International Council of Education Advisers minutes: June 2022

Minute of the ninth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers on 22 and 23 June 2022.

Attendees and apologies

The following Council members were present

  • Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (sessions 2 and 5 only)
  • Professor Carol Campbell
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Professor Graham Donaldson
  • Dr Avis Glaze
  • Professor Andy Hargreaves
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng (virtually)
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg
  • Professor Allison Skerrett

Also present

  • Joe Griffin, Director General Education and Justice (sessions 3 and 5 only)
  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive, Education Scotland (virtually)
  • Gillian Hamilton, Strategic Director, Education Scotland
  • Dr Stephen Pathirana, Co-Director of Advanced Learning and Science, Scottish Government (session 3 only)
  • Alison Cumming, Director for Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government (session 3 only)
  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director, Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing, Scottish Government (session 4 and 5 only)
  • Lorraine Davidson, Deputy Director, Education Reform, Scottish Government (session 2 only)
  • David Leng, Head of Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit, Scottish Government (session 4 only)
  • Elisabeth Boyling, Head of Learning Analysis, Scottish Government (session 4 only)
  • Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (formal dinner only)

ICEA Secretariat

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


  • Apologies were noted from Professor Alma Harris

Items and actions


This note provides an overview of the discussion and key points from the ninth meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA). The meeting took place in various venues across Edinburgh on 22 and 23 June and focussed on the following areas:

  • reforming the Scottish education system in line with the recommendations from the OECD review and the Muir report
  • maximising the impact of the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge over the next (4 year) period

22 June 2022

Session 1: Meeting with senior officials (Castlebrae Community Campus)

Session 1 was chaired by Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, who welcomed everyone to the ninth formal meeting of the ICEA. The ninth meeting began with a presentation by Graeme Logan, Clare Hicks and Gillian Hamilton. This included an overview of the strengths of the system, priorities for improvement, the education reform programme, updates from Education Scotland and the wider SG context/key commitments. Graeme Logan opened the session with a welcome message on behalf of the First Minister of Scotland, who was unable to attend the meeting due to being overseas.

The following points were made during discussion:

  • levels of input into the system are very strong, with the highest spending, and more teachers per pupil, than any other UK nation. Given the level of investment, what more needs to be done to ensure the education system continues to improve
  • there is a high number of pupils across Scotland with additional support needs (ASN), currently 1 in 3, which will have an impact on the context and challenges within the system
  • what is being proposed is the co-creation of an improved education system, it was noted that the term “reform” can be perceived negatively
  • for any reform programme to be effective, it needs to be credible for the teaching profession and for the wider school community, including young people and their families/caregivers. Positive cultural change takes time and requires the majority of educational stakeholders to share the vision of ensuring an improved education system for all
  • the implementation of UNCRC could have a significant impact if it is genuinely integrated into the classroom experience
  • the upcoming National Discussion should focus on broader outcomes, rather than becoming dominated by rhetoric or a narrow sense of metrics. Scottish education is about much more than just literacy and numeracy, the aim is to provide a rounded education to enable young people to flourish. However, although CfE remains widely respected internationally, it is important that we do not become complacent. That is why the National Discussion has to challenge any complacency in order to deliver improvement and meaningful change

Session 2: Education reform (Castlebrae Community Campus)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, chaired Session 2 which explored upcoming work on education reform, with a particular focus on how the ICEA’s recommendations will inform the National Discussion on the vision for Scottish education.

