Scottish Education Council minutes: 2 September 2022

Minutes from the Scottish Education Council's meeting on 2 September 2022

Attendees and apologies


  • Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills – Chair

  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government

  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive Education Scotland

  • Clare Hicks, Director of Education Reform, Scottish Government

  • Alison Cumming, Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government

  • Douglas Hutchison, President of Association of Directors of Education Scotland (ADES)

  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority, Chief Executive

  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland

  • Audrey May, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative

  • Laurence Findlay, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The Northern Alliance

  • Dr Gillian Brydson, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South West Collaborative

  • Fiona Robertson, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South East Alliance

  • Kay Sillars, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland

  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, West Partnership

  • Sophie Reid MSYP, Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament

  • Dr Colin Morrison, Co-Director of Children’s Parliament

  • Shona Struthers, CEO Colleges Scotland

  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland

  • Alan Sherry, OBE, Chair of CLD Standards Council Scotland

  • Cheryl Burnett, Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland

New Members


  • Councillor Tony Buchanan, COSLA Children and Young People Spokesperson

  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, The Educational Institute of Scotland

  • Professor Margery McMahon, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education

  • Beinn Grant MSYP, Convenor of Education and Lifelong Learning Committee, Scottish Youth Parliament

In attendance for this meeting


  • Jamie Dunlop, Deputy Chief Executive, Scottish Youth Parliament

  • Robert Quinn, SQA Head of English, Languages & Business

  • Matthew Sweeney, Policy Officer, Children and Young People, COSLA


  • Lorraine Sanda, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative

  • Joe Griffin, Director General Education and Justice, Scottish Government

  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive of Early Years Scotland

  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE lead for Children & Young People

  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, West Partnership

  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

  • Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights)

SG Officials


  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing, Scottish Government

  • Judith Tracey, Team Leader, National Improvement Framework Unit, Scottish Government

  • Katie Brydon, SEC Secretariat, Scottish Government

  • Emma Sinclair, Unit Head, Qualifications, Scottish Government

  • Claire Wilson, Senior Policy Manager, Qualifications, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions


The Chair welcomed Council members to the meeting and introduced the new members who were attending for the first time. 


Papers 1 and 2 – Action log and minutes from previous meeting


The Chair invited Judith Tracey, Team Leader in the National Improvement Framework Unit to summarise progress on the actions noted in paper 1. The majority of actions in the log were closed/completed. There were two ongoing actions relating to comments made by the International Council of Education Advisers on the development of the National Discussion and on the collaborative work taking place between Scottish Government, Education Scotland and local government colleagues on variation in performance across local authorities.


SEC members confirmed that they were content with the minutes of the previous meeting on the 28th of April 2022.


Paper 3 – Draft Scottish Education Council Work-plan 2022-2023


The Chair introduced this item by stating that the work-plan (paper 3) provided was in draft format and likely to change based on emerging priorities and items suggested by members in the coming year. Standing items such as education reform and the national discussion have been added due to the importance of the work being undertaken in those two areas. There will also be input from other internal governance groups such as the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) and the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE). A “young persons takeover” has been suggested as a format for the final meeting of the academic year in June 2023. A similar meeting took place in Musselburgh Grammar School in 2018, where pupils were involved in shaping the agenda and presented items to the Council for discussion.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • colleagues are currently looking at reinvigorating the dialogue around the empowerment agenda. However, it would be helpful for members to have an update on how this work is being undertaken and next steps in due course
  • creating a measurement framework that will more accurately capture the needs of children with additional support needs is a key area on which this forum should focus
  • early learning and childcare should be covered in more detail, specifically on the successful expansion of services. The Council should also look beyond school education at the future of children and young people once they leave school


Actions and decisions:


  • Shona Struthers to circulate the article on the college sector’s role and developing workforce to members


  • members to contact the SEC secretariat if they have any additional thoughts on what should be added to the work-plan


Paper 4 – SQA Results 2022


The Chair invited Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive, SQA to deliver a presentation to the group on  paper 4 which provided an update on results of the National Qualifications in 2022. She highlighted that:


  • results day (9 August 2022) was an important day for many thousands of pupils and families across Scotland
  • when the Cabinet Secretary announced the return to exams in 2021-22 following the pandemic, we all acknowledged that this was not a “return to normal”
  • SQA worked with partners across the education sector, including teachers, lecturers, learners, parents and carers, to agree the right package of support that would help learners demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills despite the disruption. A package of support was announced which included  course modifications to reduce the assessment burden, revision support, an Exam Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service, and a free appeals service
  • overall, attainment in 2022 represents one of the strongest sets of results in an exam year and, as predicted, is between 2019, when exams last took place, and 2021, when alternative awarding was in place
  • a huge number of vocational qualifications including national certifications and foundation apprenticeships were achieved, however, sometimes these get lost because of the media and political attention that National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers receive
  • the alternative awarding arrangements in place in 2021, and the significantly different circumstances in which exams took place in 2019 and the years before, mean that comparisons of attainment between years should be treated with significant caution and do not allow for any conclusions to be drawn on changes in education performance
  • as part of its equalities duties, SQA carries out analysis of attainment across different equalities characteristics. Generally speaking, when focusing on attainment in the most deprived and least deprived groups, the attainment gap is narrower than 2019 and wider than 2021
  • the next steps include carrying out the appeals process, preparation on course reports and a review and evaluation of the alternative certification model. The review and evaluation will usefully feed into the Hayward Review of qualifications and assessment
  • following consultation and engagement, modifications to assessment have been confirmed for the 2022/23 academic year. The National Qualifications Group will reconvene next week which draws membership from across the education sector, to provide further advice on the approach to 2023 and associated contingency planning


