Scottish Education Council minutes: 27 April 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Education Council meeting on 27 April 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Jenny Gilruth, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills – Chair
  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Gilliam Hamilton, Interim Chief Executive of Education Scotland
  • Andrew Watson, Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government
  • Councillor Tony Buchanan, COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson
  • Douglas Hutchison, President of Association of Directors of Education Scotland (ADES)
  • Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Dr Gillian Brydson, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South West Collaborative
  • Fiona Robertson, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South East Alliance
  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling
  • Kay Sillars, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland
  • Audrey May, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative
  • Dr Colin Morrison, Co-Director of Children’s Parliament
  • Laura Caven, Chief Officer – Children and Young People, COSLA
  • Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Alan Sherry, OBE, Chair of CLD Standards Council Scotland
  • Professor Margery McMahon, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Cheryl Burnett, Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Greg Dempster, General Secretary, Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland  
  • Des Murray, Solace lead for Children and Young People
  • Marcus Flucker MSYP, Trustee, Scottish Youth Parliament


  • Tamsin Gold MSYP, Convenor of Education and Lifelong Learning Committee, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Joe Griffin, Director General Education and Justice, Scottish Government
  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, West Partnership
  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland
  • Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights)
  • James Wylie, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Northern Alliance
  • Lorraine Sanda, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative

In attendance

  • Aimee McInnes, Project Officer, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Matthew Sweeney, Policy Officer, Children and Young People, COSLA

SG officials

  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director of Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing
  • Pete Whitehouse, Deputy Director, Education Analytical Services
  • Emma Sinclair, Head of the Senior Phase and OECD Curriculum Reform Unit
  • Zak Tuck, Team Leader, Education Workforce Unit
  • Kit Wyeth, Head of the National Improvement Framework Unit
  • Judith Tracey, Team Leader, National Improvement Framework Unit
  • Eilidh McCreath, SEC Secretariat

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

The Chair introduced herself and welcomed members to the 9th meeting of the Scottish Education Council. The Chair welcomed in particular Marcus Flucker, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) and Tamsin Gold MSYP, who were appointed to the Council following the most recent Scottish Youth Parliament board elections, and thanked Sophie Reid MSYP and Beinn Grant MSYP for their insightful contributions during their time as the young people representatives on the Council. 

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

No specific points were raised regarding progress with actions recorded in the action log, with a number of actions on the agenda for discussion at the 9th of meeting (paper 1). 

Members were content with the minutes of the previous meeting on 15 December 2022 (paper 2).

Paper 3 – Policy prospectus for education and skills

The Chair invited Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, to present paper 3 which provided the Council with an update on the First Minister’s policy prospectus and the Cabinet Secretary’s vision for education and skills for the remainder of the parliamentary term. One of the headline commitments under the education and skills portfolio includes reinstating Scotland’s participation in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) studies. The Council was invited to note the update and provide any further suggestions for international studies in which Scotland should participate.


The following points were made in discussion:

•    some members suggested that the policy prospectus should be expanded to consider wider education services beyond schools, including ELC and lifelong learning, in recognition of the fact that these areas impact the capacity to achieve the paper’s objectives around school improvement. Members also enquired about the role of children’s rights within the ambitions set out in the document
•    the OECD International Early Learning and Child Wellbeing study was suggested as an additional international survey for Scotland to consider participating in. Members also welcomed the decision to reinstate participation in TIMSS and PIRLS, but noted concerns that Scotland might crash into them without having an underlying understanding of national performance from the outset 
•    there was a discussion about the use of the term ‘empowerment’ throughout the document, and what that word means in the context of a systemic approach to improvement – genuine empowerment requires resources, support and the necessary conditions, rather than just being a case of terminology 


•    SG officials to update the Council’s young people representatives on the status of the UNCRC bill (Action: SG officials)
•    SG officials to consider options for joining the OECD International Early Learning and Child Wellbeing study (Action: SG officials)

Paper 4 – Update on the Education Reform programme 

The Chair invited Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, to provide the Council with an update on progress with the Education Reform programme (paper 4). An initial values, vision and call to action has been jointly agreed with COSLA for the National Discussion on Scottish Education. The interim report for the Hayward Review was published at the end of March 2023, and sets out the model for wider recommendations which SG officials anticipate receiving in June. This work is underway alongside the wider landscape of Education and Skills reform, including the James Withers review and the Purposes and Principles for post-school education. The Council were invited to reflect on the system’s current context, and the direction of travel/work needed to progress into the next stage of reform.