Council members provided the Chair with some reflections from Session 1:

  • the skills and will to enact change within the system are there, but there needs to be a strong strategy in place to streamline work and to ensure that practitioners have ownership over this work. Introducing an implementation phase with a credible ‘messenger’ for the profession can help provide that ownership and leadership over the process
  • members expressed interest in how the Council’s recommendations for an increased focus on health and wellbeing/digital learning might be reflected in thinking around assessment. It is important to look at the range of learning across Scotland – what skills are rural children learning which might not be visible in urban areas, and should we be assessing them? The principles behind CfE are sound but they risk becoming lost when there is too much focus on literacy and numeracy
  • the collection of data in Scottish education should support the vision, holistic approach, and ambitions of CfE – it is important to be able to measure what we value, not just what it is easy to measure. The National Discussion should help to bring the focus back to the overall picture of Scottish education, and there should be an emphasis on building the capacity of teachers and ensuring they are supported properly throughout this period of change and improvement
  • the location of this meeting in the new Castlebrae Community Campus is symbolic of the progress that has been made in Scottish education and the school is something to be proud of
  • it is important to streamline and prioritise the reform programme, in order to avoid overwhelming the system. Capacity building and shaping culture should be maintained as a core activity, as should continued investment in professional development
  • the National Discussion will be key to making the link between policy and the classroom

Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, introduced supporting paper ICEA (22)01 which provided a progress report on education reform and the National Discussion on Scottish Education.

The following points were made in discussion:

  • for effective change, the system needs to be redesigned as a whole, rather than simply moving things around and reallocating funding. The National Discussion provides the opportunity to create appetite for a bold new vision of the system, particularly among young people, which in turn can help to make sure that funding is targeted to the areas that need it most
  • it will be important that the National Discussion includes very clear guiding questions that are not too big or technical, which could exclude some parents and pupils. There needs to be a paper or some other stimulus to which participants can use when responding in writing. There needs to be a clear strategy for engaging with as many voices as possible, including marginalised people e.g. young offenders, teenage parents etc. and others who do not usually engage. If young people’s voices are clearly placed at the centre, it will make this review different
  • the National Discussion will need to provide space for young people to imagine a transformative educational experience. It should be a space for reimagining education. When Singapore had a national conversation in the 1990s, the end result was the vision Thinking Schools Learning Nation, which is still the umbrella vision today. It was highly educational for the participants, and provided an opportunity, for teachers in particular, to think about issues at the national level
  • the framing of the National Discussion should not simply be an opportunity for stakeholders to say what they think is wrong with the current system. Instead, it should focus on a bold, transformative narrative of ‘what’s next?’
  • it will be important to position the discussion in such a way that young people take it home to discuss with their families, with an assurance that their voices will be heard. The Council was clear that if we want to have a self-improving system, we have to help people understand what that means
  • we need to think about the teacher of the future and what we are going to do to help the profession with a changing context. Investment in teacher capacity is the single most important thing to do. We need to think about how to support pedagogical excellence within schools, and develop more specific examples of good practice in pedagogy. Professional learning should not be run from the centre. The centre should provide input and support, but it should be local networks which take the lead on professional learning

Session 3: key priorities across the Education and Skills portfolio (Castlebrae Community Campus)

This session was chaired by Joe Griffin, DG Education and Justice. The Chair was joined by the Director of Advanced Learning and Science and the Director for Early Learning and Childcare (ELC). The Chair opened the session by presenting paper ICEA (22) 02. The Education and Skills portfolio is following an ambitious programme over the next ten years. The Independent Care Review highlighted the challenging outcomes for care-experienced children, including the high representation of care-experienced young people in Scotland’s prison population. The First Minister has announced her commitment to a National Care Service with the aspiration of drawing the care system into a coherent programme. Respecting children’s rights is mainstreamed in schools as a result of UNCRC implementation.

The following points were made in discussion:

  • officials should pay attention to how interventions in the care system impact the future of school education – is the new programme meeting aspirations in schools? Will services be joined up
  • Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is the overarching strategy for the key priorities in the portfolio – every secondary school has mental health counselling services. More and more community campuses similar to Castlebrae are appearing with other services being provided alongside the school. Equity is not all in the gift of education
  • when looking at priorities we need to ensure we are getting the core right before adding other things. There should be overarching priorities for the system which are adapted by age and stage. The introduction to this session demonstrated that there is a lot of support in early years, but there is a risk of that not being matched in schools without a specific strategy to ensure that it happens
  • there should be a golden thread throughout all levels of the system which reflects what we value and what we prioritise – these values and skills should then be reflected in every school leaver. This has implications for initial teacher education – we need to keep investing in professional learning and a narrative which will help to develop that idea of a golden thread. Teachers should have agency to implement a curriculum that maintains a clear line of sight for pupils throughout their education

On the evening of 22 June, the Council members attended a formal dinner at the Edinburgh Larder hosted by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for COVID Recovery.

