughton - Association of Directors of Education (ADES)
  • Steven Quinn - ADES
  • Tim Wallace - Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland
  • Jim Metcalfe - College Development Network
  • Ken Thomson - Colleges Scotland
  • Robert Hynd - Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Jane O’Donnell - Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
  • Jean Carwood-Edwards - Early Years Scotland
  • Andrea Bradley - The Educational Institute of Scotland
  • Gayle Gorman - Education Scotland (Co-Chair)
  • Graeme Logan - Education Scotland
  • Alan Armstrong - Education Scotland
  • Tara Lillis - National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT)
  • Fiona Nicholson - National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • John Edward - Scottish Council of Independent Schools
  • John Kemp - Scottish Funding Council
  • Fiona Robertson - Scottish Government (Co-Chair)
  • Andy Bruce - Scottish Government
  • David Barnett - School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • Janet Brown - Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Seamus Searson - Scottish Secondary Teachers Association
  • Peter McGeorge - Universities Scotland
  • Mark Priestley - University of Stirling


  • Mike Corbett - NASUWT
  • Jim Thewliss - SLS
  • Gill Stewart - SQA
  • Sheena Devlin - Tayside Collaborative
  • Louise Hayward - University of Glasgow

Additional Attendees

  • Anna Stansfield - Scottish Government
  • Angie Felvus - Scottish Government
  • Katy Hindmarsh - Scottish Government
  • Malcolm Pentland - Scottish Government

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

1.1 Fiona Robertson (FR) and Gayle Gorman (GG) welcomed members to the first meeting of the Board. FR thanked Stephen Rafferty, Headteacher, and Forrester High School for hosting the meeting.

1.2 FR noted apologies from those members unable to attend. This included apologies from young volunteers who have agreed to join the Board but were unable to on this occasion due to school commitments. FR explained that officials have been in discussions with Young Scot to ensure the new governance structures contain the views of young people. Moving forward, a Learner Panel will be created to provide a forum for young people to influence national priorities.

2. Governance

2.1 FR introduced Papers 01(01) (Governance of education policy and improvement) and 01(02) (Role and Remit of the Curriculum and Assessment Board).

2.2 Jane O’Donnell (JO) noted that the remit should reflect that local authorities are not accountable to Scottish Ministers. FR agreed that we would clarify that whilst the Curriculum and Assessment Board is accountable to Scottish Ministers, this does not impact on organisations’ own individual accountability arrangements.

2.3 Mark Priestley (MP) suggested the remit should be extended to ensure the Board maintains an overview of curriculum research in Scotland and of international curriculum research and policy. The Board agreed the remit should be updated to reflect these points.

2.4 Peter McNaughton (PM) suggested the Board should consider more creative ways to ensure it is engaging with a larger number of young people, making greater use of digital technology and social media. FR agreed with PM’s comments, noting the importance of the Year of Young People 2018 as a catalyst for expanding the voice of learners in policy. It was agreed that officials would consider further ways to engage with young people, and that the young representatives on the Board should inform this work.

2.5 Tara Lillis (TL) queried why NASUWT are not members of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE). FR agreed to raise this with the Chair of the SBTE.

2.6 JO noted that Annex A of Paper 01 (01) on the Scottish Education Council (SEC) should be updated to reflect membership of Maureen McKenna and that COSLA is allowed substitutes at SEC meetings. FR agreed that this would be corrected and the remit of the SEC updated.

2.7 Andrea Bradley (AB) commented that the Learner Panel should take account of the need to ensure equal representation of those from a range of backgrounds and needs. FR confirmed that Scottish Government is committed to ensuring a broad range of young people are represented on the Panel and this will form part of the Panel’s specification.

3. Work themes

3.1 Gayle Gorman (GG) introduced Paper 01(03) (Work Themes). It was clarified in discussion that the themes collated in the paper were the result of consideration of a range of sources, including evidence from SQA’s Fieldwork Visits 2016/17 and Education Scotland inspection data.

3.2 In the subsequent discussion, the following points were made by the Board in relation to work themes:-

  • Given the breadth of topics provided in the Paper, it will be important for the Board to set out its early priorities. The Board should ensure its focus is wider than just schools, capturing early learning and childcare (ELC), community learning and development, further and higher education and interaction with children’s services.
  • There were a number of asks for priority consideration, including 15-24 Learner Journey Review, STEM, assessment and the level of pace and challenge between P6/P7 and S3, including at transition.
  • There was general agreement that there needs to be an initial starter piece revisiting CfE principles before the Board looks at other work streams. This should discuss the reach, perception and purposes of CfE, which can then drive further priorities.
  • In proposing or recommending any action, the Board will need to consider the impact on the teaching profession and learners in terms of workload and bureaucracy.
  • The Board should consider how its work supports the education reform agenda, including how it interplays with the creation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs). The role of the RICs in supporting teacher understanding of curriculum breadth and depth was highlighted.

