International Council of Education Advisers minutes: September 2017

Minutes and supporting papers from the third meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), held on 20-21 September 2017.

Attendees and apologies

The following Council Members were present:

  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP (attended 21 September pm only)
  • Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP (Chair)
  • Dr Carol Campbell
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Professor Graham Donaldson
  • Dr Avis Glaze
  • Professor Andrew Hargreaves
  • Professor Alma Harris
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng
  • Dr Pasi Sahlberg
  • Dr Allison Skerrett

Also present:

  • Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Graeme Logan, Interim Chief Inspector of Education, Education Scotland
  • Donna Bell, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Colin McAllister, Special Adviser (20 September am and 21 September pm only)


  • Judith Tracey, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • Elaine Kelley, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • David Stewart, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government

Items and actions

This note provides an overview of the discussion and key points from the third meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA). The meeting took place in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 20 and 21 September 2017 and focused on the three priority areas identified at the previous meeting:

  • improving pedagogy for specific subjects, using clear evidence to identify what works in the classroom
  • developing effective leadership at all levels in Scottish education– unleashing untapped potential within the system
  • ensuring a culture of collaboration exists throughout Scottish education, at classroom, school, regional and national level

20 September 2017

Breakfast meeting (SEC Glasgow)

Fiona Robertson and Graeme Logan led a discussion with the Council about events and activity in Scotland since the last meeting in February 2017. This centred on the Scottish Government’s reform agenda, including the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives, the plans for a Scottish Education Council, and the Education Bill. They also provided an update on the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments, the expansion of the Pupil Equity Fund, the 2017 SQA results, and the key messages for schools issued by the interim Chief Inspector of Education for Scotland.

Council session one (SEC Glasgow)

The Deputy First Minister welcomed members to the third meeting of the ICEA and welcomed the opportunity for debate, insight and thought provoking discussions over the next 2 days.

The discussion was based around the three priorities set out above and the supporting papers that had been provided to accompany the discussion:

  • improving pedagogy for specific subjects, using clear evidence to identify what works in the classroom (ICEA(17)04)
  • developing effective leadership at all levels in Scottish education (ICEA(17)05)
  • ensuring a culture of collaboration exists throughout Scottish education (ICEA(17)06)

Points made during the discussion included:

  • important to communicate that 'closing the gap' is not just a job for schools. There is a need to ensure multi-agency professional working – including health, housing etc. as well as education. The new regional improvement collaboratives should be a way of pulling this multi-agency approach together
  • ensuring that Education Scotland is a driving force for improvement across Scotland. There should be a more flexible approach to staffing inspections, with teaching staff moving in and out of Education Scotland to ensure inspectors have maximum exposure to the current realities of teachers work and lives within schools. Ideally, there should be a practising teacher, or headteacher, on every inspection. It is crucial to focus on the health and wellbeing of young people, as well as academic success. Resilience is key. High expectations are not necessarily bad, students need to have a sense of achievement, and feel good about what they have achieved – whether that is a pass instead of a fail, an A instead of a B, or a non-academic achievement altogether
  • need to listen to the student voice when looking at pedagogy – reflections on their own learning, and student led goals
  • need to continue the drive to increase teacher numbers. However, it is equally critical to maintain the current high standard of teacher education. The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC) must be satisfied about the efficacy of any new route into teaching
  • important to use the potential within the system, and have different routes through teaching and greater opportunities for teachers to excel other than through the traditional route to headteacher

Meeting with the professional associations

The following members were present:

  • Education Institute of Scotland – Larry Flannigan and Andrea Bradley
  • School Leaders Scotland – Jim Thewliss and Stephen Miller
  • Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland – Greg Dempster and Tim Wallace
  • Voice the Union – Dougie Atkinson
  • The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers – Jane Peckham and Tara Lillis
  • Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association – Seamus Searson, John Guidi and Euan Duncan
  • Association of Directors of Education in Scotland – Mhairi Shaw

The Deputy First Minister chaired a meeting with the members of the Professional Associations and the International Council. The ICEA expressed an interest in hearing the views of the Professional Associations on pedagogy, professional leadership and collaboration.

