Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: September 2019

Minutes, agenda and supporting papers from the eighth meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board, held on 18 September 2019.

Attendees and apologies

Members and substitutes

  • Peter McNaughton, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Steven Quinn, ADES 
  • Tim Wallace, Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
  • Jim Metcalfe, College Development Network
  • Robert Hynd, Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Eddie Follan, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)
  • Jean Carwood-Edwards, Early Years Scotland
  • Andrea Bradley, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
  • 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)
  • John Edward, Scottish Council for Independent Schools (SCIS)
  • Julie Cavanagh, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Partnership (SCQF)
  • Graeme Logan, Scottish Government (co-chair)
  • Kevin Campbell, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)
  • Robert Quinn, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Neville Prentice, Skills Development Scotland (SDS)
  • Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

Young representatives

  • Hayley Brown, Smithycroft Secondary School
  • Louie Curran, Smithycroft Secondary School


  • Malcolm Pentland, Scottish Government 
  • Liam Cahill, Scottish Government 

Additional attendees 

  • Joan MacKay, Education Scotland
  • Kit Wyeth, Scottish Government
  • Lynne Smith, Scottish Government


  • Andrew Griffiths, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Ken Thomson, Colleges Scotland
  • Nicola Dickie, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA)
  • Louise Hayward, University of Glasgow
  • Mhairi Shaw, Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • Dee Bird, Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • Linda Pooley, Scottish Government
  • Seamus Searson, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)
  • Gill Stewart, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Aileen Ponton, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) 
  • Brian Green, Universities Scotland  

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Gayle Gorman welcomed members to the meeting and provided a special welcome to the young representatives present from Smithycroft Secondary School. Apologies were listed as above. 

Gayle informed attendees that Andy Bruce (Scottish Government), John Kemp (Scottish Funding Council) and Fiona Nicholson (National Parent Forum of Scotland) had all left the Board following moves within their respective organisations. It was confirmed that replacements would be identified and confirmed as soon as practicable. Gayle also welcomed Graeme Logan to the meeting as a new co-chair following Fiona Robertson’s move from the Scottish Government to the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Graeme introduced himself to board members. 

Gayle then handed over to Marie Kerr, Headteacher, Smithycroft Secondary School. Ms Kerr provided a background to life and work at the school including a focus on offering a diverse range of senior phase qualifications and awards, working with local partners and employers to deliver the senior phase of the curriculum and introducing restorative practice training for all staff.

Tour of Smithycroft Secondary School

Ms Kerr then invited Board members to follow pupils from Smithycroft who led a tour of the school.  

Minute and actions arising from the last meeting

The minute and actions from the Board’s last meeting on 6 June 2019 were introduced.

The following comments were made in relation to the Board’s June meeting:

  • Jean Carwood-Edwards asked when an item on school preparedness for the expansion of funded early learning and childcare would be brought to the Board. It was confirmed that that discussion was planned for the Board’s meeting in December 2019
  • Mike Corbett enquired as to the detail of senior phase review which was recently announced by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. The co-chairs confirmed that they would provide additional detail when ‘any other business’ was discussed at the end of the meeting

SQA exam results 2019

Robert Quinn (SQA) delivered a presentation on the SQA results from 2019. The presentation covered some specific points in relation to the 2019 exam diet (first year of revised assessment at Higher and the extension of grade D now covering all National 5 and Higher courses), key themes compared to the 2018 results and more detailed commentary in relation to National 4, National 5 and Higher.

Board members were then invited to form four smaller groups to discuss the following points in more detail:

  • successes and challenges in relation to the results
  • factors relevant to this year’s results
  • approaches to enhance outcomes for learners in the short and medium term
  • the provision of additional support for learning, teaching and/or assessment

Following discussion in smaller groups, the main points raised by Board members were as follows:

