Scottish Education Council minutes: November 2017

Minutes from the meeting, chaired by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney.

Attendees and apologies


  • John Swinney, MSP - Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
  • Councillor Stephen McCabe - Children and Young People Spokesperson, COSLA
  • Fiona Robertson - Scottish Government, Director for Learning
  • Josh Traynor - young people’s representative
  • Cahal Menzies - young people’s representative
  • Rowan Watkins - young people’s representative
  • Olivia Stobart - young people’s representative
  • Janet Brown - Chief Executive SQA
  • Jim Thewliss - General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Larry Flanagan - General Secretary, EIS
  • Bernadette Malone - Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross Council
  • Carrie Lindsay - Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) Lead, South East Collaborative
  • Douglas Hutchison - RIC Lead South West Collaborative
  • Gayle Gorman - RIC Lead, The Northern Alliance
  • Mhairi Shaw - RIC Lead, The West Partnership
  • Robert Naylor - RIC Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Sheena Devlin - RIC Lead, Tayside Collaborative
  • Maureen McKenna - President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Graeme Logan - Interim HM Chief Inspector and Chief Education Adviser
  • Ken Muir - Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Joanna Murphy - Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Morag Redford - Chair, Scottish Council of Deans of Education

In attendance

  • Kevin Hanlon - Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Kit Wyeth - Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Jane O’Donnell - COSLA
  • Colin McAllister - Special Adviser to Deputy First Minister

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

DFM welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Scottish Education Council (SEC). In doing so he emphasised that both education and improving outcomes for all children and young people remained the top priority of the Scottish Government, and that the purpose behind establishment of the Council was to bring further cohesion to system wide leadership across Scottish education and to embed a common purpose in support of the achievement of excellence and equity for all.

Paper 1 – Role & Remit of the Scottish Education Council

In introducing this paper DFM emphasised that whilst responsibility for education policy lay with Scottish Ministers, it was important to ensure that key interests responsible for the delivery of Scottish education had the opportunity at a strategic level to help shape and inform both the policy development and implementation process.

The paper was discussed within that context and the following amendments were proposed and agreed:

  • the advisory function of the Council should more explicitly reflect the relationship between the functions of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) and local government accountability and governance arrangements;
  • it was agreed that the focus of improvement activity should be on the school setting, but also that the remit of the Council needed to explicitly reflect the early years agenda as well as transitions from senior phase to Higher and Further Education. On that basis, links to GIRFEC, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) and Community Learning and Development (CLD) should be included;
  • explicit reference should be made to how the Council will ensure that children and young people’s views will shape and inform its work programme going forward (as set out in paper SEC-01(02).

Action: SEC-01(01) Secretariat – amend the role and remit accordingly and circulate to Members for sign off.

Paper 2 – Governance of education policy and improvement

Fiona Robertson introduced this paper and talked through the new governance arrangements as detailed. In doing so she emphasised the importance of ensuring connectivity across the work of the SEC, Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) and Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE), as well as the arrangements proposed for capturing the views of children and young people through the creation of a Scottish Learner Panel.

DFM emphasised the importance of continuity and consistency in attendance at Council meetings going forward, to ensure that the cohesive approach the Council was being established to deliver is achieved.

The paper was noted, and the following revisions were agreed:

  • as with paper SEC-01(01), the relationship between the functions of the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) and local government accountability and governance arrangements should be more explicitly referenced;
  • the President or Vice-President of COSLA could substitute for Cllr McCabe when necessary.

Action: SEC-01(02) Secretariat – amend the paper as agreed.

Paper 3 – Scottish Education Council - draft work plan for 2017/18

DFM presented the paper and the detail of the proposed work plan over the coming year was discussed.

The draft plan of work and proposed standing agenda items were agreed as a starting point for subsequent agendas. The Council would consider additional items as and when appropriate.

Following discussion, it was agreed that the following issues should be covered in the January 2018 meeting and the topics for subsequent meetings should be revised accordingly:

  • Teacher and Headteacher supply, recruitment and retention
  • PEF Funding - Year 2
  • Regional Improvement Plans

The impact of exam stress on young people was also agreed as an area for early consideration by the Council. It was agreed that the Curriculum and Assessment Board be invited to consider this issue in the first instance and the output from their deliberations to be shared with and discussed by the Council at a future meeting.

Action: SEC-01(03) Secretariat – prepare the agenda for the January 2018 meeting as agreed and amend subsequent agendas as appropriate.

Action: SEC-01(04) Secretariat – work with CAB secretariat to agree plans for discussions about impact of exam stress on young people.

