International Council of Education Advisers minutes: February 2019

Minutes from the sixth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), held on 6-7 February 2019.

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 CB
  • Dr Avis Glaze
  • Professor Andy Hargreaves
  • Professor Alma Harris
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg
  • Professor Allison Skerrett
  • Lindsey Watt OBE

Also present:

  • Paul Johnston, Director General Education, Communities and Justice (6th only)
  • Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive, Education Scotland
  • Andy Bruce, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Clare Hicks, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government (6th only)
  • Gillian Hamilton, Strategic Director, Education Scotland (6th only)


  • 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 sixth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA). The meeting took place in Dundee on 6 February and Edinburgh on 7 February and focused on the following areas: 

  • Curriculum for Excellence: Communications and Curriculum Support ICEA(19)01
  • Scottish Attainment Challenge – Emerging Issues ICEA (19)02

On the evening of 5 February, the Council members attended a formal dinner at Dundee and Angus College hosted by the Deputy First Minister. The principal of the College, Grant Ritchie, also attended the dinner.

Council session 1 (V&A Museum, Dundee)

The first session began with a welcome from Philip Long, Director of the V&A museum. The Deputy First Minister then welcomed the Council to the sixth meeting and stated that this was a good opportunity for them all to take stock half-way through the parliamentary term. He asked the Council to reflect, in particular, on how we are doing in terms of support for improvement and equity.   

Points made during the discussion included:

  • Pupil equity funding has helped to strengthen the sense of teacher agency and empowerment, however we need to do more to allow the creativity of CfE to flourish.
  • The investment in leadership development is beginning to bear fruit via the work of SCEL and programmes such as Columba 1400.
  • We want to encourage a confident profession which can be more assertive about regulating its own workload.   
  • There remain challenges around the culture within schools and the perception that they need to be capturing information for inspectors, local authorities etc.  Inspection should be welcomed as part of the improvement agenda.  
  • There is a need for HMIE to celebrate and encourage new forms of leadership to accelerate change and demonstrate the way forward.
  • Schools and teachers still operate within a very hierarchical system.  How do we empower senior leaders to step back and allow teacher agency to flourish?
  • Professional leadership training and development needs to be continuous and to take place with teachers learning from each other in the classroom, not just on in-service days.    
  • The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are intended to provide a resource for teachers, and to help strengthen collaboration, however more needs to be done to ensure this resource has a tangible impact on learning and teaching. 

Council session 2 

Fiona Robertson and Gayle Gorman led a discussion with the Council about events and activity in Scotland since the last meeting in September 2018. This focused on the 2019 National Improvement Framework (NIF) and Improvement Plan, progress with the education reform programme, and progress with the Regional Improvement Collaboratives. The presentation covered the following points:

  • A reminder of all the key developments in Scottish Education since 2014.
  • The focus in the latest NIF and Improvement plan on delivering an empowered and collaborative system, excellence and equity, health and wellbeing and early learning and childcare.
  • Inspection reports, together with the interim evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge and Pupil Equity Funding show real evidence of progress and changing practice.  
  • A performance audit of improvements in educational outcomes will be undertaken by Audit Scotland in 2019/20.  
  • Detailed Regional Improvement plans are being implemented and an evaluation of the early phase will be published shortly.
  • Our programme of work aims to create a school, and teacher, led education system, empowering schools and school leaders. Headteachers will be empowered to be the leaders of learning and teaching in their schools.

Following this, Clare Hicks and Gillian Hamilton gave a presentation on professional learning and leadership. The presentation covered the following points:

  • Decade of development in professional learning and leadership in Scottish Education.
  • Narrative around professional learning and leadership in an empowered system.
  • The new model for partnership working which identifies the key principles and features of effective learning that will build capacity and promote collaborative practices.
  • The leadership offer currently being delivered.
  • All Regional Improvement Collaboratives have professional learning and leadership development within their workplans.

Points made during the discussion included:

  • Clarity about the narrative around the reform programme is important. The messaging on empowerment needs to be clear.
  • Teachers should not be asked to do anything new without consideration also being given to the things schools and teachers don’t need to do anymore.
  • It would be helpful to have case studies (one for each collaborative) about how improvement is evidenced in schools. Education Scotland is already looking at how to provide something along these lines via some of its recently established posts.
  • Consider how to shift the narrative so that it speaks more directly to teachers. Examples of improvement within schools will have more impact if they come from the experience of classroom teachers.
  • It would be helpful to create a coalition of research for Scotland, using hubs around the country to build research capacity across the system.

Council session 3

Paul Johnston chaired the afternoon session where four of the ICEA members led a discussion on areas of their work which might have relevance to Scotland. The main points highlighted from each presentation are detailed below.

Pasi Sahlberg gave a presentation about the importance of play as part of children’s learning and wellbeing.  He said that Scotland was already ahead of the game, as a number of local authorities are currently testing ‘active play’, which is a play based intervention to support health & wellbeing in the primary years, developed by Inspiring Scotland, in co-operation with the University of Strathclyde. However we could do more to raise awareness and make people understand the power of play. Five key messages for Scotland were:   

  • Create a workforce that is trained in unstructured play
  • Increase the focus on outdoor pedagogy
  • Educate parents so they understand the benefits of play 
  • Sharpen the message about the power of play
  • Take the lead on play based learning and put free outdoor play at the centre of learning.

