Publication - Minutes

Education Reform: Expert Panel meeting minutes: 4 October 2021

Published: 18 Nov 2021
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Date of meeting: 4 Oct 2021
Date of next meeting: 3 Nov 2021
Location: Microsoft Teams

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 4 October 2021.

18 Nov 2021
Education Reform: Expert Panel meeting minutes: 4 October 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees and apologies

  • Professor Ken Muir (Chair), Independent Advisor to Scottish Government
  • Billy Burke, Head Teacher, Renfrew High School
  • Professor Graham Donaldson, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Louise Hayward, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Walter Humes, University of Stirling
  • Professor Anne Looney, Dublin City University
  • Dr Khadija Mohammed, Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators
  • Cathy McCulloch, Children’s Parliament
  • Dr Naomi Stanford, Organization Design author and consultant
  • Shirley Anderson, Secretariat
  • Nina Hyslop, Secretariat
  • David Roy, Secretariat
  • Fearghal Kelly, Secretariat


  • none

Items and actions


Professor Muir welcomed panel members to the meeting and thanked them for their continued commitment to supporting this work.

Note of expert panel meeting 2 for agreement

The note of the second meeting of the expert panel was agreed.

Update on progress with the reform project

Professor Muir updated panel members on the breadth of activity currently underway as well as upcoming planned engagement events. Panel members suggested that it would be helpful to continue to promote the breadth of the engagement and to clarify the scope of the remit with stakeholders.

Feedback/views/issues arising from attendance of expert panel members at PSAG meetings

Some panel members commented on the apparent tensions which exist between different stakeholders involved. For example, some stakeholders are pushing for radical reform, whereas others are looking for more limited changes. It was noted that this will be challenging to resolve.

Continuation of brainstorming session following on from additional expert panel meeting of Friday 24 September and outcomes from meetings held to date

Panel members discussed a range of issues relating to this work, which included:

  • the importance of considering all outcomes for learners and not just qualifications
  • the distance between Scottish Government and the national bodies and the role of Civil Servants in this

Engagement with general secretaries of main teaching unions/bodies to join at 3pm (one hour session)

Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers in Scotland (pre-school, primary and special schools)

Greg began by outlining the need for a coherent and balanced system, and that his members report that this is not the case just now. Many members are not sure currently where Education Scotland stops and Scottish Government starts, and that this also applies to the relationships between Local Authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

Many AHDS members report overlap and confusion in the system, one example being in the overlap between the role of the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland in the early learning phase. There are currently two inspectorates and three self-evaluation frameworks in place which need to be managed. Members would like to see a change to the scrutiny with a simplification for nurseries. The inspectorate could instead focus on inspecting Local Authorities in terms of their capacity to know and support their schools.

In terms of empowerment, Greg shared that his members report a power imbalance. The policy position is that school leaders should have more control, however it does not feel like that currently. An example of this is the P1 SNSAs. Members are increasingly positive of the use of SNSAs in P4 and P7, however are consistently negative regarding the use of SNSAs in P1 which they see as a burden and lack value. This has been feedback to policy makers but school leaders feel ignored.

Another example of this issue relates to the recent announcement regarding the restarting of inspection activity. There has been an outcry against this from AHDS members as evidenced through survey results.

Larry Flanagan, EIS (primary, secondary, special schools and colleges)

Larry shared that there has been significant progress in terms of Scottish education in recent decades. However, if we were to look back over the past 10 years, we risk going over the same ground which was being discussed previously by the CfE Management Board.

Larry stated that getting the system to buy into any change will be a big task and that the biggest problem in the current system is the Senior Phase. He stated that we have not yet achieved the breadth, depth or parity of esteem required. He stated that the current National Qualifications are poorer than before we changed in terms of coursework and exams. Larry stated that the biggest mistake in the previous reform of qualifications was the move from a two-year Standard Grade model to a one-year National 4/5 model.

Larry outlined the need for collaboration in the system and highlighted the Scottish College for Educational Leadership as a positive example of supporting this. However he shared that there was a need to get buy in for change as people in the system are tired. He suggested that there was a need to get the politics out of Scottish education and that the structures put in place need to leave the profession in much more control.

Larry stated that the SQA should see themselves as working for the system, not the other way around and that the replacement to the SQA should be under the control of a board which includes teachers. He cited GTC Scotland as an example genuine governance from within the system. Larry shared that although stakeholders were involved in the discussions round national qualifications during the pandemic through the NQ21/22 groups, the big decisions were left to Scottish Government to take.

Larry outlined the empowerment agenda as a good example of us learning lessons from the past. This started out as an act of parliament, however this changed to a collaborative approach with professional associations as part of the discussions. He emphasised the importance of getting the profession on board and stressed the role of professional associations in talking to, and listening to, their members.

In terms of inspection, Larry started that HMI should be inspecting local authorities rather than schools directly.

Jim Thewliss, School Leaders Scotland (secondary head teachers and senior leaders)

Jim opened by stating that we owe it to those in the system to take it to a new level and that we need to put significant input into the system to get it over the threshold. He stated that the current system is very self-protective and that there is a need to be radical and disruptive. He explained that the system needs to be designed with the learner at the front and that we need to give the tools to the people most able to use them.

Jim stated that one of the things which most needs fixed in the system is the fracture between the broad general education and senior phase. He shared that we need to organise the system around qualification at the point of exit and that we need to address parity of esteem for vocational qualifications. He shared that whilst the 3-15 curriculum is largely settled there is a need for change in the Senior Phase and that the system is more receptive to this change now as a result of the pandemic.

In terms of Education Scotland he stated support for the removal of HMI from Education Scotland. He also shared that Education Scotland is too much at the direction of Scottish Government and that it has been hard to spot where one ends and the other begins. Jim shared that the support provided by Education Scotland needs to be seen to be on the side of schools and teachers.

Jim outlined that his members are supportive of the empowerment agenda, but would like to see more progress made on schools having control over finance and staffing. He shared the need for a long-term view with a clear vision and milestones. He stressed the need for explaining and sustaining change to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Discussion on engagement with general secretaries and continuation of brainstorming session

Panel members discussed a range of issues arising from the engagement with the general secretaries which included:

  • the clear overlap between the views expressed – the voices are not far apart
  • the reported lack of progress on empowerment
  • issues relating to governance of the national bodies keep arising in terms of their independence, autonomy and agency
  • the fact that inspection remains high stakes and that a more peer-led validated self-evaluation model could be further developed
  • the relationships between National bodies and Local Government have come up often and it will be important to think through the implications of the recommendations on Local Government and the RICs
  • need to consider the implementation of the recommendations – are there the skills, capacity and willingness?
  • what systems would support the cultures we are interested in?
  • where should the balance lie between assessment, qualifications and outcomes?

Potential report structure

Panel members had a brief initial discussion around the potential layout and format of the report.

Schedule of meetings

The schedule of meetings was highlighted and panel members were encouraged to attend any that they are able to. 

Agenda, format and invites for future meetings of expert panel

Panel members agreed that it would be helpful to explore a possible face-to-face or hybrid meeting or meetings.

Next meeting Wednesday 3 November (time to be confirmed)


Any other business


Secretariat to the Independent Advisor

October 2021