International Council of Education Advisers virtual meeting minutes: 8 July 2020

Summary of the virtual meeting held on 8 July 2020.

Attendees and apologies

The following Council Members were present:

  • Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP (Chair)
  • Dr Carol Campbell
  • Professor Chris Chapman
  • Professor Graham Donaldson
  • Professor Andy Hargreaves
  • Dr Allison Skerrett
  • Lindsey Watt

Also present:

  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive, Education Scotland
  • Sam Anson, Deputy Director, Learning Directorate, Scottish Government


  • 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 8 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.  Council members felt that it was right to be ambitious for a full reopening of schools in August, given the current position in Scotland with a sustained downward trend in Covid-19 infections and deaths.  Members mentioned that a similar approach had been taken in parts of Canada, such as British Columbia, where the Covid-19 crisis had been well managed, and there had been no new outbreaks in the initial return to school.

However, the Council did emphasise the need to ensure excellent communication with staff, students, parents and carers, and the wider public around all the plans for school reopening.  Co-ordination with the wider health advice is crucial, and any deviation needs to be based on sound scientific advice and explained clearly.  For example, there are good reasons why Scotland has taken the decision that children and young people should not have to wear masks at school but, if masks are required elsewhere, those reasons need to be communicated.  If schools are seen as not being in sync with the rest of society, then that will cause difficulties.  Everyone involved in education needs to feel safe in order for the return to school to be a success, and clear communication is the key to that. 

The Council was also pleased to note that Scotland was planning to learn from the experience of learning and teaching throughout the Covid-19 crisis, and to continue to develop the opportunities for more digital learning within the education system.  The experience Scotland has had of thinking about the curriculum over the past number of years, meant it was ahead of the game compared to other countries internationally when faced with the need to adapt the delivery of education at short notice.  It is important to build on that learning, and not allow the inevitable debate around school reopening to stifle the opportunities that exist.

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

  • ensure that all decisions are based on sound scientific advice from a number of sources, and that those decisions are communicated clearly to the public.
  • once schools reopen, there has to be a very clear protocol for how to deal with an outbreak of Covid-19 within individual schools, including the closure of schools where necessary. 
  • there is a need for comprehensive contingency planning so that learning can continue if individual schools do have to close.  Teachers and families need to be prepared to return quickly to an online only learning environment, and then to a gradual shift to blended learning.  
  • there needs to be a sophisticated discussion around learning loss. The priority should be encouraging a return to good learning habits, rather than putting children and young people on a treadmill to try and catch up on the work that they might have missed. The first few weeks of school reopening should focus on engagement and enjoyment of learning, particularly for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom the lack of in-school learning is likely to have had a disproportionate impact.
  • the emphasis on equity and excellence needs to continue, and the planned equity audit should be owned by an empowered teaching profession to ensure that it adds value, rather than being an additional bureaucratic burden.
  • school closures highlighted the role that schools normally play at the centre of the community.  It is important to look at what can be learned from the social care roles that schools and teachers have taken on during the crisis – including reaching out to vulnerable children and families, providing and distributing school meals, and demonstrating that a school community is more than just a building.  
  • many young people will have developed a capacity for independent learning over the last few months, and the challenge will be to consider how technology can support this.  Unfortunately, blended learning has become a synonym for part-time learning, but blended learning has a huge role to play going forward, and should be seen as the future.  Children and young people need to be able to harness technology and digital learning as part of the world they will be living in.


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