Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: March 2021

Minutes, agenda and supporting papers from the fourteenth meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board, held on 4 March 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Members and substitutes

  • Peter McNaughton, Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
  • Jim Metcalfe, College Development Network
  • Ken Thomson, Colleges Scotland
  • Robert Hynd, 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 (Chair)
  • Alan Armstrong , Education Scotland
  • Ollie Bray, Education Scotland
  • Mike Corbett, NASUWT
  • Fiona Nicholson , National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
  • Helen Budge, Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • David Barnett, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • John Edward, Scottish Council for Independent Schools (SCIS)
  • Aileen Ponton, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Partnership (SCQF)
  • Kathryn O’Loan, Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • Malcolm Pentland, Scottish Government
  • Hazel Bartels, Scottish Government
  • Linda Pooley, Scottish Government
  • John Guidi, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)
  • Sue Pope , Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Neville Prentice, Skills Development Scotland (SDS)
  • Brian Green, Universities Scotland
  • Louise Hayward , University of Glasgow
  • Mark Priestley, University of Stirling


  • Liam Cahill , Scottish Government
  • Chris McCord, Scottish Government

Additional attendees

  • Julie Anderson, Scottish Government
  • Tracey Peace-Hughes, University of Stirling
  • Marina Shapira, University of Stirling


  • Steven Quinn, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Sheena Devlin, Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • Graeme Logan, Scottish Government 
  • Gill Stewart, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Seamus Searson, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)

Items and actions


  • welcome and introductions 
  • minute and actions arising from CAB meeting of 18 December 2020 
  • the remainder of the 2020/21 academic year and look ahead to 2021/22 – paper CAB-14(01)
  • Stirling University research into Curriculum for Excellence – preliminary findings from the secondary school leaders survey
  • update on National Qualifications 2021
  • update on the review of Curriculum for Excellence 
  • AOB 

If you would like to obtain accessible versions of the papers for this meeting, please contact the Curriculum and Assessment Board team.

1. Welcome and introductions

1.1 The Chair welcomed board members to the meeting and apologies were noted as above.  

2. Minute and actions arising from the last meeting

2.1 The minute and actions from the Board’s last meeting on 18 December 2020 were introduced.

2.2 In response to the review of the Board’s action tracker there was an ask that momentum be maintained in relation to curriculum review activity pertaining to the UNCRC. Further to this, it was suggested that Dr John l’Anson from the University of Stirling be consulted in relation to this work given his expertise in the area. Education Scotland representatives noted the suggestion.

2.3 No comments were offered in relation to the minute of the Board’s 18 December 2020 meeting and the minute was agreed.

3. The remainder of the 2020/21 academic year and look ahead to 2021/22

 3.1 The Chair introduced the agenda item and handed over to Liam Cahill (LC) who provided an overview of the paper. It was noted that the paper provided detail of curriculum and assessment delivery in the latter part of the 2019/20 academic year and the first part of the 2020/21 academic year. It also explored the likely challenges and opportunities relating to curriculum and assessment delivery in the remainder of the current academic year. The Board were specifically asked to consider the content of the paper and discuss the range of issues and opportunities highlighted, how these relate to different stages of the learner journey and what improvement actions should be taken forward by the Board.

3.2 The Chair invited comments from attendees and the following were offered.

  • it was suggested that the pandemic has provided an opportunity to learn what could be done differently with a view to realising improvement. It was suggested that the Board think about the ideal learner journey and the opportunities to create that within a ‘new normal’. 
  • similarly, it was suggested that the National Improvement Framework could be reviewed in the context of education recovery.
  • furthermore, there was agreement that the pandemic provided an opportunity to build on positive developments in relation to digital learning and teaching. It was noted that there is a need to maintain new skills in relation to remote learning given the possibility of further disruption. It was also suggested that digital learning and teaching was vital for learners in remote and rural locations as it opened up opportunities for extended curriculum coverage and increased professional learning. However, there was an ask that an increased use of digital technology did not increase teacher workload.
  • it was suggested that there should be a strong focus on teacher wellbeing as this is often a root cause of excessive workload and work related stress. It was noted that teacher health and wellbeing was already a significant concern and that the pandemic has made the situation more difficult.  
  • the national level investment to support the recruitment of additional teachers was welcomed but some attendees also relayed experiences of it having limited impact. There was evidence of supply teachers still being unable to access work.
  • there was an ask that there is consideration of how any Covid protocols impact on the ability to deliver learning and teaching. For example, the impact on physical distancing on viable class sizes.
  • some attendees asked that practitioners be given access to medical grade masks given their potential exposure to Covid.
  • some attendees reported concerns around the SQA alternative certification model. A lack of certainty around the alternative model was creating a level of anxiety in the system and there was evidence of variation across local authorities in relation to implementation of the alternative model. It was acknowledged that while some learners needed to get back to school to complete practical work in the senior phase, online learning materials are now ‘Covid proof’ and there should be a focus on continuing to develop such materials.
  • there is a need to recognise the Community Learning and Development (CLD) sector as it has provided significant support during the pandemic and school closures. The restarting of CLD provision should also be a priority.
  • it was noted that the University sector is working hard to respond to the pandemic and that there needs to be a focus on supporting young people to transition back into Higher Education and also to move into Higher Education for the first time.
  • it was noted that the College sector was looking at strategic planning in relation to the return of face-to-face learning. Collaboration between the College sector and the Scottish Government had been of real value in supporting that planning and there was an ask that increased collaboration continues.  
  • the Regional Improvement Collaborates (RICs) have been working on supporting mental health and a significant number of learning materials have been made available.
  • some attendees expressed a concern about the need for schools to collect attainment data amidst a number of new Covid related priorities and a generally increased workload.
  • other attendees felt that the education recovery phase presented opportunities to focus more on play based learning, support for those with additional support needs, outdoor learning, delivery of the arts and how assessment is taken forward across the curriculum.

