Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: June 2019

Minutes, agenda and supporting papers from the seventh meeting of the Curriculum Assessment Board, held on 6 June 2019.

Attendees and apologies

Members and substitutes

  • Peter McNaughton, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Steven Quinn, ADES 
  • Tim Wallace, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland
  • Ken Thomson, Colleges Scotland
  • Beverley Akinlami, Community Learning and Development Manager Scotland
  • Eddie Follan, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)
  • Jean Carwood-Edwards, Early Years Scotland
  • Gayle Gorman, Education Scotland (co-chair)
  • Alan Armstrong, Education Scotland
  • Mike Corbett, NASUWT
  • Joanna Murphy, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
  • Elaine Cook, Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • David Barnett, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • Aileen Ponton, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Partnership (SCQF)
  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Government (co-chair)
  • Andy Bruce, Scottish Government 
  • Seamus Searson, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)
  • Janet Brown, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Neville Prentice, Skills Development Scotland (SDS)
  • Brian Green, Universities Scotland
  • Louise Hayward, University of Glasgow

Young representatives    

  • Angelita and Cameron, St Thomas Aquin’s


  • Malcolm Pentland, Scottish Government 
  • Craig Flunkert, Scottish Government 
  • Emma Mair, Scottish Government

Additional attendees

  • Joan MacKay, Education Scotland
  • Christopher Santini, headteacher, St Thomas Aquin’s (for part only)


  • Andy Griffiths , Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Jim Metcalfe, College Development Network
  • Robert Hynd, Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Nicola Dickie, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)  
  • Andrea Bradley, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)     
  • Fiona Nicholson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NFPS)      
  • Mhairi Shaw, Regional Improvement Collaboratives      
  • John Edward, Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS)      
  • John Kemp, Scottish Funding Council (SFC)         
  • Linda Pooley, Scottish Government     
  • Gill Stewart, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Mark Priestley, University of Stirling 

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The co-chairs welcomed members to the meeting. Apologies were listed as above. The co-chairs noted a deviation from the proposed work programme for the Board, with expansion of Early Learning and Childcare due to be discussed at a future meeting. 

The Board heard from Christopher Santini, Headteacher at St Thomas Aquin’s. Mr Santini welcomed Board members to the school and confirmed that St Thomas’s is one of three denominational schools in Edinburgh with a wide catchment area, providing a modern, inclusive and outward looking Catholic school. The Board were provided with a handout providing information about course choices and the structure of the curriculum. 

It was noted that Mike Corbett (NASUWT) would provide comments on the papers in writing following the meeting. 

Minute and actions from previous meeting

The minutes were noted with a correction to confirm that Aileen Ponton had submitted apologies and was not in attendance at the previous meeting. 

The Board were provided with a summary of actions from the previous meeting as follows: 

  • the minute from the January meeting has been amended to ensure that it recorded the Board’s request that consideration be given to using the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF) to highlight the refreshed curriculum narrative. It was confirmed that a revised minute had been issued and a seminar slot for CAB to highlight the narrative at the SLF had been secured and that other opportunities SLF offered were being considered
  • the Board’s comments were provided to the curriculum narrative sub group and further engagement was held with practitioners and unions. The text is close to being finalised and will be circulated to the Board
  • Education Scotland colleagues have shared Board members’ comments in relation to the paper and discussion on support for professional learning with the Professional Learning and Leadership Team in Education Scotland in order that they influence future planning
  • details for the seventh meeting of the Board were confirmed in advance of today’s meeting

Action: The Board’s secretariat to amend the minute of the 15 March to reflect that Aileen Ponton was not in attendance. 

The Scottish approach to assessment – Paper CAB-07 (01)

The Board was invited to discuss the points highlighted in the paper.

The Board heard reflections from the young person representatives Cameron and Angelita:

  • assessments in primary school were helpful in preparing for secondary school. Effective ways of assessing were spelling tests and reading tests. Assessment in the later stages of primary were seen as a good way to prepare for the transition to secondary school
  • “on the spot” tests or assessments could be unhelpful from the pupil’s perspective. A test is already stressful and the sudden nature of the test can be off-putting
  • the removal of unit assessments had meant that some pupils have lost an important fall back and the lengthening of exams is a challenge for many pupils
  • prelims are beneficial to pupils in secondary school. A prelim result, if positive, can be very encouraging. Those who may be demotivated to do well before prelims are motivated to do very well in exams after receiving better than expected prelim results
  • in most exams two papers are provided, which is preferable to one lengthy paper as it allows pupils to take a break and to concentrate until the end

