International Council of Education Advisers minutes: 19-20 February 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 19-20 February 2020.

Attendees and apologies

  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP (attended 20th pm only)
  • 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
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg
  • Lindsey Watt OBE
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng (attended session 1 only – via skype)

Also present

  • Paul Johnston, Director General Education, Communities and Justice (20th pm only)
  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive, Education Scotland
  • Sam Anson, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Joe Griffin, Director for Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government (19th pm only)
  • Alison Cumming, Deputy Director for Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government (19th pm only)
  • Niamh O’Connor, Head of Early Learning and Childcare Quality Unit, Scottish Government (19th pm only)
  • Carrie Lindsay, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South East Alliance (20th am only) 
  • Mhairi Shaw, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The West Partnership (20th am only)
  • Douglas Hutchison, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South West Collaborative (20th am only)
  • Sheena Devlin, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative (20th am only) 
  • Elaine Cook, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative (20th am only)
  • Helen Budge, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The Northern Alliance (20th am only) 
  • Pauline Stephen – Director of Education, Registration and PLD, General Teaching Council for Scotland (20th am only)
  • Colin Spark – Secondary school teacher, Dunoon Grammar (20th am only)
  • Kirsty McLaren – Headteacher, Kirkhill Primary School, West Lothian (20th am 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 eighth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA). The meeting took place in St Andrew’s House and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 19 and 20 February 2020 and focused on the following areas: 

  • progress with education reform, including regional improvement collaboratives - ICEA(20)01
  • collaboration and improvement support, building on ICEA feedback - ICEA(20)02
  • expansion of Early Learning and Childcare and strengthening the quality of provision - ICEA(20)03

19 February 2020

Breakfast meeting with senior officials (St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh)

The eighth meeting began with an update from Graeme Logan and Gayle Gorman about developments and activity in Scotland since the last meeting in September 2019. This focused on progress with the education reform programme, progress on the new regional approach to improvement, and the planned Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) review.  

Points made during the discussion included:

  • the Council believes Scotland's school system is in a strong place and is doing everything that would be expected of a high-performing education system. It has all the right components and is investing in the right places. Need to consider whether more can be done to increase the pace of improvement
  • the Council reiterated that, although there has not been a huge leap in performance, the incremental growth that is occurring is more sustainable and bodes well for the future. 
  • the focus on equity and excellence is, without question, the right focus. The way in which the system has been empowered, to develop itself into a high performing system, is to be commended
  • Scotland is on the right track to have a world class education system for its children and young people. Now it is important to stay the course, and intensify the most important improvement efforts rather than introduce more requirements for schools. To rush the education reform would be to ruin it
  • inspection reports from HMIE are seeing more focus on pedagogy and on practitioner inquiry to upskill teachers. Inspections are seeing improvements in the schools that have invested heavily in this area
  • the importance of health and wellbeing also needs to be recognised, as improvement in literacy and numeracy is not possible without also ensuring the health and wellbeing of children and young people
  • success is dependent on creating and sustaining high levels of mutual trust, cooperation and collaboration.  
  • however, this approach does require investment in leadership. Direct intervention may still be needed in some areas if the collaborative approach does not produce the necessary results

Council session 1 

The Deputy First Minister joined the meeting and welcomed everyone to the eighth meeting of the ICEA. He confirmed that he would like the ICEA to continue for a further two years beyond the current term of appointment which ends on 31 July 2020, and formally thanked all the members for their work over the past four years. He then invited Council members to comment on any of the issues raised during the breakfast meeting. Pak Tee Ng joined the meeting by Skype for this session only.

Points made during the discussion included: 

  • the greatest challenge for Scotland is the variability of improvement across the system, which is demonstrated by the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) data. There is a need to focus on those regions, local authorities, and schools where there is greatest room for improvement, through collaborative challenge and support
  • support should be prioritised for local authorities and schools in the areas facing the greatest challenges
  • the Scottish Government has agreed to undertake a full review of Curriculum for Excellence, not just the Senior Phase
  • it is important to maintain stability throughout the period of the review and continue to build on the good work that is happening in schools during this time
  • it is critical that the review is informed by the views of the profession, and by the experiences and aspirations of young people
  • the review should be seen as an opportunity to reflect on the origins of CfE and the four capacities, and whether the changes that have been made within the system have delivered the vision and holistic approach of CfE
  • curriculum reform could be the catalyst for teachers to collaborate on professional learning and curriculum design
  • need to increase the intensity of collaborative support, especially in the lowest performing areas, and focus on supporting families and communities
  • one of the great strengths in Scottish education is the teaching profession - the commitment, professionalism, dedication and hard work that the profession puts in to give young people the best chance of success. It is important to make the best use of the profession when increasing the intensity of improvement work

Council session 2

Joe Griffin chaired the afternoon session where Niamh O’Connor and Alison Cumming from the Early Learning and Childcare Directorate in the Scottish Government, gave an overview of the planned expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland. They were particularly interested to hear the ICEA’s views on how to maximise and strengthen the quality of provision beyond August 2020.

