International Council of Education Advisers virtual meeting minutes: 13 July 2020

Summary of the virtual meeting held on 13 July 2020.

Attendees and apologies

The following Council Members were present:

  • Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP (Chair)
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Professor Alma Harris 
  • Dr Pak Tee Ng 
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg

Also present:

  • Gillian Hamilton, Strategic Director, Education Scotland


  • Judith Tracey, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government
  • Kirsty Lamb, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government

Items and actions

A virtual meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers was held via zoom on 13 July 2020, in order to discuss the international approaches to reopening schools, and to see if there are any lessons Scotland can learn from other countries.   The meeting was chaired by the Deputy First Minister.

The Council remained positive about the Scottish Government’s response to managing the Covid-19 crisis, and the considered approach which had been taken to reopening schools and ELC provision. Members supported the approach Scotland was taking to strike the correct balance and implement the right measures to support the full time return to school.

There was a discussion about  the different approaches that had been taken internationally to the reopening of  schools. There were some parallels between the approach in Scotland and in Wales, where schools have now reopened, but where there is now some concern about the strain that the Covid-19 crisis, and the return to school, had placed on the teaching profession.  Wales is investing in new teachers, but the challenge now is to ensure that investment is being targeted in the right areas.

There was a striking difference in the policy focus between Australia and Finland – in Australia the dominant concern is around how much instruction in literacy in numeracy children have lost, whereas in Finland the biggest concern is children’s health and welllbeing, and how the schools can help the children to cope with the feelings, emotions, and fears they have around the pandemic.  Council members believe that as part of the reopening of schools, the system should focus on how schools can help support children to feel safe, cared for, and healthy.  Health and wellbeing should be seen as being as much of a priority as any perceived  loss of academic learning while the schools were closed.

Learning lessons was crucial to move education forward, and to allow a more resilient system to emerge rather than simply a return to how things were before the pandemic. Looking at what is being offered from the view point of the children and young people will help strengthen the newly developing pedagogy.

The Council made a number of recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider:

  • new resources, particularly workforce related, are always to be welcomed. Think about, and then be clear about the deployment of new resources, and how they will add value to the system. Simply spending money is no guarantee of any change in the system.
  • the teaching profession has done an excellent job, however the impact on teachers needs to be acknowledged, as teachers' mental health and wellbeing is an important determinant of classroom behaviours and learner success.
  • give consideration to the mental health and wellbeing of young people. A return to school providing an environment that addresses their emotions,  fears and experiences of the lockdown and the virus is important. Further consideration should be given to the potential impact of any future return to lockdown due to local outbreaks.
  • professional learning needs to be thought about differently. Education Scotland should provide guidance around the professional learning packages and solutions that schools will be offered. It shouldn’t simply be about technology or software solutions, it should be about pedagogy. Professional learning should focus on pedagogy first and technology second.
  • think about the newly qualified teachers going into schools for the first time in August. They will require bespoke induction packages for the new set of circumstances. For those embarking on initial teacher education this year, thought should be given to the content, in relation to current and future context, governing their programmes. Initial teacher education programmes need to fit the new education landscape.
  • parental engagement has increased during the lockdown, and consideration should be given to building on, and sustaining this engagement.
  • Covid-19 has galvanised a system response with all education partners on board which provides an opportunity to think about leadership in schools differently. There should be further thinking around a system leadership approach which maximises leadership potential within a system working together effectively.
  • clear communication with parents will be key to achieving a holistic understanding of the health and well-being approach, as well as how to manage  any loss of learning.  This will help to build  confidence when schools reopen, and will also help the wider understanding that wellbeing and learning  are both equally  important and causally related.
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