Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: January 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board on 30/01/2024.

Attendees and apologies

  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, EIS
  • Officials, Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) Secretariat, Scottish Government
  • Cheryl Burnett, President, NPFS (National Parent Forum Scotland)
  • Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform (Co-Chair), Scottish Government
  • Official, Communications and Engagement - Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Curriculum Development Team Leader, Scottish Government
  • Donna Stewart, Head of Policy NQ, SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority)
  • Edward Carroll, National Official, NASUWT
  • Erica Russell Hensens, Deputy Director, Student Interests, Access, and Quality, SFC (Scottish Funding Council)
  • Gillian Hamilton, Interim Chief Executive (Co-Chair), Education Scotland  
  • Head of Curriculum Innovation, Education Scotland
  • Head of Learning Teaching & Assessment, Education Scotland
  • Head of National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • Head of Scottish Attainment Challenge, Scottish Government
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
  • John Guidi, District Secretary, Renfrewshire, SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association)
  • Julie MacDonald, Vice President, SLS (School Leaders Scotland)
  • Laura Murdoch, Deputy Director, Curriculum and Qualifications, Scottish Government
  • Lorraine Davidson, Chief Executive, SCIS (Scottish Council of Independent Schools)
  • Matthew Sweeney, Policy Manager, CoSLA
  • Neville Prentice, Senior Director, Service Development and Delivery, SDS (Skills Development Scotland)
  • Ollie Bray, Strategic Director, Education Scotland
  • Pauline Radcliffe, Chief Executive, SCQFP (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership)
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland)
  • Principal Research Officer, Education Analytical Services, Scottish Government
  • Professor Louise Hayward    Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation, University of Glasgow
  • Robert Quinn, Head of Service, Humanities, Arts and Business, SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority)
  • Scottish Attainment Challenge Team Leader, Scottish Government
  • Senior Phase Learner Pathways Team Leader, Scottish Government
  • Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Statistician, Directorate for Learning, Scottish Government
  • Team Leader, Review of Qualifications, Scottish Government
  • Tina Harrison, Representative, Universities Scotland
  • Unit Head, Curriculum Unit, Scottish Government
  • Unit Head, Review of Qualifications, Scottish Government


  • Alison Herbert, Deputy Director, External Relations, SCIS (Scottish Council for Independent Schools)
  • Catherine Nicol, President, SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association)
  • Claire Bannister, Senior Policy Officer, Universities Scotland
  • Diane Greenlees, Director of Critical Skills and Occupations, SDS (Skills Development Scotland)
  • Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive, SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) 
  • Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications, SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority)
  • James Russell, CIAG Operations, SDS (Skills Development Scotland) Director
  • Kirsty Conlon, Head of Learning and Teaching and Widening Access, Universities Scotland
  • Lisa Bird, Deputy Director, Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Mark Priestley, Academic Representative, Professor of Education, University of Stirling 
  • Martyn Ware, Head of Policy, Research & Standards, SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority)
  • Michael Lennon, Community Learning and Development Manager, Locality Manager, Scotland 
  • Mike Corbett, National Official, NASUWT
  • Seamus Searson, General Secretary, SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association)
  • Sharon McLellan, President, AHDS
  • Tara Lillis, National Official, NASUWT

Items and actions

Welcome and draft minutes from last meeting, 13th Sept 2023

The Chair welcomed attendees to the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) meeting. Draft minutes from the meeting on 13th September 2023 were agreed as an accurate record and approved by members. 

Update on Actions

The Secretariat reported back on the action from paragraph 6.4 from the previous meeting.

“6.4 Action – Scottish Government officials will follow up with CAB members directly on concerns expressed about the School Leaver Attainment Core Measure for Improvement.”

Scottish Government analysts have addressed the concerns raised by:

  • speaking with representatives from SCQFP and discussing revised plans: the reporting will no longer identify either the National Qualifications measure or the All SCQF measure as being the ‘headline measure’. They will be given equal prominence within the report
  • analysts commented that this new measure should help reduce any unintended consequences and performativity issues, as we are moving from only recognising National Qualifications to also recognising everything on the SCQF

On the action from paragraph 4.4 from the previous meeting: “Ollie Bray (Education Scotland) highlighted a commitment to bring an update on the role of knowledge in the 8 curricular areas to the next CAB meeting on 30th Jan 2024.”, this update will be provided at item 4 of the agenda.

