Scottish Education Council minutes: December 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Education Council on 8 December 2021

Attendees and apologies


  • 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
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE lead for Children & Young People
  • 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
  • Lorraine Sanda, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling
  • Kay Sillars, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland
  • Liam Fowley, Vice Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Dr Colin Morrison, Co-Director of Children’s Parliament
  • Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights)
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Alan Sherry, OBE, Chair of CLD Standards Council Scotland
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive of Early Years Scotland
  • Clare Hicks, Director of Education Reform, Scottish Government
  • Alison Cumming, Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government

In attendance:

  • Professor Ken Muir


  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive Education Scotland
  • Shona Struthers, CEO Colleges Scotland
  • Margaret Wilson, Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, West Partnership
  • Professor David Smith, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans for Education
  • Joe Griffin, Director General Education and Justice, Scottish Government
  • Douglas Hutchison, President of ADES

Scottish Government (observing)

  • 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 (National Improvement Framework) Unit
  • Eilidh McCreath, NIF Unit

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions from the Chair


The Chair welcomed members to the second meeting of the reconvened Scottish Education Council (SEC) and thanked Liam Fowley MSYP for contributing agenda item 5 for this meeting.


Paper 1 – Minutes from the previous meeting


SEC members confirmed that they were content with the minutes recorded from the meeting on 8 October.


Paper 2 – Revised role and remit of the Scottish Education Council


The Chair highlighted revisions which had been made to the role and remit of the SEC based on comments provided by members via correspondence after the 8 October meeting. These changes included strengthening references made to practitioners, parents/carers and the partnership between schools and colleges.


The Chair invited Dr Colin Morrison, Co-director of Children’s Parliament, to provide an update on the participation of children and young people in the support and development of education policy. An alternative proposal to the Children and Young People’s Education Council (CYPEC) is being pursued to allow children and young people to shape and lead a format of participation. As part of the proposal, it is suggested that an independent person should conduct a mapping/scoping exercise to examine what engagement already exists with children and young people around education and what impact that is having. In the meantime, all references to the CYPEC have been removed from the role/remit and workplan of the SEC.


 In discussion, the following points were made:


  • members commented that the alternative approach to children and young people’s participation was sensible
  • members raised concerns around representation of certain groups in the role and remit and whether this could be altered again to better reflect a whole system approach.


Action: Secretariat to distribute a final version of the role and remit paper, with stronger references to a whole system approach.


Paper 3 - National and local data for improvement and recovery, including understanding and tackling variation in performance


Kit Wyeth presented paper 3 which provided an update on a number of data issues relating to the use of data and proposed new methods of data collection to inform improvement. This paper invited members to comment in particular on:


  • the plans for the review of the 11 key measures of progress set out in the NIF
  • how we can strengthen further the use of data for improvement in outcomes and tackle unwarranted variation.  This includes setting of local stretch aims and providing support and challenge through the work of ES and the programme of local authority collaborative improvement
  • plans for the proposed sample based survey looking across the four CfE capacities

In discussion, the following points were made:


  • members discussed variation, which was highlighted by Audit Scotland in its recent report on educational outcomes. It was noted that variation in practice, where that responds to the needs of children and young people and the availability of local assets, can be positive and innovative. Members noted that it was not this kind of variation to which the criticism from Audit Scotland refers, but rather variation in outcomes for children and young people, further consideration of which, along with shared learning, could help to improve outcomes
  • the concept of local stretch aims was welcomed, but with the caution that these must be genuinely agreed by schools and local authorities
  • in agreeing a way forward, more clarity was needed as to the role and purpose of the data that would be collected  
  • concerns were raised around the potential negative effects which the narrow application of nationally held data in local systems can have in terms of limiting access to the full curriculum. Local data can help resolve this by contributing towards a more empowered system supported by local evidence. Data is most useful when it positively informs what happens in the classroom
  • we should be building a reformed system of data collection and use through the lens of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
  • sample surveys provide useful national level data to inform policy development but they do not provide granular data that is helpful to practitioners
  • there may be gaps in data around children with additional support needs – we need to  measure specific progress and milestones which these children achieve and it is important that we recognise progress that all children and young people make
  • it was not yet clear how we will gather effective data on the four capacities of CfE. Further discussion is required to find some way of giving parity of esteem to all four capacities, and collecting data in a useful and meaningful way
  • the role of data is important in demonstrating what an improving system looks like, and we need to keep in mind the recommendations of Audit Scotland, as well as the purpose of the National Improvement Framework (NIF) in using data to drive improvement and having a clear and shared vision and line of sight from the classroom to national policy. All of this also must be considered in the context of work towards education reform

Action: Scottish Government officials will do more work on these data issues and bring a further paper to the SEC in due course.


