International Council of Education Advisers minutes: April 2018

Minutes and supporting papers for the fourth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), held on 26-27 April 2018.

Attendees and apologies

The following council members were present:

  • Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP, Chair
  • Dr Carol Campbell
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Professor Graham Donaldson
  • Dr Avis Glaze
  • Professor Alma Harris
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng
  • Dr Pasi Sahlberg
  • Dr Allison Skerrett
  • Lindsey Watt

Also present:

  • Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Graeme Logan, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Inspector and Chief Executive Education Scotland
  • Jenny Scott, Communications Manager, Scottish Government


  • Kit Wyeth, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • Judith Tracey, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • Elaine Kelley, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government

Items and actions

This note provides an overview of the discussion and key points from the fourth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA).

The meeting took place in Inverness on 26 and 27 April 2018, and focused on how Scottish education is delivering on the 3 priority areas identified previously by the ICEA (improving pedagogy, effective leadership, and ensuring a culture of collaboration), and the ICEA’s formal report to the Scottish Government, which will be published in June 2018.

Council session one - 26 April 2018 (Inverness UHI College)

Fiona Robertson welcomed members to the fourth meeting of the ICEA and welcomed Lindsey Watt, the most recently appointed member of the ICEA, and Gayle Gorman, the new Chief Inspector of Education for Scotland, to their first meeting.

There was also a welcome from the Principal of Inverness College, Chris O’Neil, who spoke about the aims and ambitions of the College, which is the largest in the Highlands and Islands, and forms part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Fiona Robertson and Gayle Gorman then led a discussion with the Council about activity in Scotland since the last meeting in September 2017. This centred on the National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan 2018, the Scottish Government’s reform programme, including the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives and the proposed Education Bill, building a guiding coalition with new supporting governance arrangements (the Scottish Education Council, the Curriculum and Assessment Board, and the Strategic Board for Teacher Education), progress and evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, and an update on the new role and vision for Education Scotland.

Council Session 1

The discussion was an opportunity for the Council to hear more about recent activity in Scotland and reflect further on its formal report. Discussion was based around three supporting papers that had been provided to accompany the discussion:

  • Attainment Scotland Fund – Interim evaluation results and next steps (ICEA(18)01),
  • Education Reform: Empowering our teachers, parents and communities to deliver excellence and equity for children (ICEA(18)02), and
  • The new role and remit of Education Scotland (ICEA(18)03).

Points made during the discussion included:

  • Recognise the positive impact that the Scottish Attainment Challenge funding is having on teacher numbers.
  • It is important to be able to demonstrate whether the attainment gap is closing and, if so, how that has been achieved. That is why improvements in data collection, such as the BGE improvement tool (which utilises data from Curriculum for Excellence, and provides greater access to data for primary schools) are so important.
  • School exclusion rates are very low and reducing, and it is good to see that there has been a real shift in the policy and approach to seeing exclusion as an exception. However, it is important to continue to address this issue, as exclusion disproportionately affects children and young people from more challenging backgrounds, and it is not possible to close the attainment gap if those who are adversely affected by it are not in school.
  • The Scottish Government should avoid the term “education reform” and instead use the language of improvement and development
  • It is good to see a renewed focus on pedagogy at the centre of our schools. There is a risk of becoming too focused on evidence based interventions, whereas we need to have learning and teaching at the forefront of everything we are doing to ensure excellence and equity in Scottish education. Improving teaching is the key way to improving educational outcomes for students.
  • There needs to be a renewed focus on enhancing the ability of teachers to collaborate to learn. The new Regional Improvement Collaboratives are well placed to facilitate this collaboration.
  • There should be an emphasis on building the capacity of leaders. Leadership shouldn’t automatically mean headteachers or depute heads. There needs to be a clear leadership strategy to set out what actions schools, local authorities and national bodies will take to ensure a continuous pipeline of the right people, in the right numbers, in the right place at the right time. In particular, it is essential that schools have a mechanism for identifying talent, and for recognising the skills necessary for different leadership tracks.
  • The need to be creative about how we develop and support the next wave of headteachers. There is a need to continue to foster enthusiasm in the workforce and reignite the passion for teaching. Remind teachers why they joined the profession in the first place.
  • Emphasise the importance of parental engagement in learning which goes further than simple parental involvement. Parental engagement includes collaborating with the wider community to strengthen schools, families and the learning and development of young people.
  • Issues of ownership and responsibility should also be taken into account, as well as structure, culture, and capacity, when looking to strengthen the education system.
  • Partnership between Education Scotland, local authorities, and schools is crucial, so that it is clear that the responsibility for improving outcomes lies with everyone.

