Practitioner and Stakeholder Group (PSAG) - meeting minutes: 25 November 2021

Minutes from the SQA and the Practitioner and Stakeholder Group (PSAG) meeting, held on 25 November 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Professor Ken Muir (Chair), Independent Advisor to Scottish Government
  • Carol Turnbull, Principal & CEO Ayrshire College, Chair of Colleges Principals Group
  • Ross Martin, Scottish Youth Parliament/Youth Work Manager, Fife
  • Paula McEwan, EIS
  • Aileen Kennedy, Scottish Council of Deans of Education 
  • Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland
  • Tina Harrison, University of Edinburgh
  • Jim Whannel, Bord na Gaidhlig
  • Magnus Hughson, PCS
  • Elaine Wilson-Smith, Wellside Research
  • Aileen Ponton, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)
  • Billy Burke, Expert Panel Member
  • Elizabeth Cunningham, Unison
  • Farhat Ali, Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators (SAMEE)
  • Fiona Burns, Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • Grace Vickers, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)
  • Jean Blair, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • Jim Metcalfe, College Development Network (CDN)
  • Martin Boyle, Colleges Scotland
  • Tara Lillis, NASUWT
  • Tim Frew, YouthLink Scotland
  • Pauline Stephen, General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS)
  • Marion Allison, CLD Standards Council
  • Jim Thewlis, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • Chris Payne, Federation of Awarding Bodies
  • Chloe Dobson, Who Cares? Scotland
  • Ken McAra, Education Scotland
  • Sharon McGuigan, SQA
  • Naomi Stanford, Expert Panel
  • Diane Greenlees, Skills Development Scotland
  • Liam Furby, NUS
  • Graham Donaldson , Expert Panel 
  • Mike Corbett, NASUWT
  • Gina Wilson, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland
  • Shirley Anderson, Secretariat
  • Siân Balfour, Secretariat
  • Gabi Gibson, Secretariat
  • Kirsty Anderson, Secretariat
  • Fearghal Kelly, Secretariat
  • David Roy, Secretariat


  • Carrie Lindsay, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Kevin Mitchell, Care Inspectorate
  • Carol Young, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER)
  • Mark McCahill, Colleges Scotland
  • Eileen Prior, Connect
  • Elma Wallace, Employers Forum
  • Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland
  • Stuart McKenna, Scottish Training Federation (STF)
  • Alison Sutherland, Social Work Scotland
  • Cameron Garrett, MSYP
  • Alison MacLean, Unite the Union

Items and actions

Introduction, welcome and structure of session

Professor Ken Muir welcomed attendees and thanked them for their attendance. Ken outlined the structure of the meeting as follows:

  • Ken would provide an overview of the key themes emerging from his engagement activities thus far, and provide some early insights into the consultation responses
  • attendees would be broken into small discussion groups and would have time to consider issues under the headings ‘Curriculum and Assessment’ and ‘Roles and Responsibilities’
  • there would be a plenary discussion
  • there would be second small group discussion focussing on ‘Support for Schools’ and ‘Inspection’
  • a final discussion as a whole group and the session would be closed by Ken

Key Themes arising from engagement activities and early consultation returns

Professor Muir delivered a PowerPoint presentation which contained an update on his recent engagement activities and the consultation. Key points:


  • meetings with Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group (PSAG) members - 47
  • PSAG sub-group meetings - 10
  • two half-day events involving all PSAG members + Today
  • meetings with other stakeholders - 70
  • webinars – five (of which one was specifically for parents/carers)
  • Expert Panel has met four times with two further meetings to take place in December and January 2022
  • 445 responses to the consultation to date.
  • 3,889 12 to 18 year-olds responded to the online survey for young people

Key themes emerging

  • sense from those he had spoken with that this an opportunity to make real long-term change
  • visions of Curriculum of Excellence (CfE) generally felt to be appropriate for the future
  • cultural change needed as much/more so, than structural and functional change
  • focus needs to be place based, user centred structures, and United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
  • school system too much driven by high stakes exams
  • learner journeys too few in senior phase and beyond – inconsistencies in approaches to senior phase
  • lack of clarity in governance of education and policy incoherence
  • stakeholders (parents, carers, C&Y/P etc.) do not feel well engaged in decision-making process. Voices not listened to
  • value in having an independent inspectorate with greater focus on support and improvement but recognising accountability role

Professor Muir noted that SQA and Education Scotland, the main organisations affected by this work, had engaged very positively and constructively with his work. Professor Muir thanked Fiona, Gayle and their respective teams for this.