3.3 Members also made the following points in relation to the Board’s mode of working:-

  • The Board should be a proactive forum for engaging change with work being taken forward at pace.
  • The Board should be transparent in its discussions, with clear communications and effective messaging to the wider system.
  • The Board should test any proposals or recommendations with groups of parents, pupils and teachers.
  • The Board should ensure it retains flexibility to consider emerging priorities with more strategic development actions.
  • The Board should consider establishing small sub-groups to advance particular priorities as a way of ensuring momentum is maintained between formal Board meetings.

3.4 Andy Bruce (ABR) agreed that officials would expand on Paper 01(03) to reflect the Board’s discussions. Board members were asked to submit any further comments they have in regard to prioritisation of work themes to the Secretariat.

3.5 Graeme Logan (GL) delivered a presentation on recent evidence from inspections on curriculum models.

3.6 In the discussion following the presentation, Board members made a number of comments:-

  • Recent academic research has showed variance of curriculum models across the sector. Some primary schools are still auditing Experiences and Outcomes whilst some secondary schools are still fitting traditional models to CfE. There is also concern about the extent of meaningful interdisciplinary learning taking place across the system.
  • There was general agreement that curriculum is a social practice and the role of the national level is to support schools to have clear, constantly evolving processes in place for curriculum development. Importantly, curricula must be seen as something to be consistently co-created and developed with young people.
  • It was acknowledged that there is a role for the Board to send clear messages to the system about the practice and purpose of curriculum design at all levels.
  • There was general appetite for work to be taken forward to ensure a focus on collaborative professional enquiry, ensuring understanding of CfE principles among the profession and reinforcing curriculum design as a social practice.

3.7 It was agreed that the Secretariat would circulate a copy of GL’s presentation, which would be updated to include a slide on inspection evidence relating to curriculum models in ELC settings. It was also agreed that given the role of the RICs in supporting curriculum development and improvement, the Report of the Joint Steering Group on the development of RICs would be circulated to members.

4. National 4: Way Forward

4.1 ABR introduced Paper 01(04) (National 4: Way Forward), summarising the background to the paper, the current known challenges in relation to the qualification and a proposal of a package of measures to address these. The Board were asked to consider:-

  • The appetite for further change to the national qualifications framework in the system;
  • Whether the proposals presented adequately address the perceived challenges around National 4;
  • Any intended and unintended implications of the proposals; and
  • The next steps which the Board would recommend, with a particular ask to consider the actions which would be in the best interests of learners.

4.2 In the subsequent discussion, the following comments were made in relation to the challenges around National 4:-

  • Emerging evidence has shown there is dissatisfaction with the qualification, but there is a lack of appetite in the system for further change. It was also noted that research suggests the presence of fallback provides opportunities for inappropriate presentations. Other members suggested that teachers often make aspirational presentations and fallback ensures that learners are not left without an award.
  • The professional associations reported mixed views from members on the value of National 4 and as a result, the approach which should be taken. Whilst some reported that some members were impatient for change, others noted that some members would welcome a period of stability and requested that wider curricular issues, including reconsideration of the purpose of the senior phase, are addressed first before decisions are made on component parts.
  • The impact of multi-level and multi-course teaching was acknowledged as a key issue which requires to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of qualifications. It was suggested that primary schools manage composite teaching well and lessons could be learned by the secondary sector.
  • The principle of certification for all was raised by a number of Board members. It was acknowledged that despite original design intentions, in some settings Nationals 4 and 5 are being used in a similar way to Standard Grades to ensure certification for all. It was noted that the OECD were positive about the inclusivity of the Scotland’s approach but it is important that the Board reflects on how progression pathways have worked in practice.
  • It was suggested that it is the credibility of National 4, rather than the model of assessment within it, which requires to be addressed. Further and higher education representatives commented on the benefits of quality assured, internally assessed course components in their own sectors. It was suggested that the system needs to put greater credibility on, and support in place for, teachers’ own professional judgement, and seek to address current cultural attitudes towards teacher professionalism
  • It was acknowledged that one of the key issues was the progression between National 4 and National 5. Board members were generally content with the value of the National 4 qualification in itself, and as a progression route to college. However, the Board agreed that there was an issue around articulation between National 4 and National 5. It was suggested that the removal of units from National 5, but not National 4, would exacerbate this problem. It was acknowledged that the profession was split on the decision to remove units from National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher.
  • There was a general appetite for a more robust evidence base of the known challenges in respect of the credibility of the National 4 qualification, and that this should be gathered as a priority in order to develop an informed communications effort to reinforce the learning achieved at SCQF Level 4.