Points made by the Professional Associations during the discussion included:

  • welcome the work the ICEA is undertaking to help improve Scottish education
  • there is a perception that capacity of local authorities to support schools has reduced in recent years. There is, therefore, a need to build capacity within the system in order to provide the support necessary to schools
  • must also build capacity at the school level in order to retain the goodwill of teachers, which is crucial for the reform agenda to succeed
  • the introduction of the regional improvement collaboratives could be the single biggest development to impact on classroom practice, and it is important to get it right. The collaboratives need to provide the support for professional learning which the professional associations feel has been lacking in recent years, and create the conditions to enable teachers to work together for improvement purposes
  • headteachers are ready for the challenge, and welcome the flexibility that the new powers will potentially bring. However, want to make sure that there are sufficient new resources, and the practical support necessary, to enable the new responsibilities to be implemented properly
  • actions should flow from the needs of schools and communities
  • needs to be further discussion around accountability under the new system, particularly with regard to the new powers for headteachers
  • need to instil confidence in teachers so that they feel empowered, and have a real belief that their professional judgement is valued in the same way as that of any other profession
  • need to look at ways of making the profession more attractive to a wide range of people, and providing the right opportunities for teachers to reach their full potential
  • there is a great deal of success within Scottish schools, but we also have to own our mistakes. Need to address the variation between schools and local authorities in terms of leadership and the culture of improvement
  • there is too much of a command and control environment within schools. Until teachers feel that they are working in a genuinely collegiate environment, then they will remain unable to realise their full potential
  • utilise the leadership skills of high performing teachers. If we can get teachers talking to other teachers and providing the mentoring and support that is required, that is how we will get excellence across the system. However, this needs to be resourced properly

Points made by the ICEA during the discussion included:

  • it is heartening to see the positive attitude to change from the professional associations, and the desire to do the best for the system
  • it is clear that there is a high degree of support for the principles behind the reforms, even if there is less agreement on some of the specific actions, and some concerns about resourcing. There are not many countries which display such a high level of cooperation and a real desire to collaborate effectively. It is to be commended
  • many of the areas of concern expressed by the professional associations are similar to issues that the ICEA has raised, such as the need for greater collective responsibility to create a national culture of excellence, the importance of collegiate and collaborative working, and of making use of the pool of leaders that exist already within schools. Scottish Government’s current and proposed plans for reform also reflect the issues raised, so again it is important to note the alignment of views and the shared goals for improvement
  • peer to peer learning is key, both within and across the new regional improvement collaboratives
  • it is important that the centre should do more to empower teachers and headteachers to create a truly collegiate system, as described by the Professional Associations. The centre should provide a consistent framework of support to teachers and then trust in their professionalism. It is possible to take this approach in Scotland because of the high quality, skilled staff that are working in schools – which is not something that can be said about the teaching profession in every country
  • the regional improvement collaboratives need to harness support from the classroom out; building good pedagogy from the classroom, rather than trying to implement a top down approach
  • important to share mistakes as well as triumphs. Teachers and headteachers are not going to take risks and try out new things if they feel they will be judged negatively if they don’t work. We can all learn from what hasn’t worked, as much as from what has. Need to consider how to share these lessons learned both within and across the new collaboratives

The Deputy First Minister thanked the professional associations and the ICEA for a challenging and helpful discussion. In particular, he agreed with the need to foster a culture of support, and a willingness to learn from mistakes, if Scotland is to have a relentless focus on improvement in education.

On the evening of 20 September, the Council members attended the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF) International Reception at Glasgow City Chambers, followed by the SLF dinner hosted by the Deputy First Minister at House for an Art Lover, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow.

21 September 2017

(SEC Glasgow, and the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh)

On the morning of 21 September, the ICEA participated in a keynote session at the SLF. The session was chaired by Paul Johnston, Director General, Learning and Justice, Scottish Government, and enabled visitors to the SLF to hear first-hand the ICEA’s views on the areas in which we need to concentrate our efforts in order to continue to build a world-class education system for all the children of Scotland.

Council members then travelled to the Scottish Parliament to spend time working together to consider their conclusions from the previous day’s meetings, and to provide some initial recommendations to present to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister later that afternoon.

Council session two (Scottish Parliament)

The Deputy First Minister reconvened the meeting, with the First Minister in attendance. There was a brief discussion sharing reflections on the meeting with the professional associations, and the session at SLF, and how valuable the Council had found them.

The Council set out a number of suggestions to improve learning and teaching, increase and deepen collaboration, and build leadership at all levels in Scotland’s education system. These included:

  • considering how the Scottish Government will measure the impact of its reform agenda. What are the measures of success?
  • ensuring an evidence-informed approach to improving pedagogy
  • establishing a national, thematic, and open teacher learning network
  • developing a clear leadership strategy with associated investment
  • identifying a champion for the new leadership strategy at a national level
  • there should be should be a common purpose combined with a compelling narrative underpinning the new regional improvement collaboratives, with learning and teaching at their heart, to ensure they provide the right level of support and expertise to schools  

    Any other business

It was agreed that the Council would meet again in March 2018 and that further evaluation and discussion around the recommendations would continue between meetings.

Communique issued following the meeting.

Background papers presented for the meeting can be downloaded below.

ICEA third meeting agenda - September 2017
ICEA and Professional Associations Agenda


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