Education Reform Update

This update to board members covered a variety of topics including: recent ministerial discussions around system-level reform across education and skills, parliamentary statements and committee evidence sessions:

  • the Minister for Higher and Further Education updated parliament in December 2023, and gave evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee in January 2023. This covered: 
    - next steps for post school reform including the Scottish Government leading on skills planning, simplifying funding, and taking a central role in the development of apprenticeships
    - outline of a short Independent Review of  Community Learning and development (CLD) to be led by Kate Still
  • the Cabinet Secretary made a Statement to Parliament on November 7th, including on the outcome of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) review, the Centre for Teaching Excellence and the publication of a consultation on the Education Reform Bill
  • the Cabinet Secretary also provided evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee. This covered: 
    - budgetary context following Scottish Government’s Budget statement in December
    - delivering reform in a way which continues progress, achieves outcomes for learners and others but does not exacerbate existing pressures on the system
    - importance of working with the teaching profession
    - role and work of Scottish Government, local authorities, and others around improvement
    - opportunities for the New Qualifications Body (NQB) around working with teachers and others throughout the system on qualifications development, though also noting that the curriculum improvement work is not dependent on the NQB being established
  • the Cabinet Secretary has emphasised the establishment of the Centre for Teaching Excellence as central to the Scottish Government’s national mission to close the attainment gap. The overarching functions of the Centre will be co-designed with stakeholders across the education sector 

Update on the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment

The Cabinet Secretary is currently considering the recommendations of the review and has committed to a debate in parliament, likely to take place in March 2024 [NB: the debate was subsequently held on 28 February 2024]. A Scottish Government response to the Recommendations will follow. 

Following the publication of the review the Scottish Government has engaged with teachers via a survey to gather views. The results of this showed in principle support, but this is dependent on detail and issues around workload, timetabling and phasing of change. 

The chair opened the floor to board members for discussion and the following points were raised: 

  • are there tensions between students being over examined and not removing exams at National 5? Officials responded that the idea of over examination is well understood, but people are nervous about the loss of exams. Diversification of the assessment method is one alternative
  • concerns about the loss of momentum in responding to the outcomes of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment. The Chair agreed to pass these comments on to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, and confirmed that the planned response to the review would be provided following the parliamentary debate
  • requests for further information on the overarching governance of education reform, co-design of the centre for teaching excellence and around the role of CAB regarding the recent reviews (specifically IRQA (Independent Review of Qualifications & Assessment) and Withers). The Chair agreed to share information on the overarching Education Reform governance landscape

Action: The Chair to share information on the overarching governance landscape with CAB members.

OECD Implementation plan update

Ollie Bray (Education Scotland, ES) provided an update on OECD Recommendations 1.1-1.4. These are curriculum specific recommendations which Education Scotland have lead responsibility for (working across ES teams and in partnership with the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, Curriculum and Qualifications Group).

  • the current action plan came to CAB in April 2022, with many actions due to complete by September 2023 or April 2024, with some of these actions hard to realise with other moving parts in the system
  • a paper on Interdisciplinary learning will be available from Education Scotland in February
  • work on teacher professional judgement is taking place in collaboration with Dundee City Council
  • an updated paper on Learner Pathways is due to be published in line with the April 2024 deadline
  • on Capacity building in the current curriculum, the pilot on national curriculum design which is due to start in March 2024 has been popular and is already oversubscribed

Action: Education Scotland will bring a paper to the Curriculum Assessment Board meeting in March 2024, which will close off any outstanding actions.

Role of knowledge in the curriculum areas

Education Scotland provided information on pilot curriculum reviews, established following the OECD report, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future. 

The paper focuses on initial findings from Education Scotland’s pilot curriculum
reviews, with a view to informing the new Curriculum Improvement Cycle announced in December 2023.

Pilot reviews have so far been held in the following curriculum areas; Maths,
Health & Wellbeing, Social Studies and Modern Languages. Reviews are also being initiated in Expressive Arts and English/Literacy in early 2024.