The following points were made in discussion:

•    members commented on the capacity of staff to take forward the recommendations from various pieces of reform activity, and urged that implications for workload issues be considered.  The programme of work moving forward should explicitly set out long, medium and short term pieces of activity
•    clarity around the individual roles and responsibilities of each of the new bodies will be welcome, in recognition of the fact that the connections between different organisations in the education landscape can be complex despite their relationship of responsibility to one another. The vision, roles and responsibilities of different actors should be set out, then the structure of the education system should follow from that 
•    members requested clarity around where key communication points are likely to be in the next stages of the reform programme to avoid confusion from stakeholders


•    SG colleagues to keep the Council updated on the roles and responsibilities of the new bodies and on a communications strategy across the reform programme. (Action: Director of Education Reform)

Paper 5 – Initial Teacher Education Recruitment and Teacher Retention

The Chair invited Jim Thewliss (SLS) and Pauline Stephen (GTCS), to present paper 5 on behalf of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) on challenges around Initial Teacher Education recruitment and teacher retention. The paper raised areas of priority including resource demands, barriers to becoming a teacher, increased support for early career teachers and the promotion of teaching as a valuable career.


The following points were made in discussion:

•    members welcomed suggestions set out in paper 5 to re-examine the role of the teacher - including conditions, standards and expectations -  and why teacher career pathways may not have improved in the way the system had hoped. Beyond that, it would also be important to look at the team working around a teacher, and what support is available to new teachers in particular to ensure they are able to continue and progress
•    the outcomes of reform work may also have an impact on teacher recruitment and how society views the role of the teacher – if the Hayward Review is examining what a subject is, this presents the opportunity to question why we have such rigid structures for qualifying as a subject teacher 
•    members discussed the particular challenge around recruitment of primary teachers and its links to geographical factors 


•    SBTE representatives to return to the Council on the issue around ITE recruitment and retention further, including a discussion around accountability for promoting teaching as a valuable career (action: Jim Thewliss/Pauline Stephen/SG officials).

Paper 6 – Senior learner pathways: updated narrative on parity of esteem

The Chair invited Emma Sinclair, Head of the Senior Phase and OECD Curriculum Reform Unit, to provide the Council with an updated version of a narrative on parity of esteem between qualifications and learner pathways which was circulated to Council members for comment in March 2023. It was agreed that this piece of work would remain a Scottish Government narrative which had been informed by members of the Council, rather than be progressed as a shared narrative. 


The following points were made in discussion:

•    members reflected on the important issues reflected in the narrative around culture and curriculum design, and how these issues may impact the choices learners at different stages of their education. The focus on the August Results Day is a subset of this issue, but reflects some of the longstanding issues around perceptions of success
•    members commented that the term ‘awards’ covers a wider achievement than ‘qualifications’ does, and that the system is starting to recognise that school leavers are not just represented by S6 populations. The SEC short-life sub-group on school-college partnerships plans to report back to the Council at the next meeting to look further at the use of language around school leavers as part of their wider progress update

Paper 7 – Curriculum and Assessment Board update  

The Chair invited Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, to present paper 7, which provided the Council with an update on the work of the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB). The last meeting of the Board involved further discussion around systematic curriculum review and an update on progress with recommendations from the OECD Review of Curriculum for Excellence. A specific update on curriculum development in relation to children’s rights was also provided following an action noted from the last meeting. 

Paper 8 – Strategic Board for Teacher Education update

The Chair invited Jim Thewliss (SLS) to present paper 8, which provided the Council with an update on the work of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE). With the first key item of business already covered in paper 5, the other key items of business at the last meeting of the Board included proposed revisions to the Teacher Induction Scheme (TIS) and the Student Placement System (SPS). Pauline Stephen (GTCS) provided the Council with an update on the TIS, which is operated by GTCS and is due to cease operation by 2024 due to technical support being retired. 

Any other business and future meeting arrangements

An item was raised by Marcus Flucker MSYP, who noted the late issue of papers in advance of the 9th meeting of the Council and requested that the Secretariat ensured papers were issued within the agreed timeframe ahead of meetings to allow members sufficient time to consider items for discussion.

An item was also raised by the Chair, who suggested further discussion in the coming weeks about the purpose and remit of the Council to ensure that it can contribute to the delivery of improvement in the system.


•    SEC Secretariat to send follow-up correspondence to members to provide the opportunity to feedback ideas and suggestions around improvements to be made to the SEC. (Action: SEC Secretariat) 

The Chair thanked members for joining the 9th meeting of the SEC.

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