International Council of Education Advisers minutes: 9 September 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 9 September 2021.

Attendees and apologies

  • The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP
  • Professor Carol Campbell
  • Professor Andy Hargreaves
  • Professor Alma Harris
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Dr Avis Glaze


  • Lindsey Watt
  • Professor Allison Skerrett 

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 (ICEA) was held via Microsoft Teams on Thursday, 9th of September at 16:00-17:00, 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 Cabinet Secretary opened the meeting by remarking that she was heartened by how supportive the Deputy First Minister was of the Council’s input during his time as Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. When introducing the first agenda item, the ICEA’s second formal report, the Cabinet Secretary explained that the Scottish Government had not yet released a response to the report due both to pressures arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and work underway to produce a coordinated response to various other reports on Scotland’s education system over the last 12 months. 

There was a discussion on the progress made since the publication of the ICEA’s second formal report, which links to wider reform work underway in response to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) review and other recent reports on Scotland’s education system. The following discussion points were made:

  • the second formal report of the ICEA can be looked at as a progression from the previous OECD report on Scottish Education in 2007. Since this report we have had time to reflect on what examinations and assessments should look like in schools. This is influenced by 3 main changes in education since 2007: 1) that the vast majority of pupils stay at school beyond the age of 16 2) the increased collaboration between different networks and levels of education systems and 3) new innovations in technology which have been incorporated into education systems
  • teacher leadership was highlighted as an area which requires particular consideration in reform work – in the context of COVID recovery and reform, we need to be asking what level of professional leadership do we now need
  • the pandemic has brought a renewed focus on culture and capacity in education. There are two ongoing concerns in relation to this. The first is the mental health issues experienced by pupils both before and as a result of the pandemic, and the second is how systems are responding to those issues. There is a need to re-motivate pupils and consideration should be given to how much capacity schools have to do that 
  • in response to remarks on variation in performance between local authorities and work underway to address this, Council members warned against over-structuring regional collaboration, as this presents the risk of collaboratives becoming strong bureaucracies which just add another layer to a tiered system 
  • there is a need to balance reform work with the fact that teaching staff are exhausted. A ‘thank you’ from the Cabinet Secretary can go a long way to cut through negative media noise surrounding head teachers. A caution with the OECD review is that some of the advice was not just around the substance of curriculum but also around the ways of working in curriculum design. There needs to be experts involved at some point in the system design with reform work and there needs to be an answer to the question around where the real curricular expertise will be that drives this work forward. Rather than adding on another layer of additional guidance for teachers to follow, it may be more of a question of refreshing the core CFE document
  • there are a number of additional opportunities which arise from the OECD report: 1) opportunities arising from accelerating the use of technology during COVID and how we harness these opportunities in a coherent way 2) the development of a working learning system and 3) what the review means for colleges and universities and how reform work will impact these sectors 
  • when considering options for strategic reform, it is also important to strike a balance between having an education system which is agile and adaptable, but which also provides a decisive direction

The Council also highlighted the importance of collaboration between higher education institutions. When universities collaborate, it pushes an enormous amount of energy and resources into education systems. 

In response to a question from the Cabinet Secretary around how to energise teachers more, the Council explained that it is key that the wider teaching force feels represented. Representation is key because teachers listen more to each other than to advisers and governments. When the wider teaching force feels represented and can provide input you avoid a situation where teachers feel disconnected from reform work. People generally express more enthusiasm when they are working on something that they care about and feel connected to. Addressing the capacity of teachers is also an important aspect of the reform process. 

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