The pilot exploratory work focused specifically on reviewing and clarifying the
position of knowledge within curriculum areas (OECD recommendation 1.2),
but the pilot reviews have also aligned very closely with the work on developing a
systematic cycle of curriculum review (OECD recommendation 3.4). In particular
they have provided the opportunity to explore the technical framework within

The Chair invited discussions and questions from the board members:

  • board members were interested to hear that all curricular areas will be covered
  • members were keen to be involved in this work going forward.  There was some concern around the idea of moving away from disciplinary knowledge and skills, which can be seen as foundational for interdisciplinary working

A paper on Position of Knowledge will be published by Education Scotland in April.

Local Attainment Stretch Aims 

Officials (Scottish Attainment Challenge team, Scottish Government), presented on recently collected and collated Stretch Aims for closing the attainment gap, from all 32 Local Authorities. These were published in December alongside the National Improvement Framework plan.

The stretch aims illustrate the collective ambition for improvement, and the need for a collective drive to deliver these, which will involve a focus on literacy and numeracy, and quality learning and teaching:

Focusing on the poverty related attainment gap, local authorities’ stretch aims point to a collective ambition to see strong progress, in particular when looking at progress over time since the Scottish Attainment Challenge was introduced. Looking at the data from the beginning of the Challenge (2016/17) and the stretch aims for 2025/26, there is clear ambition to reduce the poverty related attainment gaps across the core measures by:

  • around 30% in primary school literacy and numeracy (ACEL P1, P4, P7 combined)
  • around 28% for the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more award at SCQF level 5 based on Insight (All SCQF Awards) information
  • around 18% for the proportion of school leavers attaining 1 or more award at SCQF level 6 based on Insight (All SCQF Awards) information; and
  • around 49% for the proportion of 16-19 olds participating in education, employment or training based on the Annual Participation Measure

The health and wellbeing and “plus” aims set by local authorities cover a range of local priorities. However, there are some consistent areas of focus, for example regarding improving attendance and/or engagement of pupils. Other areas of focus include: improving the attainment and wellbeing of care experienced children and young people; aims for specific year groups or subject areas; aims for S3 literacy and numeracy; and local aims for closing the poverty related-attainment gap using local measures of that gap.

Due to limited time for discussion members were invited to share any comments or questions with officials via the CAB secretariat mailbox.

ACEL data and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results overview

An overview and reflections on results from the ACEL and PISA data published in December 2023 was provided by officials from the Education Reform Directorate, Scottish Government. 


P1, P4 and P7 combined:

  • proportions of pupils achieving the expected CfE levels are at record highs for both literacy and numeracy
  • proportions of pupils achieving the expected CfE levels in 2022/23 are higher than in 2021/22 in all cases
  • small number of organisers and stages (such as P1 Reading and P1 Writing) where 2022/23 figures are slightly below those of 2018/19
  • gap between proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy is the narrowest gap on record
  • gap for numeracy narrower than in 2021/22 but wider than in 2018/19

S3 Third Level or better:

  • proportions achieving Third Level or better are higher than in 2021/22, and similar to, or slightly lower than in 2018/19
  • the gap between the proportion of S3 pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved Third Level or better in literacy reduced compared to 2021/22. Now very slightly narrower than in 2018/19 but remains wider than in 2016/17 and 2017/18
  • numeracy gap narrower than in 2021/22 and similar to, but slightly wider than, the level in 2018/19


On PISA 2022 scores the following examples were shared: 

  • maths score of 471, this is lower than PISA 2018 and similar to the OECD average
  • reading score of 493, this is lower than PISA 2018 and higher than the OECD average
  • science score of 483, this is similar to the PISA 2018 score and similar to the OECD average

Links to further details were made available to CAB members:

Due to limited time for discussion members were invited to share any comments or questions with officials via the CAB secretariat mailbox.


CAB Forward look agenda for 2024

The CAB Secretariat are developing a draft workplan . They would welcome suggestions from members as to what they would like to see covered at the meetings over the coming year, via email.

There was no other business.  The next meeting will be held on 21 March 2024.

Action: Slides to be shared with members of the board who requested them.

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