Scottish Education Council minutes: 8 October 2021

Minutes from the Scottish Education Council meeting on 8 October 2021

Attendees and apologies

SEC Members

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

  • Councillor Stephen McCabe, COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson

  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government

  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority, Chief Executive

  • Larry Flanagan, General Secretary, The Educational Institute of Scotland

  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Chief Inspector of Education

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

  • Margaret Wilson, Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland

  • Professor David Smith, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education

  • Carrie Lindsay, President of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)

  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE lead for Children & Young People

  • Audrey May, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative

  • Helen Budge, 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

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

  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The West Partnership

  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

  • John Gallacher, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland

  • Liam Fowley, Vice Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament

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

  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland

  • Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland

In attendance 


  • Professor Ken Muir

Scottish Government (observing)


  • Claire Hicks, Director of Education Reform

  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing

  • Kit Wyeth, Head of National Improvement Framework Unit

  • Craig Flunkert, Team Leader, Curriculum, Parents and Pupils



  • Judith Tracey, NIF Unit

  • Katie Brydon, NIF Unit

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions from the chair


The Chair welcomed members to the first meeting of the re-established Scottish Education Council (SEC) which had not met since early 2020, as the focus over the last year and a half had been responding to the pandemic.  The SEC would run in parallel with the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) but would provide a more strategic oversight of Scottish education, and be a forum for frank and open discussion. 


Revised role and remit of the SEC


The Council discussed the draft revised role and remit of the SEC. Members raised concerns about the late circulation of papers, which meant that they had had very little time to read and consider them in advance of the meeting.


In discussion, the following points were made:


  • in the light of the incorporation of the UNCRC into law, members felt that the need to protect and defend the rights of children and young people should be articulated more clearly in the remit of the Council


  • members were also keen to emphasise the strategic role of the Council, and how it differed from other groups which focus more closely on day to day operational issues.  The role of the Council should be to focus on high level strategic issues that set the direction for educational improvement


  • one weakness of the previous iteration of the Council, was that it did not have strong links to the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) or the Scottish Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) beyond seeing the minutes of each meeting.  There needed to be a clear line of sight from both the CAB and the SBTE so that the Council had the opportunity to provide constructive input


  • there was also a request that Scottish Government consider how to reflect back the impact of the Council’s advice on Government policy


Action - Secretariat to ensure that all papers are circulated at least one week in advance of each meeting of the Council.


Action - Scottish Government to clarify the process for escalating issues to the SEC from the CAB and SBTE, so that the Council isn’t simply being updated on issues but has the opportunity to provide constructive input.


Action - Scottish Government to consider how to reflect back to the Council the impact of the its advice on the delivery of strategic goals.


Draft work programme for 2021/22


The secretariat had produced a draft work programme for 2021/22 which had a particular focus on the work of Professor Ken Muir on the reform of SQA and Education Scotland.  However the work programme is likely to change based on emerging priorities over the coming year.


In discussion, the following points were made:


  • framing remits and agendas is challenging. It is important to create a space for the kind of conversation that doesn’t take place elsewhere about the big issues facing Scottish education


  • members expressed concern about the proposed number of items on the agenda for each meeting, and asked that there should be more consideration of what the “big ticket” items would be in advance of each meeting, and adjust the agenda accordingly


  • a revised workplan should make it clear that meeting agendas will be developed in collaboration with Council members, who will also be invited to suggest agenda items and to produce papers to support them


Action – Secretariat to produce an updated role and remit, and future workplan, taking on board the points made at the meeting (particularly around the rights of children and young people) and circulate for further comment and approval.


Children and young people’s participation on the Council


The sub-group discussed paper 3 which set out proposals to ensure that learners’ views are taken fully into account in decision-making on the same basis as the teaching profession, education authorities, parents and others in the system; and to ensure that children’s rights experts are included on a similar basis as part of SEC discussions.  The paper set out the Scottish Government’s plans to establish a new Children and Young People’s Council (CYPEC) which would have parity of esteem with the SEC.


The paper asked the SEC to consider how the SEC itself should operate, and how it should relate to the new CYPEC.


In discussion, the following points were made:


  • children and young people’s participation is a key aspect in the Scottish Government approach to education reform, a foundation within Scotland’s curriculum and a growing imperative following the incorporation of the UNCRC


  • we need to question whether establishing the CYPEC Is right approach to ensuring meaningful engagement with children and young people. Members welcomed the idea of a rights based approach, but there needed to be further consideration of how to take that forward


  • it was important to see how children and young people would like to engage with SEC, rather than making those decisions in advance of the establishment of the CYPEC.  Genuine co-production with children and young people was essential to ensure that the final format will meet the needs of children and young people


Progress on the OECD implementation plan


The Scottish Government set out the plans for a framework to address the recommendations in the OECD report on Curriculum for Excellence.  A draft had been circulated to members, who were invited to provide comments. 


In discussion, the following points were made:


  • the OECD review gives us an opportunity to be more ambitious, to look again at the four capacities and consider whether they adequately encapsulate the knowledge, skills, and attributes required to equip young people as citizens in a complex modern society


  • we need to be careful not to paralyse the system by trying to look at everything at once.  It is important to be focused, and tackle those areas which will make the most difference


  • it is also important that each part of the education system feels real ownership of any changes.  That will require a return to the empowerment agenda, empowering schools and teachers to take decisions appropriate to their school community


  • we need to think very carefully about how we establish the systems and mechanisms required to support curriculum making and to support capacity building


Action - Scottish Government to take on board the Council’s comments on the draft response to the OECD report prior to publication.


The reform of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland


Professor Ken Muir gave an update on the plans to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and to consider a new specialist agency for both curriculum and assessment ,while also taking forward reform to Education Scotland, including removing the function of inspection from the agency.


Professor Muir informed the Council that a national consultation document had been launched on 30 September, and was open to all who were interested in the future of Scottish education. The closing date for consultation responses was 26 November 2021. A series of twilight webinars had been offered to anyone with an interest in this work to support engagement in the consultation.


Plans for the 2022 National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan


The Council was informed about the statutory review of the National Improvement Framework (NIF) which will consider whether the actions set out in the 2021 NIF and Improvement Plan remain the right things to focus on given the unique situation we are in, and whether any changes are required to the NIF vision, priorities and/or the drivers of improvement.  


Action – Council members to send any written comments on the statutory review of the NIF to the NIF inbox by the deadline of 22 October.


Any other business


No other business.

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