Curriculum and Assessment Board minutes: September 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board on 13/09/2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Gillian Hamilton, Interim Chief Executive Education Scotland (Co-Chair)
  • Lisa Bird, Deputy Director, Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Jean Blair, Director of Operations, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Jacqui Brasted, Deputy Director Assurance and Outcomes, Scottish Funding Council
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
  • Ollie Bray, Strategic Director, Education Scotland
  • Official, Learner Pathways Team, Education Reform Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Head of Learning, Teaching and Assessment, Education Scotland
  • Lorraine Davidson, Chief Executive, Scottish Council of Independent Schools
  • Brendan Docherty, Association for Directors of Education
  • John Guidi, Scottish Secondary Teachers Association
  • CAB Secretariat, Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Tina Harrison, Representative, Universities Scotland
  • Andy Harvey, Educational Institute Scotland
  • Eddie Carroll, National Official, NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers) Scotland
  • Julie MacDonald, Vice President, School Leaders Scotland
  • Sharon McLellan, Past President, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland
  • Professional Advisor, Education Reform Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Laura Murdoch, Deputy Director for Curriculum and Qualifications, Scottish Government
  • Stewart Nicholson, Association of Directors of Education
  • James Russell, Director, Careers Information, Advice and Guidance Operations, Skills Development Scotland
  • Barry Sheppard, National Parent Forum Scotland
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive and Registrar, General Teaching Council Scotland
  • Donna Stewart, Head of Policy NQ, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Matthew Sweeney, Policy Manager, COSLA
  • Official, National Improvement Framework, Scottish Government
  • Official, Statistician, Scottish Government
  • Martyn Ware,Director of Policy, Analysis and Standards, Scottish Qualifications Authority


  • Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, Scottish Government (Co-Chair)
  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland
  • Mike Corbett, National Executive, NASUWT Scotland
  • Louise Hayward, Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation, University of Glasgow
  • Carrie Lindsay, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland
  • Neville Prentice, Senior Director, Service Development and Delivery, Skills Development Scotland
  • Mark Priestley, Professor of Education, University of Stirling
  • Pauline Radcliffe, CEO, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
  • Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development, Scottish Qualifications Authority

Items and actions

Welcome and draft minutes from last meeting

Co-Chair, Gillian Hamilton, welcomed members to the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) meeting. Draft minutes from the meeting on 15th June 2023 were agreed as an accurate record and approved by members.

The CAB (Secretariat) updated on the following actions from the previous meeting:

  • paragraph 2.5 – Education Scotland will bring an update on the role of knowledge in the eight curricular areas to the next CAB meeting
  • paragraph 4.4 – a call for volunteers to join a short-life subgroup of CAB to discuss the profiling achievement work will be issued shortly
  • paragraph 5.1 – a paper seeking feedback on a draft model for a curriculum review cycle was circulated to CAB members over summer. Responses were received from a number of organisations, with comments reflected in advice that has recently been provided to the Cabinet Secretary
  • additional action to be added to section 3 in response to CAB discussion on the impact of college funding on school-college partnerships. An official, (Learner Pathways, Scottish Government) provided an update to members. The only specific cut to college funding related to funding to support transformational change.  Colleges have received a flat settlement this year which includes funds to school-college partnerships and foundation apprenticeships. It was noted that this represents a challenging picture and colleges will be reviewing their provision accordingly.  Anecdotally we are aware that three colleges are considering reducing their school-college partnership offer. CAB members were encouraged to share any further examples of this if they had them 

Education Reform Update

Lisa Bird (Scottish Government) provided an update on Education and Skills Reform. There has been a series of reports and independent reviews (National Discussion on Education; Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment; Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape and Purposes and Principles for Post-School Education, Research and Skills) published over the last year. The Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that she wants to take time to look at the findings and hear more views, acknowledging that if progressed, some of these proposed reforms would constitute significant change. There will be an Education Reform Bill taken forward in this parliamentary year (in relation to the new qualifications body and the inspectorate). The government is revising timelines to allow consideration of these reviews and support that sequencing across education and skills reform. The Cabinet Secretary will update Parliament, drawing on the various reports, in the Autumn.

Lisa highlighted that they are progressing the recruitment for a new chair for the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority), This will be an important role in supporting the development of the new qualifications body. The Chair will transfer into the new qualifications body, subject to the agreement of Parliament. There is also live recruitment for an interim chief inspector for education. This role will also be critical in supporting the work to establish the new inspectorate.

The Chair opened up the discussion to members. A query was raised regarding next steps on responses to the reports and the detail of the timeline. Lisa confirmed that the Cabinet Secretary would update Parliament on next steps in the Autumn.

National Qualifications Update

Jean Blair (SQA) gave an overview of the 2023 results and next steps. Key messages included:

  • over 140,000 learners received their certificates, despite continuing to feel the impact of the pandemic and they can be proud of their achievements
  • there is a real diversity of achievement
  • the headline results are sitting between 2019 and 2022 attainment levels
  • a sensitive approach to grading taken e.g., in Modern Languages and Science due to evidence of continued pandemic impact in relation to practical skills
  • a new appeals service was introduced this year as part of a package of support
  • course reports for every subject at every level will be produced from this month onwards
  • full evaluation of assessment and awarding in 2023 will begin after completion of appeals process
  • 2024 planning has begun, with the National Qualifications Strategic Group being reconvened. Removal of most course assessment modifications already confirmed for 2023/24, following engagement with learners, parent/carers and practitioners

The chair opened up the floor to members; most discussion related to the course modifications and the planned return to full assessment. Main concern around practical elements in relation to Sciences and Modern Languages, with challenges for pupils whose skills have not been developed but also for new teachers. Members were assured that extensive engagement had been done with SQA appointees who were practising teachers and lecturers. There was an ask that there should be a phased approach to reintroduction. SQA stated that there had already been a very gradual approach taken in Scotland compared to other countries. 