The Board members discussed a variety of challenges in achieving the original aims for assessment that were set out for Curriculum for Excellence within Building the Curriculum 3. Points raised by Board members included the following:

a) Strengths of assessment in early level and primary 

  • the early learning section of the paper included a welcome reference to assessment across the early level rather than just focusing on Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) at P1
  • there is merit in looking at early level as a model. The way that early years practitioners assess children is a “world of difference” from secondary. It happens as one integrated practice

b) Challenges of assessment in secondary

  • it is important to ask why are we returning to this issue again in relation to secondary
  • the paper perhaps underplays the positive role of feedback in assessment in a formative basis
  • it is important not to divorce the issues relating to assessment from accompanying issues relating to professional learning
  • an excessive focus on the statistics that are made public about schools (exams data) can still drive behaviour in secondary schools. Some schools deal with this challenge well; other schools reinforce the culture whereby exam numbers drive culture and behaviour
  • data on the number of qualifications is used as an accountability tool by the Scottish Parliament. Teachers are being measured on the total number and not the quality of final results that children receive, which provides a barrier to what we want to achieve
  • we should have very similar assessment throughout the system, with coherence from early years through to college/university
  • we need to identify, promote and develop models where young people do not even realise they are being assessed
  • parents often do not understand what is happening in relation to assessment; do not understand the reasons why a new approach is needed and do not understand why greater use of formative assessment is a better way of doing things
  • technology has a key role to play in resolving issues. For example, the placing of key assessment information in ‘the cloud’ could allow SQA to sample and make use of the information

c) Role of exams

  • the comments provided by the young person representatives illustrate that we have not been successful in shifting the emphasis away from summative assessments and exams
  • their comments indicate the pressure that can be imposed on young people by an excessive focus on exams

d) Practice and approach in colleges

  • in the college sector there is no similar challenge with practice. We need to examine why this challenge exists in secondary. 

e) Values, culture and core principles

  • commentators outwith Scotland see the values base of Scottish education as distinctive and as a major strength
  • a major shift in our culture is still needed if we are to see assessment as a way to help children and young people to progress in their learning
  • while correct to focus on assessment we need to remember that this should be viewed as an integral part of learning and teaching, as set out in How Good is our School? [4th Edition]
  • there is a need to examine what it is that we actually want assessment to do, and to clarify the vision to the system. A stronger and clearer “theory or model of change” can help to translate a very strong policy aim on assessment into practice

Board members reflected on the decision to remove unit assessments. The removal of units requires there to be an increase in the use of alternative methods including course assessment. It was suggested that the removal of units with no accompanying focus on alternative forms of assessment risks a return to previous pre-CfE practice. 

The co-chairs captured the key points from discussion. Potential routes to addressing the issues raised in the paper and in the Board’s discussion were noted as follows: 

  • it would be helpful to tackle the issue of assessment in greater depth within each stage of the system (pre-school, primary/early secondary and Senior Phase)
  • it may be helpful to consider assessment issues through three lenses: assessment for learning; assessment for summative purposes and assessment for accountability
  • principles and definitions should underpin further work in this area
  • it will be important to involve people who think differently about assessment, who will be creative and innovative, in developing proposals to address the issues raised

The Board were invited to reflect on the need to move towards action and delivery and endorsed a proposal to explore specific issues in greater detail.  

The co-chairs invited Board members to email any further proposals to the Board’s Secretariat.

Action: The Board’s co-chairs to reflect on the specific assessment related points raised by board members and propose a forum in which they can be discussed and addressed in more detail.  

Tour of St Thomas of Aquin’s

Board members were then invited to follow learners from St Thomas Aquin’s who led a tour of the school. 

Secondary school curriculum design – Paper CAB-07 (02)

The Board were invited to note the paper’s focus on the key principles of secondary curriculum, the current Scottish Government funded survey of head teachers, the Parliamentary Committee’s Inquiry and the Scottish Government’s commitment to undertake a formal review of the Senior Phase. The Board was invited to discuss whether there is a need to support a broader discussion about the first three years of secondary school and the entire Senior Phase, whilst retaining the principle that individual schools should determine the curriculum which best suits their pupils. 

The young person representatives discussed the S6 experience. They suggested that for those pupils who achieve the majority of their qualifications up to S5 it is important that S6 helps to develop pupils as human beings, their wider skill set and achievements, with greater access to self-study. It was commented that some pupils do very well in S4 and S5. For them, S6 can be a time when momentum is lost. It was also commented that some pupils can experience a fairly high degree of exam stress, initially in S4 (because exams are unfamiliar and they may not have been prepared for the experience) and then in S5/S6 where there is a strong emphasis on the importance of Highers. Finally, it was noted by the young person representatives that limitations on the number of teachers available to a school can impact on the experience in the Senior Phase. An example was provided in relation to multi-level teaching. On the other hand, whilst is was noted that St Thomas’s may offer fewer subject choices for study compared to other schools, there has been an expansion in the potential to study subjects in neighbouring schools.