23 June 2022

Session 4: Scottish Attainment Challenge (Old Moray House, Edinburgh)

On the morning of 23 June, Graeme Logan chaired the session on the Scottish Attainment Challenge, with input from David Leng and Gillian Hamilton. The main areas of discussion were around the refreshed SAC programme and narrative, stress testing the logic model and maximising the impact of the Education Scotland attainment advisors/regional support model.

The following points were made during the discussion:

  • there are two kinds of change – transformational and incremental. Targeted interventions e.g. after school programmes and early learning and childcare funding can bring about decisive differences which lead to incremental change. Not everything needs to change to show improvement as long as the right approach and interventions are in place. We need to ensure that we are inclusive and work from the bottom up, but sometimes interventions need to happen to provide what children need
  • we want as many children as possible to make expected levels of progress, and we want all children to have the opportunity to succeed
  • it may be helpful to start thinking in terms of what Gloria Ladson-Billings – an American educator and theorist – calls the “education debt” when considering the attainment gap. As defined by Professor Emeritus Robert Haveman, a colleague of hers, It reflects the fact that some communities have not been provided the same opportunities to meet their potential as others, possibly more affluent communities and this leads to a variety of social problems which require ongoing public investment. Schools and societies owe a debt to those communities
  • there are two aspects which improve learning and teaching. The first is teacher quality and the second is leadership. Both of these will impact on the quality of learning outcomes within a school. Local authorities need to know how to develop stretch aims
  • if we want to improve the quality of learning we need to ensure that teachers have the right support and the time and space to invest in their professional development
  • Scotland has been very good at career development for children and young people. We need to ensure that teachers are relating their content area to careers - when pupils can see the relationship between learning and earning it helps
  • we need a combination of circulating practice and evidence to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning. We need to see changes in teacher practices before we see real improvement in the classroom. Small steps are important
  • the upcoming National Discussion will be a helpful aid to gather views on the steps we can take to improve the quality of teaching and leadership
  • we need to understand that schools are not back to “business as usual” and are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic

Session 5: Feedback and Conclusions (Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh)

The final session was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley Anne-Somerville. Council members were invited to present their conclusions based on the information they had gathered, and the discussions that were held, over the two day meeting.

The headline points were:

  • the Council recognised that Scotland’s education system has continued to make improvements during and following the pandemic in areas such as outdoor and digital learning. CERG was an excellent model of stakeholder engagement that collaborated well to deliver excellence and equity for all within the constraints of COVID-19
  • there needs to be an understanding that there cannot be a simple return to business as usual in the aftermath of COVID-19. There is a real risk that future pandemics will occur in our lifetime, so it is important that the Scottish education system is able to function effectively for all its learners during periods of crisis
  • the Council welcomed the National Discussion but mentioned that the framing is important. In order for it to be effective, it needs to be as inclusive and engaging as possible. The UNCRC and the voice of children and young people is critical in shaping the future of Scottish education
  • investment in quality teaching and learning and leadership development is critical. How do we support every teacher to ensure they have expert knowledge in their area to deliver a first class education, and to empower them to share this good practice with others
  • outdoor learning is an excellent way to empower communities. We know that involving the community in teaching and learning brings about improvement in learner outcomes, and encourages positive collaboration with families and the wider society
  • variation remains one of the biggest challenges in the system. There needs to be further analysis to understand the reasons for variation and how it can be addressed

The Cabinet Secretary concluded the meeting by thanking the Council for their valuable time and insight.

Any other business

It was agreed that the Council would meet again in-person in early 2023 and their third formal report would be published in late autumn 2022.

Read the meeting papers.

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