Points made during the discussion included: 

  • the Council commended the work Scotland is doing to expand Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and said this move will take Scotland among the global leaders in ELC, and in play based pedagogy, which is a real strength of Scottish education
  • the Council emphasised the benefits which could be delivered by the child-centred, play-based pedagogical approaches at the heart of Scotland’s early learning and childcare practice as the expansion is implemented
  • Scotland benefits from a curriculum that deliberately straddles early learning and the early years of primary, however there is work to do around developing the workforce, including promoting ELC career pathways and supporting the workforce to obtain qualifications. A high quality workforce is the single most important driver of the quality of a child’s ELC experience
  • communication to educators, parents and other stakeholders about the whole idea of play based learning is crucial. A shared understanding of the value of play is essential. 
  • it is important to  ensure links are made with other policy areas and to accelerate multi-agency working and collaboration
  • the Council welcomed the monitoring and evaluation strategy that has been developed, and in particular the longitudinal study to monitor progress
  • it is important to use this as an opportunity to engage with parents around their children’s ‘learning’ and not simply ‘schooling’. It is critical that parents understand the power of play.
  • the issue of transition from early learning to primary school could be improved by defining school readiness in a new way. It should not refer only to whether the child is ready to go to school, it should also look at whether the school is ready for the child

It is important that Scotland takes the opportunity to be part of the global conversation around the importance of early learning. If Scotland is successful in its planned investment in early years education, it has the potential to be one of the most innovative, interesting and inspiring countries in the field of early learning and childcare.  

On the evening of 19 February, the Council members attended a formal dinner at Bute House hosted by the Deputy First Minister.

20 February 2020

Council session 3 (Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh)

Graeme Logan chaired the morning session where Council members met the six Regional Improvement Collaborative Leads - Carrie Lindsay, Mhairi Shaw, Douglas Hamilton, Helen Budge, Sheena Devlin and Elaine Cook to discuss professional learning and leadership for teachers. Kirsty McLaren, Headteacher from Kirkhill Primary School in West Lothian, and Colin Spark, Secondary school teacher from Dunoon Grammar (who is in his fourth year on the teacher leadership programme) were also in attendance. 

Points made during the discussion included: 

  • the Into Headship programme gives headteachers the space and time to challenge thinking and reflect upon leadership skills and allows the building of networks outwith their own local authority
  • we see the impact of professional inquiry on practice and need to look at the role of Initial Teacher Education (ITE), and building the expectation that continuous professional inquiry is the way to learn from the start, rather than waiting till much later
  • the Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE) project is an ongoing priority for professional learning
  • one of the main areas of development for teacher’s professional learning is in supporting pupils’ mental health
  • there is a gap between policy and practice and we need to find a way of getting the message to practitioners in their place of work, rather than them volunteering to go somewhere else

The ICEA then had an opportunity to work together on their second report and conclusions from the two days, with a view to presenting those conclusions to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Final session

The Deputy First Minister reconvened the meeting, with the First Minister in attendance for the latter half. Council members provided feedback and recommendations based on the information they had gathered, and the discussions they had held, over the two day meeting. The Council emphasised its view that the greatest strength of Scottish education is the teaching profession. 

The headline recommendations included: 

  • even to stay stable is an achievement in an environment that is becoming more challenging. We must keep the focus on equity, and the excellence will continue to prosper. Keep defining equity to cover deeper broader learning e.g. health and wellbeing, including the whole family
  • a commitment to continuous improvement driven by collaborative professional relationships and underpinned by peer challenge
  • intervention, including challenge and support where it is most needed
  • there is valuable work going on with professional learning frameworks but there still needs to be a clear strategy for pedagogical leaders, coaches, locally and nationally, to be known, recognised and used to help people do the job
  • professional learning should be an entitlement at all stages of a teaching career
  • the recently published Care Review was inspirational, and highlighted that we should build from the child out and not from the system in
  • Scotland's school system is in a strong place and the Council praised investment in early years education, which will help improve attainment in the future
  • the review of CfE should be seen as an opportunity to have an energising discussion and debate about what we want CfE to be over the next 10 years
  • we now need a period of consolidation and stability to ensure improvements have time to become embedded

The Deputy First Minister concluded the meeting by thanking the Council for their valuable time and insight once again on how Scotland can improve further the progress towards reducing the poverty related attainment gap.

Any other business

It was agreed that the Council would meet again in September 2020 and that the Council’s second formal report would be published in summer 2020.  

Read the papers from the meeting.

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