OECD Implementation Plan Update

Ollie Bray (Education Scotland) spoke to this standing item on the progress of the implementation of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recommendations 1.1-1.4. These are curriculum specific recommendations which Education Scotland have lead responsibility for (working across Education Scotland teams and in partnership with ADES Curriculum and Qualifications Group).

It was highlighted that at the start of the academic year 23/24, there continues to be a strong appetite to focus attention on the curriculum, its purpose, and how that is being experienced by children and young people post-covid and into their futures. Schools and settings are increasingly recognising the links between curriculum design and learner agency, and the impact of this on achievement, engagement and attendance.

It was noted that the successful realisation of the OECD recommendations (in particular 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3) will depend on the Scottish Government response to a range of subsequent recommendations in a number of independent reviews. 

Action: Ollie Bray (Education Scotland) highlighted a commitment to bring an update on the role of knowledge in the eight curricular areas to the next CAB meeting on 30th Jan 2024.

Members raised the following points:

  • some frustration on the slow pace of this work and continued dependencies on other work in the system. How do we keep the momentum and interest of teachers
  • a member was keen to understand who was involved in the subject networks and why. It was explained that it has been through the subject associations/networks and that the current reviews that have been taking place are piloting different approaches to curriculum review, rather than undertaking a full-scale subject review
  • there was discussion around engagement with the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment, with some members describing teacher involvement as patchy and inconsistent approaches at in-service days. Reassurance was given around the Independent Review Group and the community collaborative approach from those that had been involved, and that it was the responsibility of members to engage with their sector and feedback to the group. Laura Murdoch, Deputy Director updated on the survey that is currently ongoing and the programme of school visits for the Cabinet Secretary to further discuss with teachers

National Improvement Framework

An official from the National Improvement Framework team (Scottish Government), made CAB members aware that the NIF (National Improvement Framework) annual statutory review is underway and asked for views on the 2024 plan. Officials updated on the changes made last year, including a revised vision statement which recognised the need for sustainability to be a core aspect of the learning experience.

The 2023 NIF incorporated work being undertaken to implement the recommendations from the Muir report and other national level activity that had been put in place during 2023.  We want to ensure that the NIF pulls together all the key activity and priorities for 2024, so that there is a single source for the wide range of improvement activity planned/underway in the education system. 

The 2024 NIF will also be informed by the improvement activities that are taking place in local authorities and schools, and which have been captured in local and regional improvement plans.  

Members will feedback to officials directly in relation to the updated plan.  In discussion:

  • a point was raised in relation to the use of language and the definition of the word ‘practitioner’. It was highlighted that this is used to cover early years, but a member noted different professional frameworks for teachers. The early years representative noted the focus is largely on schools rather than the 3-18 journey
  • a member noted that the language around the attainment gap has changed, and focus now seems to be on ‘reducing’ the gap rather than ‘closing’ it

School Leaver Attainment – Core Measure for Improvement

Following on from engaging with CAB earlier in the year, a Statistician (Scottish Government) provided more information and sought views on the proposal to expand the scope of Scottish Government National Statistics on school leaver attainment, with a view to meeting the following aims:

  • alignment to government policies on broader attainment and a wide range of learner pathways
  • alignment between outputs used at a national level and products used at school/LA level
  • continued provision of a consistent time series based on the NQ-only attainment measure

He highlighted that following user consultation and development work the intention is to keep the NQ-only measure as the headline measure in SSAILD (Scottish Statistics on Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations) and add a secondary All SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) measure.  Next steps include communicating this to users and prepare for reporting on this basis from 2024 onwards, including:

  • seeking Ministerial approval
  • updating users
  • publishing NQ-only and All SCQF measure for 2022/23 school leavers in 2024 and going forward. Including: clear definitions of each measure, historic time series, analysis of drivers of change, analysis allowing examination of LA variation

The floor was opened up for discussion and the following points were raised:

  • the chair noted that comments had been received from one organisation who are disappointed at the proposals. It was felt that by continuing to use NQs as the headline measure then parity across all qualifications and learning recognition would continue to be a losing battle
  • unintended consequences and performativity were highlighted by several members, that this could lead to a pressure on schools/local authorities to provide certain courses so they can perform for this particular set of measures. It was felt there must be a better way of accurately capturing achievements for young people. A more nuanced approach was felt to be needed as currently data can end up driving the system
  • from a university perspective, expansion of the scope of Scottish Government National Statistics on school leaver attainment was welcomed. However, it was suggested that improved visibility of attainment data on Highers would be particularly helpful, particularly as we move towards a new qualification landscape and institutions consider how to respond on entry requirements

Action – Official (Scottish Government) will follow up with CAB members directly on concerns expressed about the School Leaver Attainment Core Measure for Improvement.


There was no other business raised. The chair thanked members for their time and the secretariat highlighted that 2024 dates would be issued shortly.


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