Meeting with the Regional Improvement Leads

The following Regional Improvement Leads were present:

  • Laurence Findlay – Northern Alliance
  • Douglas Hutchison – South West Improvement Collaborative
  • Carrie Lindsay – South East Improvement Collaborative
  • Robert Naylor – Forth Valley and West Lothian Improvement Collaborative

The ICEA expressed an interest in hearing the views of the Regional Improvement Leads on how the new arrangements were bedding in and how they could contribute to the creation of a system-wide approach to collaborative working and leadership.

The Regional Improvement Leads began the discussion by providing some information about their particular collaboratives:

  • The Northern Alliance was already well established before the 6 Regional Improvement Collaboratives were introduced. It came together to give a voice to the rural north, and to find ways of sharing resources across a huge geographical area. So it slotted quite naturally into the role of Regional Improvement Collaborative envisaged as part of the Government’s reform agenda. The main challenge it faces now is how to communicate more effectively with the grassroots so that everyone feels part of the team, which can be difficult given the geographical spread.
  • The South West Improvement Collaborative, is a newly established collaborative, although the three Ayrshire authorities had worked together on individual projects before. The focus is on trying to build collaborative capacity, and it has four distinct workstreams to create a space for teachers to connect with one another and find opportunities for collaboration. These are: early years; teacher assessment and moderation; sharing good practice in closing the gap; and leadership. The main challenge is taking the time necessary to become properly established, whilst delivering the systems leadership that is needed quickly to ensure meaningful collaborative working.
  • The South East Improvement Collaborative is also a largely new collaborative, although some of the local authorities involved had worked together previously. The local authorities worked hard at the start to build trust and respect, and to focus on why they should collaborate. Networks are developing naturally where people are keen to collaborate, and they are looking at how to expand this throughout the alliance, and encourage similar work in areas where collaboration has been less common. In particular they are looking at emerging practice in each local authority that it would be helpful to share e.g. a Centre of Excellence on digital literacy. The main challenge is around the wide variation in size and capacity of each individual local authority.
  • The Forth Valley and West Lothian Improvement Collaborative is also a new collaborative, which is building trust and confidence with each meeting. It is aiming to build collaboration and gain evidence from the ground up, and has workstreams on literacy, numeracy, early years and career long professional learning. The main challenge is communication, particularly how to get the messages down to class teacher level, and encourage them to be the ones to generate requests for support for improvement from the collaborative.

Points made during the discussion included:

  • There has clearly been a lot of progress in a short space of time.
  • The 6 Regional Improvement Leads are planning to meet as a group 6 times a year after each meeting of the Scottish Education Council (which they all attend). This will help them to share good practice.
  • Education Scotland is targeting its support to ensure it is bespoke for each collaborative.
  • The need to get frontline teachers more aware and involved in the work of the collaboratives. There should be more opportunities for teachers to work together.
  • The need for more focus on collaborative leadership. How can we work together to add value collectively and collaboratively?
  • The importance of building collaborative leadership among the pool of leaders within schools and not just focusing on headteachers.
  • It would be helpful to develop a network of champions who can lead on particular areas of the curriculum.
  • Consider the idea of the executive head model who would lead a campus of schools across a wide geographical area.
  • For collaboration to work it is important to know what the motivation is i.e. what is it for and why are we doing it together?
  • Context is important and no size fits all. It is important to invest in the relationships within collaboratives and ensure everyone has a shared set of values and a common purpose.
  • The need to ensure that the high level message is getting through to teachers, that they have the freedom to try to work together, without having to seek permission, and without going through too many bureaucratic hoops.
  • There should be a balance between face to face and virtual collaboration, but there is a need to shift the culture to encourage teachers to make better use of the technology available for collaboration e.g. Glow or yammer groups.

On the evening of 26 April, the Council members attended a dinner at Café Artysans hosted by the Deputy First Minister. Three young musicians from Fèis Rois played for the Council before dinner

Council session two - 27 April 2018 (Cauldeen Primary School)

The meeting resumed on Friday 27 April following a tour of Cauldeen Primary School, where the Council and Deputy First Minister met teachers and pupils from the school to hear about their experiences, and how the school is using its Pupil Equity Funding to support the children who need it most.