It was noted that the two young person reps attending the meeting were part of the last St Thomas’s year group to choose their subjects at the end of S2, and therefore their experience will be specific to that particular model.

Comments from Board members were as follows: 

a) General comments

  • the paper’s focus on rationale was welcomed, as was the need to look at the secondary curriculum as a fully rounded experience
  • there is a need to reflect on whether the three year Senior Phase is still viewed as an experience that occurs in school or whether it is an experience “wherever the young person happens to be”
  • there is an important consideration for Education Scotland in relation to the inspection regime. In particular, there is a need to ensure that schools with fewer staff are properly recognised for the achievements that they make in providing a curriculum for their pupils
  • two critical areas for a renewed focus are a) the primary/secondary transition from a curriculum and learning perspective and b) the need to re-focus on improving the secondary Broad General Education
  • we should ensure that personal development is included in any renewed conceptualisation of the curriculum
  • there is evidence of a number of innovative consortia arrangements between schools in order to expand the options available to young people across the Senior Phase. However, the vital requirement for consortia arrangements is that they should be planned and strategic in nature, not reactive to short-term issues. A very positive example in West Lothian was provided to the Board
  • one Board member commented that we should not be accepting multi-level teaching. Another Board member disagreed, commenting that there are circumstances where it is entirely appropriate and a positive learning experience

b) Transitions

  • there is a need to include a very strong focus on transitions from primary to S1
  • there is need to view the primary to secondary transition as a pathway for the child
  • the expansion of the role of transition teachers – teachers who go with the learners from primary into secondary, taking the learning experience and approach from primary into secondary – has been a very positive development

c) Public, media and parliamentary narrative

  • several board members expressed a concern that the focus by the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee on the specific issue of subject choice in S4 may lead to schools withdrawing from very innovative expansion of choice across the Senior Phase

d) Sixth year

  • there is a need to consider how we develop a hybrid 6th Year experience involving skills for life, learning and work (not only the skills for work)
  • there is also a need to model what a stretching, impactful S6 should look and feel like for young people (an example was provided in relation to a pupil who studied for an HNC in engineering during 6th Year)
  • it was noted that we need to plan S6 as a key stage in a young person’s overall learner journey

e) Evidence

  • there was general agreement on the need for the Board to gather and share better evidence about the curriculum offer across the system
  • a significant amount of work was conducted in the Learner Journey review in relation to the articulation between S5 and S6, and this should be promoted and supported more widely with schools
  • the university sector has conducted a great deal of work in relation to “contextual admissions” which account for school circumstances with a number of innovative projects around supporting student transitions into university. This experience and evidence could be shared more widely across the school education sector

The co-chairs provided concluding remarks to sum up the Board’s discussion. Board members were invited to consider what they can do to ensure that the aim of a fully rounded Senior Phase experience remains the aim for schools. The co-chairs indicated that there is a key role for the Board in thinking about the evidence we  require to draw on in order to measure success. The co-chairs concluded that the key themes included rationale; the importance of planning; transitions; some important innovations in recent years to extend choice; and a need for better quality data to measure progress. 

In summary, it was noted that the Board’s discussion was helpful in shaping the advice that would be provided to Ministers on the potential scope for an in-depth review into the Senior Phase curriculum.

Action: The Scottish Government to ensure that the reflections from the Board’s discussion are taken into account in the development of outline scope for a review into the Senior Phase. 

Any other business

The Board thanked departing SQA Chief Executive Janet Brown for her significant contribution to Scottish qualifications, to broader reform in the education system, to Curriculum for Excellence and to the implementation of the new qualifications. 

The Board thanked departing Scottish Government Director of Learning, Fiona Robertson for her significant contribution to education policy and reform over the past 6 years, her contribution as co-chair to the CAB and her role in the previous CfE Management Board. Board members wished Fiona well in her new role as SQA Chief Executive. 

Meeting concludes 

List of actions

  • the Board’s secretariat to amend the minute of the 15 March to reflect that Aileen Ponton was not in attendance
  • the Board’s co-chairs to reflect on the specific assessment related points raised by board members and propose a forum in which they can be discussed and addressed in more detail
  • the Scottish Government to ensure that the reflections from the Board’s discussion are taken into account in the development of outline scope for a review into the Senior Phase

Curriculum and Assessment Board Secretariat
Scottish Government

CAB agenda: June 2019
Paper 1: Scottish approach to assessment
Paper 2: secondary curriculum design
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