4.3 The Board also made the following comments in relation to the proposals presented:-

  • There was a general lack of appetite for change in isolation, and a lack of consensus on the proposals presented in Paper 01(04).
  • In particular, members noted the risk that the proposal set out in Annex B would increase workload. Teachers would be unwilling to leave learners with the prospect of no award, therefore ensuring young people undertake the Added Value Unit in addition to the optional differentiated element. It was commented that teachers would wish to be aspirational for learners and by not taking this step, there may be a drop in overall attainment.
  • It was noted that National 4 was designed without an examination to suit learners for whom this was not suitable. It is important that these learners are not forgotten with the proposal to add an optional, externally assessed element.
  • It was suggested that the proposals could result in two tiers of National 4, which would be confusing and unclear for employers, as well as learners and parents.

4.4 In relation to next steps, the Board was in general agreement that an initial piece of work should be carried out to consider the original principles of CfE and to identify those areas where further attention is required to ensure the benefits of CfE are fully realised. Some of the key issues and values which the Board considered need to be addressed were:

  • the principle of certification for all
  • the impact of multi-level teaching on the design intentions of the curriculum and qualifications framework
  • confidence of teachers in their own professional judgement and cultural attitudes to teacher professionalism
  • ensuring robust judgements about progression and assessment
  • the availability and extent of alternative learner pathways, including two-year qualifications and qualifications and skills across SCQF levels

4.5 It was agreed that time should be taken to develop and agree effective and meaningful proposals to bring about systemic change and improvement. As such, and in relation to National 4, it was agreed that:

  • There should not be a wide consultation on a possible alternative National 4 model at this stage, but we should establish whether we have a firm evidence base from a broad range of stakeholders on the perceived credibility issues associated with National 4.
  • This intelligence should be used to undertake a specific communications and engagement exercise to address the current myths and negative perceptions around the National 4 qualification to improve its currency amongst learners, teachers, parents and employers and within the context of a wider range of pathways available to learners.

5. AOB and close

5.1 PM asked that, in order to build on the momentum established in the meeting, the Board should take forward work to agree its priorities at pace.

5.2 Tim Wallace commented that, as with the secondary sector, there is a similar need to address confidence in teacher professional judgement in the primary sector and asked that this be taken forward as a priority. This was agreed by the Board.

5.3 It was agreed that the Secretariat would recirculate dates for the Board’s next meetings.

5.4 GG thanked the Board for their contributions and closed the meeting.


  1. Secretariat to update role and remit to:
    a. clarify wording in relation to accountability
    b. include oversight of international curriculum policy and research and oversight of curriculum research in Scotland in the remit
  2. Officials to consider, with the young representatives, how the Board can creatively and innovatively consult with more young people.
  3. FR to raise membership of NASUWT on SBTE with the Board’s Chair.
  4. Secretariat to ensure that Annex A of Paper 01 (01), and the remit of the SEC, reflect that COSLA is allowed substitutes at SEC meetings and that Maureen McKenna is member of SEC.
  5. Officials to adapt Paper 01(03), in light of the Board’s discussions as summarised in paragraph 4.4 above, for consideration at the Board’s next meeting. This expanded paper will reflect the issues relating to assessment practice, curriculum design and the learner journey raised as part of the discussion on National 4 and include a draft workplan for the Board.
  6. Board members to submit any further comments on prioritisation of work themes to the Secretariat.
  7. Secretariat to circulate a copy of GL’s presentation, which would be updated to include a slide on inspection evidence relating to curriculum models in ELC settings.
  8. Secretariat to circulate a copy of Report of the Joint Steering Group on the development of RICs.
  9. Officials to establish a plan for engaging further with stakeholders in relation to the perceived credibility issues associated with National 4 in order to inform a future communications exercise to address the myths and negative perceptions of the qualification.
  10. Secretariat to recirculate dates of future Board meetings.


Curriculum and Assessment Board
c/o Learning Directorate
The Scottish Government
Victoria Quay

Tel: 0131 244 4000 or 0300 244 4000 (for local rate throughout UK and for mobile)

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