Verbal update on reform work from Professor Ken Muir


Professor Ken Muir joined the meeting to update members on progress with work around the reform of the SQA and Education Scotland. Reform work is almost at the end of the stakeholder consultation period, with almost 800 returns which were reported back to the Curriculum and Assessment Board at the beginning of December.


Professor Muir outlined some of the key areas of feedback from the consultation, including the following points:


  • some stakeholders at practitioner and senior leader level feel that the Scottish education system in its current state is too complex
  • there was emphasis on moving towards a more user focussed/learner focussed system, including references to UNCRC
  • there was strong messaging in support of an independent inspectorate


The next stage after consultation will be to consider how these points will feed in to a reformed education system. A key element of this will be to consider where the role of the Scottish credit and qualifications framework might sit in any recommendations for the future and the implications of an independent inspectorate . Another concern lies around capacity issues within the system, with the risk of too many changes or the wrong changes adding unnecessarily to workloads.


Verbal update on the Scottish Youth Parliament Assessment Survey results


Liam Fowley outlined the results of a survey of 12-17 year olds in Scotland, which asked participants to indicate their preference for continuous assessment or exams for national qualifications. The majority of respondents opted for continuous assessment, citing less stress and more accurate grades as justification for this choice. Only 12% were in favour of exams. 74% of respondents also answered that teachers should be involved in assessment.


Council members reflected on the result of the survey, which provides helpful insight alongside survey work which the SQA have undertaken. Consideration is required over how this information can be taken forward.


Action: Liam Fowley to share the paper version of survey results with SEC Secretariat.


Action: SEC Secretariat to distribute paper version of survey results to SEC members.


Paper 4 - Narrative on improving school education in Scotland


Graeme Logan presented paper 4 which outlined a new narrative on improving school education in Scotland. Graeme caveated the risk that this narrative becomes a system of name checking, and for that reason the paper needs to be kept at a reasonably high level. Council members were invited to indicate interest for joining a sub-group to develop this narrative further.

In discussion, the following points were made:


  • the narrative of an empowered system was lacking in this paper for several members, who questioned if this new piece of work would accelerate the pace of change
  • the narrative must also tie in with current reform work, and members asked whether this was the right time for drafting new narratives around education in an evolving system
  • the narrative is useful for articulating how everything in the education system fits together/how one component of the education system impacts others. Members suggested that the narrative should look at the purpose of Scottish Education in its broadest sense, including ELC, colleges and lifelong learning. It should be a whole system approach
  • narratives such as this one must be based on Article 29 of UNCRC – they should reflect the very process and environment of education as well as examining what we want young people to get out of the education system
  • the hope is that this narrative can send out a powerful message of what does unite us as a system
  • the majority of members indicated their interest for joining a sub-group on this matter


Action: Scottish Government colleagues will contact members in due course to establish a sub-group to inform this narrative.



Paper 5 – update on the Curriculum and Assessment Board


Craig Flunkert presented paper 5 which provided high-level updates on the content of the two previous Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) meetings. There was lengthy discussion around reform work in these meetings, with specific comments on the need for involvement of class teachers in any curriculum reform. The issue of bringing in resources to support reform was also raised, highlighting a need to prioritise curriculum reform between short, medium, and long term activity.


Members said that it was important to consider how the CAB and the other subsidiary groups such as the SBTE fed into and informed discussion at the SEC, beyond providing a simple update from each meeting.


Action: SEC secretariat to liaise with colleagues to provide a more in-depth paper on key updates from the Curriculum and Assessment Board for the next SEC meeting.



Any other business


No other business was raised.

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