3.3 The Chair summed up discussions and noted that there was a possibility for the Board to lead on delivering key messages to the system in relation to:

  • the health and wellbeing of staff and pupils;
  • opportunities for pedagogy to adapt with specific focus on digital learning and teaching;
  • how we can make improvements following the pandemic;
  • support for learners with additional support needs;
  • support for transformational change;
  • opportunities to improve the learner journey; and
  • the need to focus on quality learning and teaching and not summer schools or use of “catch up/lost learning” related language.

3.4 It was agreed that the Scottish Government would take stock of the views presented by the CAB in relation to curriculum and assessment delivery in 2021/22. A further paper on the specific curriculum and assessment related concerns raised by the group would be presented at a future CAB meeting.

Action: The Scottish Government to draw on CAB views relating to curriculum and assessment delivery in 2021/22 and to develop a relevant paper for consideration at a future meeting.


4 . Stirling University research into Curriculum for Excellence

4.1 The Chair introduced the agenda item and handed over to Mark Priestley (MP), Tracey Peace-Hughes (TPH) and Marina Shapira (MS). TPH took the group through a presentation covering the results of recent secondary school leaders questionnaire focusing on curriculum design and development.

4.2 TPH informed attendees that the aim of the research was to provide an overview of contemporary patterns of curriculum provisions in secondary schools in Scotland and to analyse how these patterns may shape the attainment and transitions of young people.

4.3 MP summarised at the end of the presentation and offered the group some questions to consider. It was noted that further research is still being undertaken through qualitative work which will offer more answers. However conclusions can be modified based on the outputs of the OECD review of Curriculum for Excellence.

4.4 The Chair opened up discussion and the following comments were offered.

  • there is a question as to whether a 3+3 or 2+2+2 approach to secondary curriculum design matters if young people are progressing at the right rate for them.
  • it was suggested that flexibility associated with senior phase design isn’t being utilised. It was suggested that this was because some teachers are being told that they are not allowed to be flexible. There was an ask that Teachers be given autonomy to deliver the right approach for young people. They also need time to develop skills in curriculum design in consultation with peers.
  • suggestion that implementation of a 3+3 or 2+2+2 approach is not an issue as long as schools are adhering to the aspirations of CfE and its core principles. There have been questions as to how well CfE is working but it is difficult to answer those question if there is evidence of a large number of schools continuing to use pre-CfE structures.
  • it was noted that Shetland utilises pre-CfE structures but that was because it was the approach that worked best for their community. It was also reported that there had been positive progress in relation to the development of strong professional networks in Shetland. That work has supported the development of knowledge and understanding around curriculum design.
  • time is a factor in deciding between a 2+2+2 or 3+3 approach. View expressed that learners have more time to embed learning when a 2+2+2 approach is employed. There are also inconsistencies across local authorities when it comes to time allocation for Advanced Highers and other senior phase courses.
  • it was suggested that the focus of assessment should be to drive progression in learning and we should not support assessment techniques that don’t primarily support progression of learning.
  • point made that an original aspiration associated with CfE was to have young people undertake fewer exams and thereby give learners to opportunity to undertake deeper learning. However, that aspiration has not gained universal support and this can lead to divergence in senior phase design across the country.
  • it was suggested that parents often try to direct their children towards opportunities they feel will give them the best chance to succeed in life. It was noted that many parents experienced an education system where more exams and qualifications meant better prospects. We need to give parents and families better information if we want them to agree that fewer exams or qualifications is not necessarily a negative. MP informed attendees that the research team were intending to interview parents as part of further research activity.
  • the research raises questions about the level of influence the senior phase has on the rest of the learner journey. There may be a case for freeing up more time to ensure depth of learning. This approach should allow learners to enjoy learning more often.

4.5 The Chair thanked attendees for their contributions and asked MP to share future conclusions with the Board once the research had been finalised.

5. Update on National Qualifications 2021

5.1 The Chair introduced the agenda item and passed to Sue Pope (SP) to give a presentation on the work to date relating to the assessment of National Qualifications in 2021.

5.2 SP provided the Board with an update on the alternative certification model in 2021 including roles and responsibilities of those involved; quality assurance processes; and key dates in the process.

