Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: December 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board, held on 2 December 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Clare Hicks, Scottish Government (Co-Chair – and chair for this meeting)
  • Peter McNaughton, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Steven Quinn, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Sharon McLellan, Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
  • Ken Thomson, Colleges Scotland
  • Michael Lennon, Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Matthew Sweeney, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)
  • Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland
  • Andrea Bradley, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
  • Gayle Gorman, Education Scotland (Co-Chair)
  • Ollie Bray, Education Scotland
  • Joan MacKay, Education Scotland
  • Jacqueline Nimmo, Education Scotland
  • Richard Bell, NASUWT
  • Fiona Nicholson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • David Barnett, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • Aileen Ponton, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Partnership (SCQF)
  • Kathryn O 'Loan, Scottish Funding Council
  • Dr Gill Stewart, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Catherine Nicol, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)
  • Neville Prentice, Skills Development Scotland
  • Brian Green, Universities Scotland
  • Louise Hayward, University of Glasgow
  • Mark Priestley, University of Stirling 
  • Linda Brownlow, University of Strathclyde

Scottish Government:

  • Hazel Bartels, Scottish Government
  • Craig Flunkert, Scottish Government
  • Benyamin Gaspersz, Scottish Government
  • Linda Pooley, Scottish Government
  • Lucia Ramon Mateo, Scottish Government (Secretary to the CAB)
  • Jonathan Sewell, Scottish Government
  • Ellen Willis, Scottish Government 


  • Jim Metcalfe, College Development Network
  • John Edward, Scottish Council for Independent Schools (SCIS)

Items and actions

Introductory remarks

Claire Hicks welcomed board members to the 16th meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board.

Minutes of previous meeting

The minute and action from the Board’s last meeting on 2 September 2021 were introduced.

Craig Flunkert provided a short update on the actions from the previous meeting.

One amendment to be made. David Barnett added that he had taken part in group 3 which was not on the minutes.

Implementing ‘Scotland’s Curriculum: Into the Future’ (the OECD’s review of Curriculum for Excellence) – paper CAB-17 (01)

The Chair introduced the agenda item and asked Jonathan Sewell (Scottish Government) to provide an overview of paper CAB-17 (01).

It was confirmed that the implementation framework was published in October, and Jonathan highlighted the need for meaningful engagement and co-production of implementation with stakeholders. The Chair invited views on the timing and prioritisation. The following points were raised:

  • Andrea Bradley pointed out that there needs to be an alignment of Assessments and Qualifications. There could be a swift towards two year approach. This could be a quick way to support schools to ensure they deliver breadth and depth and helps to address the issue of over assessment
  • Andrea pointed out that we also need to look at increasing curriculum development capacity for teachers. Mark Priestley endorsed Andrea’s comment and highlighted that capacity building is required to ensure we support the changes we want to see. This is not only for teachers but also for schools to actually do the curriculum-making activity necessary. We would want teachers to be involved in national vision-setting as well. Trade unions and professional associations could do this on behalf of their members, looking at reimagining approaches to assessment, and moving to two year approach
  • Mark also raised the need to set a clear direction, asking how we get to the end goal with clear short-term, medium-term and long-term prioritisation. However we need to be careful on how we do this and look at it as a long-term process over a number of years. David Barnett agreed with this comments and pointed out that attempting too much in too short a space of time can result in very little being achieved. Louise Hayward also agreed with these points and added that we are still coming out of a pandemic and people are exhausted. Steven Quinn added that there are consequences to people’s ability to support these timescales when there is a lot of fatigue and we need to be careful if we want the change to be sustainable
  • Mark Priestly noted that we should be ensuring that purposeful, meaningful activities take place in classrooms. We should focus on how as a system we support that outcome rather than focusing on how the system works
  • Ken Thomson pointed that Curriculum for Excellence has such a broad brush and it is important that we capture that in the narrative. Kathryn O’Loan suggested that discussions with universities take place on assessments. Kathryn also pointed that one of the strengths of our system is the connections between the different parts of it

The Chair sought to summarise comments and clarified that the timeline is indeed ambitious. The points that members have raised were noted. The Chair also noted that as a mature education system it’s important to ensure we take a responsible approach.

The Chair thanked CAB members for their suggestion to highlight short, medium and long term priorities. The Chair noted that it is important that we have a shared understanding of what we can do in short term, and that this will have most impact, however the Chair also commented that any short term actions should not undermine the long-term direction, and that this is key if we want to ensure we make a sustainable change. 

It was further noted that the consultation led by Professor Ken Muir and the forthcoming work led by Professor Louise Hayward’s would be key foundations of reform. 

The Chair commented that the point about fatigue in the system is an important one and we don’t want to overwhelm people with consultation fatigue.

The Chair then invited any further comments on the engagement theme.