Summary of session one (a) curriculum and assessment

Below provides an overview of the main points and issues raised as part of this discussion:

  • an acknowledgement that there may be some merit in bringing Curriculum and Assessment together but agreement that structural change is not a panacea. For example, creating a new structure will not necessarily solve the disjoint between BGE and senior phase
  • a recognition that with large scale structural change also comes risk and that that large-scale change takes time, in the interim learners will continue through the system
  • a fear that structural changes create new different, unintended problems
  • a concern that assessments could continue to drive the system even with a new agency
  • recognition of the anxiety on staff within the two organisations subject to reform
  • a sense that the opportunity to resolve these issues depends on the vision and the values and aims of any such agency
  • a desire for more information on the potential function, role, responsibilities, and governance of any such agency
  • a concern that any change may not put teachers and learners front and centre and will be undertaken in a ‘top down’ way
  • a clear message that any new body needs to be much more accountable to young people and to practitioners
  • a strong sense that the early years are an equal and important part of the learner journey. A view that there is great value and importance in the early years in terms of the learner journey and the need for early intervention in the early years where appropriate
  • acknowledgement that UNCRC is a huge vehicle for change and that the Promise needs to be built into the culture of any such agency
  • a sense that there is duplication in the system at present, and this reform offers an opportunity to address this
  • suggestion that Professional Learning could also be brought into such an agency
  • opportunities for SCQF to become more integrated for the benefit of learners
  • a strong view that the impact on colleges and the tertiary sector needs to be carefully considered as well as schools as part of this work

Summary of session one (b) roles and responsibilities

Below provides an overview of the main points and issues raised as part of this discussion:

  • in general, participants commented that there needs to be much greater clarity on the roles and responsibilities of all of the organisations involved in the education system and there was hope that greater clarity would be one of the outcomes of this reform
  • it was suggested that there are at least three key areas that should be separated and where greater clarity was required:
    • policy review and strategic overview
    • improvement/ support function
    • inspection/ scrutiny
  • there was discussion about the role of other bodies such as Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and where they might sit in a future set-up with varied views on this
  • a strong sense of the need to incorporate diversity within the system. It was noted that Scotland has mixed and diverse communities but there are cultural biases in the system
  • it was also noted that curriculum and assessment is not always culturally relevant and that we need to have more of an anti-racist system. We need to provide for the range of young people entering our schools in terms of culture and language
  • a sense that education was being used as a ‘political football’ and a feeling that steps needed to be taken to try to depoliticise education
  • there was discussion about the pros and cons of a General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) style governance system

Summary of session two (a) support for schools

Below provides an overview of the main points and issues raised as part of this discussion:

  • the importance of professional learning in improving outcomes for learners and the need for it to be a central feature of any reform programme
  • there is a mixed picture nationally in terms of how well supported practitioners feel depending on their locality
  • Education Scotland, RICs, Local Authorities, GTCS all have roles. There is some confusion over who has overall lead and where strategic responsibility lies
  • it doesn’t matter where individuals source support as long as it is high quality
  • suggestion that there needs to be a mapping exercise undertaken which looks at what professional learning there is, who provides it, and identifies and fill gaps
  • practitioners often have difficulty accessing the support which is available. This can be as a result of not finding out about the support, but also in terms of not having the time to engage in available support
  • positive feedback was shared on the national professional learning and leadership offers from Education Scotland, however there were issues raised in relation to some duplication in the system, the need for more streamlined support for teachers in denominational schools and the perception that there is currently a better offer for leaders than there is for classroom practitioners
  • there are issues relating to access to Glow for private sector nurseries
  • the need for greater collaboration in the system in terms of school-to-school support, and between schools and universities. Also that opportunities for shared learning with the college sector exist
  • there needs to be greater clarity of the continuum of teacher learning from Initial Teacher Education (ITE) through to Career-Long Professional Learning (CLPL)

Summary of session two (b) inspection

Below provides an overview of the main points and issues raised as part of this discussion:

  • some discussion over the term ‘independent’. Does this mean independent of other functions or independent of government and direction?
  • broad agreement that the inspection function needs to come out of Education Scotland and be independent of the support function and Scottish Government
  • concern that inspections currently don’t give a true interpretation of the system
  • there should be an enhanced role for young people, parents, carers and families in the inspection process
  • suggestion of having more associate assessors built into any inspection
  • the culture has developed around scrutiny and away from improvement – too focused on making a judgement. School inspections should not be done to, but with - need to understand where staff are at as a result of the pandemic
  • opportunity to look at inspection across the early years. Remove system stress of multiple inspection in early years
  • needs better engagement in term of stakeholders. Inspection teams should be more representative of the world and avoid placing values on schools
  • suggested that there could be a greater role for peer scrutiny in the system
  • sense that the word ‘scrutiny’ should not be used – doesn’t sit right with the focus on empowerment, autonomy, collaboration
  • suggestion of HMIE having an improved role in holding Local Authorities to account

Next steps

Professor Muir outlined the next steps in his work including the timescales to produce his final report. He closed the meeting by thanking members for their participation in the session, and the wider engagement activity.

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