Paper 4 – Draft Guidance on Developing Regional Improvement Plans

DFM and Graeme Logan introduced the paper. In doing so, DFM emphasised the guidance was intended to build upon the key principles agreed by the Joint Steering Group over the summer, to support and inform the development of regional improvement plans.

Graeme confirmed that Education Scotland was now working in partnership with Improvement Collaborative leads. He said that regional plans would be developed in phases, as the understanding of improvement priorities at collaborative level became better understood. He emphasised the importance of viewing the collaborative as a function rather than an entity and for the current focus to be on achieving consistency around a set of core functions within each regional plan that could be expanded, as necessary, to respond to regional variations. He highlighted that in improvement cycle terms, it would be important going forward to ensure the regional improvement collaborative offer to schools was communicated as soon as possible and that school improvement plans were used to inform both regional improvement plans as well as the national Improvement Plan.

Members agreed the importance of adopting a phased approach to the development of regional improvement plans, to ensure they reflected the actions needed to support cultural change within and across both local authorities and schools to achieve sustained and improved learner outcomes.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the collaboratives had the potential to provide additional pedagogical support, with subject specific networks offered as one possible option;
  • technology should be used to ensure that subject expertise was delivered in a manner that secured the greatest impact on learners, with some concern expressed about the effectiveness of Glow;
  • school improvement activities should feed the regional improvement plans and not be driven by them – the role of school leaders in this process needed greater emphasis;
  • staff vacancies in some schools and departments continued to be an issue. More could be done to “sell” teaching as a profession to children and young people in school.
  • it was likely that local authority improvement plans would continue to be produced even if there were no statutory requirement to do so – there was consensus around this point.

The following changes/points of clarification to the paper were agreed:

  • the lead role that local authorities play in communicating with schools should be more explicitly referenced;
  • whilst the key principles set out in the paper for informing regional improvement plans were noted, it was agreed the paper needed to better emphasise the iterative nature of the improvement planning process and to further clarify what was required by the January 2018 deadline in terms of Plan content;
  • regional improvement plans to be a substantive item on the January 2018 meeting agenda and work to be taken forward in the interim period to ensure these are completed to an agreed and shared standard for each Collaborative;
  • resourcing of the regional improvement collaboratives needed to be given further consideration going forward.

Action: SEC-01(05) Scottish Government, Education Scotland and RIC leads to amend the guidance on regional improvement planning as agreed by the Council.

Paper 5 - Draft 2018 National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan

DFM and Fiona Robertson introduced the paper. DFM described the existing statutory requirement on Ministers to undertake an annual review of the National Improvement Framework and to publish an annual improvement Plan setting out the actions it will take to reduce inequalities of outcome for children and young people.

Fiona Robertson confirmed that the recent review of the NIF involving local authorities, schools, parents and children and young people had identified strong support for the NIF priorities and drivers of improvement, as well as a clear call for continuity and stability in improvement activity going forward to allow for current initiatives to bed in. Whilst the national plan will be published in December, she also confirmed it would be reviewed in light of the detail within each of the regional improvement plans when published at the end January 2018 and that, in the meantime, input from the Council to the national plan would be welcomed by 1 December as we work to finalise it for publication. Members were invited to consider in particular, what further action might be taken to help realise improvements in learner outcomes.

DFM also provided a brief update on the Measuring the Attainment Gap consultation, which closed on 20 November 2017, confirming that just over 100 responses had been received. He said that a full analysis was underway, but that initial consideration suggested that subject to a few alterations to the key measures, the proposals had been generally well received. A section would be included in the NIF/Improvement Plan detailing the final proposals and a detailed analysis of responses to the consultation would be published at the same time.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • inspection played a key role in the improvement cycle and it was important to ensure that the findings from that process led to positive change;
  • it would be helpful for the Council to see evaluation evidence on the effectiveness of the Into Headship programme;
  • action was needed to ensure data from 27-30 month assessments was shared with other professionals, particularly nurseries, at an earlier stage to ensure that a child’s needs are met;
  • the Scottish Government should explore the role of independently generated University research to inform the NIF;
  • the NIF and Improvement Plan would benefit from having a greater focus on activity as well as outcome measures.

Action: SEC-01(06) Council members – to provide comments on the draft NIF/Improvement Plan by Friday 1 December 2017.

Action: SEC-01(07) Secretariat – The measuring the gap section of the draft NIF and Improvement Plan to be shared with Council members for comment as soon as possible.

Date of next meeting

DFM confirmed the next meeting of the Council will be held on 30 January 2018, 12.00-2.30pm in Edinburgh. Venue to be confirmed.

SEC-01 - role and remit of SEC.pdf


Scottish Education Council
c/o Learning Directorate
Scottish Government
Victoria Quay

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