  • it is difficult to tell whether the 2 percentage point drop in A-C passes at Higher was an expected fluctuation or something more significant. It was suggested that the changes to assessments at Higher could have been a factor as could the SQA’s benchmarking of standards for the subjects that showed the biggest reduction in A-C passes (English, Maths, History and Psychology)
  • if it is concluded that the drop in A-C Higher passes is an expected fluctuation then SQA and other education bodies should provide similar explanations should there be a 2 percentage point increase in future years
  • more research was required to fully understand the impact of removing unit assessments. It was suggested that in removing the assessments, workload may have moved from the teacher to the learner
  • there should be a focus on ensuring that teachers have adequate learning and teaching resources to give learners the best chance to succeed. SQA highlighted that they publish course reports each year which can be useful teaching aids as they detail areas where learners performed well, areas which learners found demanding and advice on preparing candidates for future assessment
  • the impact of multi-level teaching on the provision of support for learners should be considered
  • it would also be helpful to research if there is a correlation between establishments offering the widest possible range of senior phase pathways and achievement of qualifications and awards. It was suggested that allowing learners to access courses that best suited their individual talents and interests would give them the best chance to succeed
  • work to continue to broaden access to many different qualifications and awards (not just Nationals and Highers etc) was welcomed. It was however acknowledged that this could only continue to happen if the right number of subject/specialist teachers were in place
  • the removal of ‘recognising positive achievement’ (RPA) appeared to have ensured that more learners were presented appropriately in the senior phase and this could be demonstrated by the rise in learners undertaking qualifications at National 4. However, it was stated that this is balanced against a well-meaning desire of teachers to be aspirational and help their learners achieve the highest possible qualifications in the three year senior phase period
  • some members felt that the planned communications campaign to promote National 4 would further support more appropriate presentation
  • it was noted that SQA consultation with young people had found that learners are happy not to have an exam as part of National 4. The perceived lack of credibility due to an absence of an exam seems to have come from other sources 
  • National 4 can often be promoted as stepping stone to a National 5 but in some subjects the courses felt very different and progression between the two could be difficult. This could potentially discourage teachers from presenting a learner for a National 4
  • guidance on whether a grade D at National 5 was preferable to a National 4 would be welcomed as there is currently some confusion around that point
  • the amount of time learners have to study for a qualification or award continues to be a challenge. It was acknowledged that learners could easily spend two years studying for a Higher but that teachers were generally opposed to that approach in case a young person did not achieve the qualification and ultimately the time spent studying was lost
  • the move to speaking about SCQF levels and aligned qualifications instead of just National Courses was welcomed as it reinforced parity of esteem across a number of qualifications and awards
  • there was praise for the communications campaign ahead of results day which had illustrated that there is no wrong senior phase path and that all young people achieving qualifications and awards were worthy of praise and recognition. However, it was acknowledged that this work needs to continue to increase public awareness and take a disproportionate focus off of SQA results day

The young representatives at the meeting made the following point:

  • the way in which exams are timetabled across the diet can cause additional stress to a learner. Sometimes it feels like the most popular subjects are scheduled in the first couple of weeks and this presents difficulties in finding time for revision if you have picked those subjects. SQA responded to the point by recognising that setting the timetable is challenging to meet the needs of all learners. SQA do try where possible to spread subject examinations across the diet and the spread changes from year to year – there are no absolute rules. Some higher uptake subjects have to be placed fairly early in the diet to ensure that all the post exam marking and quality assurance can take place to ensure all exam papers are marked fairly and to standards. SQA has an external advisory group that it consults when finalising the timetable. Ultimately it is impossible to ensure that all young people have a schedule that suits their ideal timing needs given the large number of senior phase pathways that are undertaken – however every effort is made to accommodate the needs of all when setting the timetable

Robert Quinn thanked members for their contributions and summed up discussions. He stated that from an SQA perspective, in general terms, all assessments including the new Highers had been set to the expected standard and that the exam data provided no reason to believe that there was a major issue in relation to Scottish education. However, the following points were worthy of further consideration by all:

  • the impact of the removal of unit assessments at Higher
  • the impact of new assessment and marking approaches being introduced
  • the availability of teachers in specialist areas
  • what the results tell us about the ongoing development of fundamental core skills (literacy, numeracy etc)

Scotland’s curriculum – refreshing the narrative – next steps and engagement plans 

The co-chairs introduced paper CAB-08(01) and reminded board members that the refreshed Curriculum for Excellence narrative was launched on 9 September 2019 and is now live at

Board members were informed that there had been a generally positive initial response to the new resource and that the new website had already been accessed 8,000 times by 6,400 unique users. In addition, Education Scotland had developed a communications and engagement plan to help ensure the best possible promotion for the refreshed narrative. This included the proposed creation of three groups:

  • an operations group that would sit within Education Scotland and look to identify how the narrative could be coherently aligned within current work e.g the ‘Into Headship’ programme
  • a practitioners’ group which would guide the development of any resources and advice linked to or arising from the refresh
  • a strategic engagement group which would be made up of members of the Curriculum and Assessment Board (or their nominated representatives) with a view to all relevant members incorporating the refreshed narrative into their work

Board members were asked for comments on the proposals and in particular if they were willing to be represented on a new strategic engagement group. The main comments made by board members were as follows:

  • there is a need to ensure that use of the refreshed narrative is properly supported to enable curriculum making as there is still criticism that this was not the case when Curriculum for Excellence was first introduced
  • it is important to be clear in communications and engagement activity that the refreshed narrative does not represent a new or changed ask or requirement of practitioners, rather it serves as a tool to be engaged with to support a systematic process that enables better sense-making in relation to Curriculum for Excellence in the current context
  • consideration should be given to a programme of engagement through the Regional Improvement Collaboratives and national level activity with expectations that all schools will engage in a process of stocktaking in relation to the curriculum
  • Education Scotland inspections must reinforce the messages contained in the refreshed narrative and therefore demonstrate consistency across the system
  • the expertise across the Curriculum and Assessment Board should be harnessed as part of this work
  • the resource’s strong alignment with the empowerment agenda was welcomed
  • it may be beneficial to identify some ‘leaders of curriculum making’ who could champion the resource and its messages across the education system. It was suggested that this could be done by utilising individuals from the pool of people who have completed Masters level study in relation to curriculum design and development
  • it is important that the resources and guidance that sit behind the refreshed narrative are suitably engaging
  • it was noted that the refreshed narrative aligned well with the ‘CfE nutshells’ that the National Parent Forum have produced
  • there was recognition that the narrative should be raised at the next meeting of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education and there was a commitment to do that from relevant board members