5.3 The Chair then invited discussion and the following comments were offered:

  • there was an ask that more time is provided to practitioners to assess learners and then submit evidence for provisional results following the planned full school reopening in April. In response, SP assured attendees that the SQA were not expecting to see a full evidence base to support provisional results. Full evidence will only be required to support assessments in June.
  • there was a further question about the amount of evidence that needs to be submitted at each stage and across different courses. SP advised that it was important for practitioners to be guided by subject specific guidance in determining how much evidence should be submitted to the SQA.

5.4 The Chair thanked attendees for their contributions.

6. Update on the review of Curriculum for Excellence

6.1 The Chair introduced the agenda item and handed over to Julie Anderson (JA) who provided a brief update on the OECD review of Curriculum for Excellence.

6.2 Attendees were informed that:

  • the first week of National Stakeholder Engagement took place from 28 September – 2 October 2020 and the second week from 2 – 5 November 2020 which focussed on individual learners, practitioners and parents.
  • the OECD will be holding an on-line seminar to discuss draft findings from their Review, with key Scottish stakeholders on 16th March 2021. Participants will include national agencies, professional associations, local authorities, schools and learners. Participants will consider the OECD’s draft findings and discuss how these might be taken forward, feeding into the final report.
  • the OECD are preparing a summary of draft findings which will be shared in advance of the event with participants. The OECD shared an early preliminary draft of their report with Scottish Government officials for the purposes of fact checking and clarification of contextual points only. Officials have approached this task as directed by the OECD and provided clarification where there are factual inaccuracies, terminology that would require clarification or areas where further contextual information is required. This is still an early draft and is subject to further development by the OECD, following feedback from key stakeholders at their final engagement event in March. The final report will be published by the OECD by the end of June 2021.
  • the OECD have expanded the work on the CfE Review to include a deeper focus on the future of student assessment and qualifications approaches in the Senior Phase curriculum in Scotland. The aim of this work is to analyse Scotland’s approach to student assessment and qualifications and produce options for how this could enhance the approach, informed by international good practice. This work is underway, with a report expected to be published by end of August 2021.

6.3 The Chair invited comments from the attendees and the following were offered:

  • it was noted that the draft report had been subject to questions of a political nature and there was an ask as to whether it was likely that the report be released under Freedom of Information legislation. It was confirmed that this was unlikely to happen as the report was owned by the OECD rather than the Scottish Government.

6.4 The Chair thanked attendees for their comments and brought discussion to a close.

7. Any Other Business (AOB)

7.1 The Chair invited attendees to raise any other business and the following was raised:

  • the Chair drew attendee’s attention to a paper providing an update from the Strategic Board of Education which was circulated with other meeting papers. It was noted that the paper was provided for information.
  • the Chair informed the Board that this would be Alan Armstrong’s final appearance at CAB due to his pending retirement.

List of actions

  1. The Scottish Government to draw on CAB views relating to curriculum and assessment delivery in 2021/22 and to develop a relevant paper for consideration at a future meeting.

Paper 2 - Update on Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE)

The Board discussed at their meeting on 9 November a paper summarising the range of work that is being taken forward in partnership in response to COVID to allow members to consider the challenges and opportunities that have arisen in respect of teacher education and to inform how we frame policy going forward post COVID. 

The main points of discussion were:

Teacher workforce planning

  • ensuring that the planning model works for all parts of the country with rural ITE students possibly being served by more on-line content in programmes with more grow your own initiatives such as Learn to Teach where students remain in their own communities
  • intake numbers impact on the ability to reduce class sizes, teacher workload and teacher class contact time while also having an effect on pupil attainment
  • the option of a two year PGDE to allow stronger integration with the early phase career of a teacher
  • building on the learning from alternative routes to help with geographical recruitment issues
  • future Teacher recruitment campaigns identifying the barriers to teaching and targeting those in rural areas

Student placements

  • an increase in work in preparing student assessments and ensuring compliance with local authority and school risk management protocols
  • consistency in assessment guidelines between universities
  • a generic local authority brief on risk assessment to reduce the preparatory work involved for schools

Professional learning for established teachers

  • significant professional learning opportunities in place for teachers with the aim of supporting them in addressing current challenges in relation to Covid. This was a balanced offer that did not overwhelm teachers and also gave them the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge not directly needed to address Covid related issues
  • on-line learning allows for easier access including reducing the time teachers need to take out of school. There are also opportunities for interest groups to be formed from across the country and for Scottish and international expert input. There had been an increase in engagement with professional learning in rural areas with digital tools being used for collaboration
  • need to ensure that quality of learning has prominence over ease of access
  • equality of access, especially for teachers in rural areas where connectivity issues existed. The bandwidth in some schools also presented an issue and these need to be resolved within the wider digital infrastructure agenda
  • the quality of on-line learning in regard to interaction for participants. The interpersonal elements of learning were seen as an important factor

The next meeting of the Board is on 24 March and will consider a range of issues relating to teacher education.

Agenda: March 2021
Paper 1: the remainder of the 2020/21 academic year and beyond
Paper 2: update from Strategic Board for Teacher Education
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