International Council of Education Advisers minutes: 13 September 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 13 September 2021.

Attendees and apologies

  • The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg
  • Pak Tee Ng
  • Professor Graham Donaldson
  • Professor Chris Chapman


  • Lindsey Watt

Also present

  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and HMI Chief Inspector of Education
  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director, Scottish Government 
  • Kit Wyeth, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government


  • Judith Tracey, National Improvement Framework Unit
  • Katie Brydon, National Improvement Framework Unit
  • Eilidh McCreath, National Improvement Framework Unit

Items and actions

A virtual meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers was held via Microsoft Teams on Monday, 13th of September at 09:00-10:00, to introduce the Council to the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary and to discuss the Council’s second formal report and how this ties in to work underway on COVID recovery and education reform. The meeting was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

The Council welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to education reform in response to the various reports on Scotland’s education system (particularly the OECD review of the Curriculum for Excellence). The Council noted consistencies between these emerging reports which can act as an evidence base for reform work. The Cabinet Secretary agreed, and commented on the importance of pulling the Scottish Government’s response to these various reports into one place. There was also some reflection on ongoing recovery work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council commented that Scotland’s international reputation for its outdoor learning programme should be noted as a key area of both COVID response and the development of a pandemic-proof education system. 

There was a discussion around empowering teachers and school leaders, which the Cabinet Secretary noted was a key area in education reform work. The following discussion points were made:

  • there is a strong central push regarding the teacher empowerment agenda: one of the interesting tensions concerns striking a balance between sufficient national consistency in the system/instilling a sense of purpose in teachers, and avoiding too much central direction which could disempower the system
  • during reform work there is a need to focus on a shift of culture as much as a shift in the actual education system: this is a case of examining networks vs hierarchies. In Scotland there has been a healthy shift moving from a top-down system to a system which is trying to build more lateral connections. Specifically with the issue of variation in performance, more work needs to be done to examine how we can link what happens in classrooms with what takes place on a national level
  • Pak Tee Ng explained the concept of centralised-decentralisation. Singapore’s education system is both highly centralised and decentralised at the same time. All schools in Singapore report directly to the Ministry of Education and teachers are employed as civil servants. This results in centralisation at a strategic level, however the decision on how national education strategy is implemented rests with educational practitioners. In the context of Scotland, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a natural reason to adopt a centralised-decentralised approach. Broad policy is synergised at a national level (e.g. school closures and safety measures) and therefore acts as direction for educational practitioners to implement in the way they see fit. This national direction must also come with support e.g. provision of resources for blended learning, but school leadership is also key for successful national direction 
  • given the concerns which reform work presents around teacher empowerment, consideration needs to be given to incorporating the participation of teachers into the reform process to ensure that they feel ownership of the direction we are moving towards. There is a key contrast here with the situation in Wales 6 or 7 years ago, where practitioners felt alienated from the radical reform process. It may also be a question of refining Scottish education rather than adding elements to it 

There was also some discussion around the future role of inspection in relation to education reform. The Council advised that the inspection process can limit/stifle change in education systems. Inspection should occupy a role which allows for innovation among education practitioners and instils confidence in parents who may be sceptical of a reformed system which does not reflect their own experience of education. The Council also warned that inspection should not be used as a ‘stick’ in the political arena. 

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