Members raised the following points on the proposed role for CAB in the reform programme:

  • Mark Priestley raised that CAB often discusses issues after decisions have been already made. Andrea Bradley agreed and added that the CAB does not always get feedback on what is decided subsequently. It is largely an advisory body but it should have a more active role in the decision making process. Mark Priestly noted that CAB seems to have worked best when delegating to short life working groups, and the work on the Refreshed Narrative was highlighted as a previous example
  • Andrea Bradley also pointed out Governance bodies should have a much more democratic configuration than we have seen to date and that there needs to be a look at the communication and relationship between these different forums/bodies we already have in place. This includes the relationship and the cascading of information between the Curriculum and Assessment Board, the Scottish Education Council and other forums such as the Teacher Panel
  • Jane Brumpton raised the need to ensure all voices are included, and we need to ask ourselves whether we have sufficient practitioner voice. Andrea Bradly also raised that parent voice, children and young people voice needs to be included in the decision-making process

National Qualifications Reform: next steps - paper CAB-17 (02)  

Jonathan Sewell introduced the paper, confirming the Cabinet Secretary for Education’s announcement that there should be reform of the national qualifications. JS pointed to the first phase which is a consultation process on the principles which should underpin a reformed qualifications system. He confirmed that CAB will have a role to play in all stages of this reform process.

Professor Hayward provided further background and information, confirming that she believes that we should be looking at the vision of CfE and that we should be asking ourselves what it means to be an “educated Scot” and how this can be achieved. Professor Hayward stated that she was surprised and enthused by the level of engagement involved in the Muir Review, and would like to build on this for national qualifications reform.

CAB members made the following comments: 

  • Peter McNaughton noted that those involved in the system are dealing with a great deal at the moment, but are often focused on the “what” and therefore forget the “how”. It will be important for the qualifications reform to consider this point
  • Andrea Bradley welcomed the independent nature of the commission, as this will enable much better consensus building. Andrea Bradley further commented that: need to ensure that what we do on qualifications flows from our overarching vision and mission for CfE, otherwise we will repeat mistakes of the past; we need to be clear about the level of resource that will be needed to bring about reform
  • on the issue of a suggested “polarisation of views” Andrea Bradley commented that EIS don’t necessarily think that there is a polarisation. They are keen to avoid high stakes “big bang” exams. An “exams vs no exams” debate encourages polarisation, when the reality is that there are system in the world where there are different models which are not at those two poles. We need to ensure that what emerges from this process is evidence based and supportive of the vision for CfE
  • Richard Bell agreed with the point about building sustained conversations over time. RB commented that for the Muir Review, this was very much the approach that they sought to take and it worked well. It’s not about dichotomy of exams/no exams; it’s about achieving what CfE was meant to be about. Richard Bell also commented that we need to not lose sight of the fact that qualifications are intended to support the values behind the curriculum, which is about pupils’ love of learning
  • Mark Priestley welcomed that fact that someone of Professor Hayward’s experience and background is leading this process. On the issue of consensus in Parliament, MP commented that he is far from convinced it is possible to have consensus but what we can aim for is to have improved understanding of the issues, for example understanding that qualifications and exams are not the same thing
  • Professor Priestley further commented that the paper for the CAB meeting falls into some of these traps by talking about exams or continuous assessment. The paper also makes an assumption that unit assessments would be part of any new system. He stated that he did not think that should be a given. Professor Priestley also noted that the first paragraph in the paper references the positive comments from OECD but did not note the criticisms, and we need to acknowledge the criticisms. [The Chair noted MP’s comment and clarified that there was no intention to make assumptions]
  • Dr Gill Stewart noted that when the initial National courses were devised the aim was to meet a reasonable standard design and parity but this aim tended to fall down where the purposes of the courses differed. Dr Stewart commented that we need to return to the purpose of individual qualifications and fit the approach to meet that purpose. Thinking fundamentally about the different purposes of the different individual qualifications is very important
  • it was noted that we need to ensure there are sufficient resources and capacity in the system to cope with change, in order that it is change that will “stick” and make a different for learners and teachers
  • Aileen Ponton commented that an important positive of the Ken Muir review has been the engagement with different groups of people and the dialogue during the events
  • it was noted that misconceptions remain about what we mean by qualifications, for example that it’s a straight dichotomy between exam based and not exam based

The Chair provided a summary of discussion, noting the criticality of timing and scheduling of activity; being clear on the vision for reformed qualifications; being clear on how we engage and how we sustain engagement, and; ensuring the voice of children and young people, teachers and employers can feed into this. In relation to the formal reporting process, the Chair noted that the government are finalising the terms of reference for this work. There are no final decisions on how this work slots into the wider landscape at present. CAB will need to be clearly sighted and involved but the work will not be set up as a sub group as CAB, because there will be some who are involved who are not on CAB.

Education reform consultation

Professor Ken Muir presented a power point of findings from his review.  It was confirmed that over 800 individuals and groups signed onto the education reform portal to provide a response, with a reasonable split between primary and secondary. 