Graham Donaldson then gave a presentation on the work he is doing in Wales and with OECD 2030. The possible messages for Scotland that emerged were: 

  • The narrative around Curriculum for Excellence should be refreshed to ensure it remains relevant (this is already being done)
  • Focus on pedagogy and assessment for learning
  • Emphasise career-long professional learning
  • Develop professional capital i.e. collaborative culture
  • Empowerment should take place within a strategic vision
  • Create a culture of constructive accountability

Avis Glaze then gave a presentation on her most recent areas of work which included:

  • Nova Scotia’s Education System Administrative Review
  • Her book ‘Reaching the Heart of Leadership’, and
  • Her latest book (still in progress) about Indigenous education.  

The discussion around Dr Glaze’s presentation noted the need to acknowledge that we live in a world where inequity and oppression exists.

Finally, Pak Tee Ng gave a presentation on the latest developments in Singapore. The key messages were:

  • Singapore is a very examination heavy country which is looking to make some education reforms and to reduce the number of tests that young people take. However, reducing the number of tests is only one of the strategies.  he important point is the philosophy behind the change, which is about developing the joy of learning.
  • They don’t yet have an answer to the optimal age up to which you simply let children play. You have to be serious about studying the idea of play so that children can enjoy the activities of play while benefitting from the highly developmental aspects of play at the same time. 
  • Can we inspire young people to truly love or truly be inspired by an aspect of learning?   
  • Part of the joy of learning is the sense of achievement. We diminish the satisfaction of achieving a goal if it is made too easy, and we do our young people no favours by removing the need for them to work hard to achieve their goals.

The ICEA then had an opportunity to work together on their consideration of the two papers provided previously, with a view to one or two of them presenting their conclusions to DFM on the second day. The papers were:

  • Curriculum for Excellence: Communications and Curriculum Support ICEA(19)01
  • Scottish Attainment Challenge – Emerging Issues ICEA (19)02

On the evening of 6 February, the Council members attended an informal dinner at the Malmaison hotel, Dundee.  


7 February 2019 (Boroughmuir High School and the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh)

On the morning of 7 February, Council members travelled to Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh to attend a meeting with parent representatives. Fiona Robertson welcomed everyone to the meeting, and thanked Joanna Murphy, the Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) for arranging for the parent representatives to attend the meeting.

Points made during the discussion included:

  • On the whole, parents are proud of the Scottish education system, and have seen improvements over the years. 
  • Schools have become a lot more accessible to parents, and children are learning in different ways and are gaining a deeper understanding of why they are learning something, rather than learning by rote.
  • Schools are trying to find ways to enable working parents to engage more, for example, introducing Google classroom, having parents meetings and school performances in the evening, and holding school events such as fairs at the weekend. 
  • The Parent Council in Boroughmuir High School has sub-groups that enable smaller groups of parents to be engaged in a specific area e.g. curriculum group, social group etc.
  • Pupil Equity Funding is also helping to provide parental outreach workers to engage with the wider school community to break down some barriers.
  • There have been a lot of changes over the past few years, particularly in terms of new technology. Nobody really knows what skills young people will need for the future. We should be looking to involve parents, industry, colleges etc to consider what skillsets will be necessary for the future.
  • Under Scotland’s Developing Young Workforce Programme, there are many diverse pathways young people can take, and it is important, therefore, not to judge schools on traditional qualifications alone.

Adam Naylor from the Scottish Government’s Education Analytical Services then gave the Council a demonstration of the new National Improvement Framework Interactive Evidence Report (NIFIER).  

Following a tour of Boroughmuir High School, the Council had an informal meeting with several teachers to hear about their experiences of teaching in Scotland.  

Council Session 4 (Scottish Parliament)

Council members travelled to the Scottish Parliament where they presented their conclusions from the 2 day meeting to the Deputy First Minister.

Points made by the Council during the discussion included: 

  • The current improvement agenda will help Scotland to deliver a self-improving system, and there is a strong affirmation from the Council for the broad direction in which the system is going. All the pieces are in place, but we need to make sure they come together to form a coherent platform.
  • Need to consider what an educated young Scot will look like in 2030. 
  • Given the Scottish Government’s commitment to have a school and teacher led system (which the Council endorses), more needs to be done to engage classroom teachers. Teachers across Scotland need to participate in the co-ownership of the improvement process. 
  • There is a need now to prioritise and deepen – deciding which things to deepen and extend, rather than opening up new areas for improvement.
  • Communication around the improvement agenda could be clearer and more focussed. We should be consolidating the communications so that the messages are clear, particularly in terms of communication with classroom teachers.
  • There should be less focus on producing data, and more emphasis on analysis and evaluative work on what is working and why.
  • We should see Scotland as a leading system in advocating play based learning. Scotland has an opportunity to be a visible and positive example for others about how to integrate active outdoor play into the programme for Scotland. We should have a stronger voice advocating what we have done/are doing.

The DFM concluded the meeting by thanking the Council for their valuable time and insight on how Scotland can enhance a collaborative culture across the system to support all young people to achieve their full potential.

Any other business

It was agreed that the Council would meet again in September 2019 and that further evaluation and discussion around the recommendations would continue between meetings.

ICEA (19): ICEA sixth meeting agenda - February 2019


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