Council session two – chaired by the Deputy First Minister

The Deputy First Minister welcomed everyone to the second day of the fourth meeting of the ICEA, and said that he wanted discussion to focus on how to effectively deliver an empowered, school-led system for Scotland. He had been following the advice the ICEA had given him at the last meeting, to be careful about trying to do too much at once, and to be systematic, sequenced and selective in his approach to education reform. To that end, the DFM asked the Council to consider the following two issues:

  • is legislation necessary in order to deliver a change in culture?
  • in an empowered system that relies on the professional judgement of teachers, how can we guarantee outstanding pedagogy?

Points made by the Council during the discussion included:

  • Sustained improvement of a system relies on the capacity of teachers to generate good pedagogy, rather than just bringing it in.
  • The heart of Curriculum for Excellence is building capacity in young people. To do that, we need to shape teachers who are ready for the future. They need to lead the change rather than feeling compelled to change.
  • Legislation should be “light touch” because it can become a distraction from the work that is being undertaken on the ground to change the culture within the education system. It is better to focus on the collaborative approach that has made such significant progress so far.
  • It is important to have the evidence to demonstrate the significant progress made in Scottish education in the last 2 years. The evidence should also look at the student experience as well as the statistics.
  • Pupil Equity Funding has been transformational but we need to be more explicit about the impact of the funding.
  • It is essential to enhance teachers’ ability to collaborate to learn.
  • Changing teachers’ practice is difficult, but not impossible. You can’t change pedagogy at scale unless the system is ready. Teachers need support, modelling, and help to change teaching practices for the better. There are 3 key ways in which Education Scotland can do this: 1. Modelling good practice (if you don’t see it then you don’t know what works); 2. Getting teachers to work together to trial new practices (the Regional Improvement Collaboratives could be the place to deliver this); 3. Consider what it is about the Scottish context that will help to deliver.

The ICEA then worked together during lunch to consider their formal report while the Deputy First Minister had a working lunch with staff at the school. The DFM reconvened the meeting after lunch.

For the final session, Jayne-Anne Gadhia and Andy Hargreaves joined the discussion via Skype. The Deputy First Minister asked the ICEA to share its emerging thinking about the content of its formal report. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • The Council felt that Scotland had made demonstrable progress since the ICEA was established in August 2016. What was less clear was whether we had all the evidence necessary to demonstrate the change. As well as the statistics that are already being collected, we should be looking at what the Council termed “small data” to flesh out the narrative about the school and student experience of e.g. PEF, and begin to build examples of real life success stories.
  • Although legislation has its place it is unlikely, on its own, to achieve the cultural change that the Scottish Government is seeking. Instead, it is necessary to continue with the co-operative and collaborative approach being taken at the moment, to create the right conditions, and build the capacity, to nurture and support a self-improving education system.
  • Need to develop small, practical, examples in terms of incentivising collaboration. This will also build and maintain social cohesion because collaboration brings people together to work to resolve a shared set of issues. The Scottish Government should provide the definition and framework, and then empower the profession to work together within this context.
  • The ICEA is supportive of the development of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives as a potentially powerful capacity building mechanism and a source of lasting cultural change within the system.
  • It is important that the Regional Improvement Collaboratives are working together, and not just talking together. The process has to translate into delivery on the ground.
  • It is also important to address teacher (and societal) beliefs about particular groups of students within a school. In the USA, there had been a tendency to treat students from challenging backgrounds differently e.g. not giving them homework because there were too many social challenges at home to allow them to complete it effectively. This mindset is notoriously difficult to address. But it is crucial that we do not accept that some students will not achieve their full potential simply because of their social circumstances. It is important to find good examples of “what works” for students in challenging circumstances, and use those to model what teachers can do to help them overcome their obstacles.
  • A clear and consistent narrative of change is required, with a clear account of implementation, going forward. Cohesion and clarity is particularly important at this stage in the reform process.

Any other business

It was agreed that the Council would prepare their final report by the middle of June, and then meet again on 19 and 20 September 2018.

ICEA - Fourth Meeting - Agenda - 26 April 2018.pdf


More information at: International Council of Education Advisers

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