The co-chairs thanked board members for their enthusiasm in relation to this work. They then confirmed that the board’s secretariat would be in touch to:

  • communicate appropriate messaging in relation to the resource to ensure consistency of communication across the system
  • finalise the membership of the new strategic engagement group


  • the board’s secretariat to disseminate key messaging in relation to the refreshed narrative to allow Board members to promote the resource
  • the board’s secretariat to confirm membership of the new curriculum narrative strategic engagement group

Update on the Assessment Summit 

The co-chairs then introduced the next agenda item and gave a read out of the Assessment Summit which took place on 11 September 2019. Board members were informed that the summit looked at the purposes and objectives of assessment in the broad general education (BGE) its broadest sense and that feedback on the event had been generally positive.

It was specifically noted that: workshops focusing on the Insight tool and BGE benchmarking tool were very well received; the affirmation that professional judgement should underpin all assessment was welcome; using data from assessment to create league tables was not welcome nor beneficial; and that there is a continued need to think about the impact of changes as a result of assessment rather than just the intention.

Board members were invited to share their reflections and the main points were as follows:

  • the demonstration of the BGE benchmarking tool at the Summit was very welcome and it was noted how effective the tool could be in progressing improvement. It was also noted that the BGE benchmarking tool could help teachers determine achievement of a curriculum level and appropriate senior phase presentation
  • it would be beneficial to identify strong local level examples of how data is used to inform assessment and then share that nationally
  • there is a continued need to position assessment as a learning and teaching tool and not an accountability tool
  • while ‘big data’ is sometimes helpful it is important not to lose sight of the value of the assessment data of individuals and how this can support personalised learning
  • it should be clear that the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) do not equate to teacher judgement on achievement of a curriculum level. The SNSAs are there to support professional judgement and not replace it

Board members were thanked for their contributions and in summing up the following points were made:

  • the Scottish Government published a statement on the purpose of the SNSA at the end of August.  Further work is underway to clearly communicate how the SNSAs sit within the context of assessment across Curriculum for Excellence and a group will be convened to support this
  • the Scottish Government has worked with Professor Sue Ellis, University of Strathclyde to convene a P1 practitioners’ forum in an effort to support the understanding and utilisation of P1 SNSAs
  • the Scottish Government and Education Scotland are considering how to better utilise Quality Support and Moderation Support Officers (QAMSO network) to increase understanding of assessment and standards
  • the Scottish Government will bring a substantive paper on assessment to a future Curriculum and Assessment Board meeting


  • the Scottish Government to consider assessment discussions at the board’s June and September 2019 meetings in order to develop and present a substantive paper on assessment at a future Curriculum and Assessment Board meeting

Any other business (AOB)

The co-chairs invited attendees to raise any other business.

Graeme Logan provided an update on the planned review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence. It was acknowledged that it was important to recognise the need for stability in the system after several years of change and that the review should focus on identifying positive innovation and effective practices, rather than stifle legitimate local variation in senior phase design. 

Attendees were informed that the Scottish Government is currently considering the scope of the review and there will be opportunities for board members to feed into that. Attendees were also informed that the Scottish Government would explore the contribution that the OECD might make to the review. No timescales had yet been confirmed, and it was agreed that a terms of reference for the review would be presented to Board for comment.

In response to the update it was suggested that the Regional Improvement Collaboratives have an important job to identify and communicate effective practice in senior phase design. 

Mark Priestley enquired as to when the results of a Scottish Government survey of headteachers in relation to the senior phase would be published. It was confirmed that results would be available in the next two weeks. Mark Priestley also informed board members that he was about to commence a two year project focusing on senior phase design and the results, when available, would be of relevance to this work. 

In closing, the co-chairs alerted members to two meeting papers focusing on the STEM Education and Training Strategy and the 2020 National Improvement Framework. Attendees were informed that these papers were for information rather than discussion however, if attendees wished to comment on the development of the 2020 National Improvement Framework then relevant contact details were set out in the paper.   


  • the Scottish Government will work with local and national partners through the Curriculum and Assessment Board to agree the scope and remit of the independent senior phase review.

Meeting concludes

List of actions

  • the board’s secretariat to disseminate key messaging in relation to the refreshed narrative to allow Board members to promote the resource
  • the board’s secretariat to confirm membership of the new curriculum narrative strategic engagement group
  • the Scottish Government to consider assessment discussions at the board’s June and September 2019 meetings in order to develop and present a substantive paper on assessment at a future Curriculum and Assessment Board meeting
  • the Scottish Government will work with local and national partners through the Curriculum and Assessment Board to agree the scope and remit of the independent senior phase review

Curriculum and Assessment Board Secretariat

CAB meeting - September 2019: agenda
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