The following points were made in discussion:


  • it is important that we change the narrative and language around assessment and qualifications, in terms of academic and vocational qualifications. There should be more of a spotlight on wider achievement and, as a group, we need to begin to think about how we change thinking around this and how to spread the message
  • the level of engagement that SQA had with partners across the education sector was a great example of effective and strong collaborative working.. Proactive communication was hugely helpful and contributed to the success of results day, – although it was suggested that communication with young people could have been better, particularly around course modifications
  • if we are to improve and drive change in this forum, we need to provide a bit more challenge/scrutiny on these issues. In particular, young people’s views are not always reflected particularly as  the representation on stakeholder groups such as the SEC is significantly less than other professional bodies  


Actions and Decisions:


  • officials to consider how we can take forward a shared understanding of the language around wider achievement 


Paper 5 – Education Reform Update  


The Chair invited Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform to present paper 5, which provided an update on progress on the Education Reform Programme and the National Discussion. Points made during the update included:


  • the Reform Programme, National Discussion and the creation of new national bodies provides a huge opportunity within Scottish education to have a general stocktake, reflect on the various reviews and on the experience of COVID, and the innovation that was created within the system as a result. This will  allow us to critique and challenge in order to create meaningful reform which puts learners needs at the heart of any decisions
  • the National Discussion also provides the opportunity for us to develop the compelling vision that we so often talk about. The questions that have been designed to aid the discussion have been worked on and discussed with partners, facilitated by Alma Harris and Carol Campbell. How we create a system that is built for the future is a critical question and we want the discussion to be inclusive, innovative and as far-reaching as possible
  • on the creation of new bodies, the target operating models for the organisations are due by December this year. We have been clear that meaningful change is required and business as usual cannot continue   


The following points were made in discussion:


  • in order to create real change, it is absolutely vital that we are clear from the onset what the “new” vision and purpose is
  • we need to ensure that reform is not just school centric but includes the continuous journey of learning from early years to post-school education
  • it is critical that the National Discussion serves its intended purpose which is to be a high profile public engagement activity seeking input from as wide and inclusive range of participants as feasible, and ensuring that the views of children and young people are the main component


Papers 6 & 7 – Initial Results of the NIF Consultation on Enhanced Data for Improvement and the Annual Statutory Review of the National Improvement Framework


The Chair invited Judith Tracey, Team Leader, National Improvement Framework Unit to present papers 6 & 7, which provided updates on the initial results of the NIF consultation on enhanced data collection for improvement, and an overview of the upcoming statutory review of the National Improvement Framework. Points made during the update included:


  • the two papers provided are very much related. The outputs from the NIF consultation underpin the statutory review. There were  75 responses to the consultation, including  responses from key stakeholders and other third sector organisations, as well as from a number of individuals. l
  • a more in-depth analysis of the free text and numerical data, including options for additional key measures and sub-measures will be brought to the next SEC meeting in October
  • some of the issues raised were around the need for a whole system collaborative approach to tackling poverty and to support in closing the poverty-related attainment gap
  • the NIF annual statutory review is underway and is being jointly facilitated by Scottish Government and Education Scotland. We will be engaging with a number of key stakeholders and children and young people from across Scotland to gather their views and experiences of education
  • as part of the review, we will be asking whether there should be a single data set so that there is a consistent approach from school to national government
  • we are also considering how best to capture key improvement activity coming out of the upcoming National Discussion and the Hayward review of assessment in the senior phase, both of which will be reporting in early 2023
  • we are considering publishing an interim update to the 2023 NIF to include these activities, to ensure that the NIF pulls together all the key activity and priorities for 2023 and provides a single source for the wide range of improvement activity planned/underway in the education system


The following points were made in discussion:


  • the use of data needs to be as consistent as possible in order, and there should be a single data set used for improvement purposes going forward
  • it is important that we find ways to share good practice around improvement, not only within local authorities and RICs, but nationally
  • it might be worth exploring how we can use the six Regional Improvement Collaborative plans - these show the product of great partnership working and might provide some assurance to the system



Actions and Decisions:


  • to bring a further paper on the NIF consultation on enhanced data for improvement to the next meeting of the Scottish Education Council in October



No further business was raised. The next meeting of the Scottish Education Council will take place on 26 October 2022 via Microsoft Teams.  

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