Professor Muir also confirmed that there had been a remarkable response to the children and young people’s consultation with some very hard-hitting findings.

Professor Muir highlighted the following more detailed points:

  • that clarity of purpose, capacity and support, measuring what we value, learner pathways and the complex nature of the current landscape have all come through as key themes for the review.
  • a strong sense that the four capacities need to be looked at, in particular to update the responsible citizens capacity
  • the “middle ground” between policy and practice is an important point to consider
  • the incorporation of the UNCRC is coming through strongly as impacting on the curriculum and education system
  • we should be on the front foot in relation to looking at continuous reform and taking a proactive approach, ensuring we are not on the back foot responding to issues
  • there are fairly low levels of satisfaction and interest in learning amongst young people in relation to their learning
  • much of the school system is still driven by “high stakes” exams and that even pupils at upper primary level were being prepared for this
  • the young person feedback indicated that young people felt that they were already being prepared for qualifications at the end of primary
  • there is emerging feedback that the current Insight system in secondary schools is part of the solution but also perhaps part of the problem in encouraging league tables approaches
  • there are a lot of strengths in the system and some very good examples of learner journeys and innovation with achievement as well as attainment being recognised
  • the system is a lot more flexible than previously realised and that there is appetite for further change to be reconsidered
  • people are finding informal support mechanisms as being as important if not more important than formal or national mechanisms
  • the governance of the education system is a key theme, and aspects of this governance system perhaps adds to potential confusion. There is a lack of understanding about who does what in the system. The role of Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland are not always clear with many tertiary and further education organisations. A lot of people are surprised at the range of functions and roles that the two organisations have, in particular the SQA
  • there remains confusion about “who owns curriculum”. SQA are seen as being responsible for senior phase. The Scottish Government is seen as being responsible for broad general education.
  • parents, learners and other stakeholders such as employers/industry don’t feel they are fully part of the system. This is not unique to education, it applies to other aspects of children/families.
  • the creation of an independent inspectorate is supported but there is a desire to see an inspectorate focused on supportive improvement
  • there is a need to improve trust and confidence in collaborative relationships across the system

Professor Muir concluded by noting that there is also an open question about the role of the CAB in trying to ensure that the system stops simply reacting to issues, but can forward plan proactively. He stated that it would be interesting to explore what the role of CAB itself could be in future. 

The Chair thanked Professor Muir for his summary and invited any questions or comments. Comments were as follows: 

  • Andrea Bradley asked about the extent to which the comments from children and young people correspond with the comments from practitioners. Professor Muir confirmed that this is an important suggestion
  • Steven Quinn commented that there is a need to be careful about specific impacts from the current pandemic experience, which has been incredibly challenging, and we must not lose sight of broader findings that children and young people find their experience is a very positive one
  • Professor Muir stated that parent bodies are being very positive about their own experience of the approach taken by their own school but they are not reporting confidence in the broader education system

The Chair thanked Professor Muir for his presentation and noted the next steps in his final report. The Chair commented that the broader “mood music” on Scottish education often doesn’t chime with individuals’ experience of their own education or their children’s school.

Update on LGBT inclusive education work - paper CAB-17 (03)

Jacqueline Nimmo introduced this paper which provided an update and final report from work to review the curriculum in relation to LGBT education. 

CAB members made the following comments: 

  • Richard Bell commended the work of the sub group but said that he was conscious that the recommendations deal with the curriculum framework as it is at the moment, where the density and complexity of the Experiences and Outcomes is a challenge. Richard asked that we don’t take a “bits and pieces” approach and that we bring together LGTB, UNCRC into a single package of recommendations and take a strategic approach, conscious of what may come forward more broadly in terms of the broader structure of the curriculum framework. The recommendations and next steps on these items of work need to be conscious of these wider developments
  • Gill Stewart supported the recommendations and mentioned how part of these groups and looking at qualifications has been delayed
  • Jacqueline Nimmo stated that she wanted to reassure Richard that Education Scotland and Scottish Government will ensure that they take a strategic approach and can look to think differently if necessary

The Chair thanked Jacqueline Nimmo for attending and noted that a further combined report will follow in 2022 taking account of the parallel children’s rights and race equality work.

Any other business

The Chair commented on the frequency and timing of CAB meetings and suggested that meeting should be shorter but more frequent. There was general agreement on this point. 

The Chair noted that the two co-chairs will need to gather some further thoughts on working practices for the CAB and come back to the group with some ideas. 

It was noted that the Secretariat will need to schedule CAB meetings to inform the Scottish Education Council and also to ensure there is feedback to CAB.

It was confirmed that the Secretariat will circulate dates for four dates for 2022, but on the basis that we may wish to schedule further slots in-between those dates, and also to shorten the length of the meetings. 

There was a suggestion for single item agenda when necessary and appropriate. 

The chair thanked CAB members for their contributions.

Back to top