Scottish Education Council minutes: December 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Education Council on 15 December 2022

Attendees and apologies


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

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

  • Graeme Logan, Director of Learning, Scottish Government

  • Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, Scottish Government

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

  • Andrew Watson, Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government

  • Cllr Tony Buchanan, COSLA Children and Young People Spokesperson

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

  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland

  • 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

  • Kay Sillars, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland

  • Tony McDaid, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, West Partnership

  • Audrey May, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative

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

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

  • Laura Caven, Chief Officer – Children and Young People, COSLA

  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years 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

  • Greg Dempster, General Secretary, Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland  

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

  • Sophie Reid MSYP, Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament

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



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

  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

  • Shona Struthers, Chief Executive, Colleges Scotland

  • Des Murray, Solace lead for Children and Young People

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

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

  • Kit Wyeth, Head of the National Improvement Framework Unit

  • Laura Murdoch, Deputy Director, Curriculum and Qualifications

  • Debbie Carter, Learner Pathways Team Leader

  • David Leng, Head of the Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit

  • Judith Tracey, Team Leader, National Improvement Framework Unit

  • Katie Brydon, SEC Secretariat

  • Eilidh McCreath, SEC Secretariat

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed members to the 7th meeting of the Scottish Education Council.


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


The Chair invited Kit Wyeth, head of the National Improvement Framework Unit, to provide members with an update on progress with actions recorded in the SEC action log (paper 1). Several actions were signposted to be brought to a future SEC meeting, including an update on the work of a new short-life sub-group on school-college partnerships. Members were content with the minutes of the previous meeting on 26 October 2022 (paper 2).


Paper 3 – Update on the Education Reform Programme


The Chair invited Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, to present paper 3, which provided the Council with an update on the Education Reform programme. A number of key milestones have been reached since the last meeting of the Council, including the conclusion of the listening phase of the National Discussion on 5 December 2022. The next step of the process, which involves the analysis of consultation responses, will conclude in Spring 2023. Consultation for the Hayward Review is ongoing looking across the broad range of exams and other forms of assessment available to learners. Outputs of the National Discussion will help to inform the conclusion of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment in Spring 2023. The final output from work around the purposes and principles for post-school education will also be published in Spring 2023. Sequencing of the reform programme is key and timings of the National Discussion have been altered to ensure that its outcomes help to inform the Hayward Review. Target Operating Models (TOMs) have been agreed for the new public bodies and further advice will be provided to the Council at a future meeting on progress with the design of the new bodies.

The following points were made in discussion:


  • members reflected on the significant response to the National Discussion across the country during the listening phase of the project
  • members raised the issue of representation on the Stakeholder Reference Group at section 12 of paper 3, and queried how organisations which are not represented on the group will feed into the design of the new public bodies
  • members discussed the sequencing of the reform programme and the importance of establishing a key direction between all the key areas of work, including the key decision makers at each stage of the programme. Officials assured the Council that the Scottish Government will continue to ensure that the reform programme aligns different reform workstreams coherently across the changing education landscape, and agreed the need to ensure that consultation in the new year as part of the Hayward Review brings the benefits to the learner to the foreground



Verbal item - 2022 SQA appeals outcomes


The Chair invited Beinn Grant MSYP and Sophie Reid MSYP to introduce this item, which outlined concerns aired by children and young people around the 2022 SQA appeals outcomes. These included the lasting impact of COVID-19 on learners and the disparities between numbers of appeals according to areas of deprivation.


Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive of the SQA, provided the Council with further details on the 2022 appeals process, including consideration of the impact of COVID-19 on learners, the process for awarding revised grades in exceptional circumstances and communications to learners in the lead up to the 2022 appeals process. Fiona Robertson highlighted that SYP attended the NQ 2023 Group and organised the SQA Learner Panel. She had also offered to meet SYP members separately at a time which was convenient to them. 


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members noted the need for all adult professionals to be mindful when convening key stakeholder groups of the demands on the availability of children and young people during school hours to ensure that there is young people representation at key meetings
  • members discussed the disparities highlighted by the MSYPs in the number of pupils applying for appeals across SIMD levels and the need for further investigation around this issue. Fiona Robertson highlighted that this was a wider issue and all eligible learners had a free and direct right to appeal. This will be discussed further at a separate meeting between Fiona Robertson and the MSYPs




  • The Chair and SEC secretariat will be mindful of the challenges which timings of future Council meetings during school hours may present for accommodating the needs of young members. (Action: SEC secretariat)

  • Fiona Robertson to follow-up on the points raised with MSYP members around the 2022 appeals process in a separate meeting. (Action: Fiona Robertson)


Paper 4 – Improving the narrative on assessment and qualifications


The Chair invited Debbie Carter, Learner Pathways Team Leader, to present paper 4, seeking the views of the Council on a new narrative around assessment and qualifications. The purpose of this narrative is to ensure parity of esteem for different course choices and learner pathways. 


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members discussed gender, social class and cultural issues underpinning the esteem in which various qualifications are held, and which require further consideration as part of this work
  • what often adds to the complexity around developing a narrative is the additional accountability agendas which are created as a result. Therefore it is important to consider how this narrative would link to other projects such as the Scottish Attainment Challenge, and how it will show consistency with work around culture and language within education establishments
  • members noted that this item echoes similar discussions within the Hayward Independent Review Group. One of the emerging ideas from these discussions is the need to capture much more of what young people are learning throughout their journey. While there is an annual SQA results day, vocational qualifications are awarded throughout the academic year, and further work may be required to recognise this breadth of achievement



  • SG colleagues to work further on developing a narrative on assessment and qualifications, and whether this narrative will achieve its anticipated aims on the ground, and will return with a proposal to Council members in early 2023 (Action: Senior Phase and OECD Curriculum Reform Unit, SG)



Verbal item – update on the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge model


The Chair invited David Leng, Head of the Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit, to provide the Council with an update on the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge model and 2022-23 local authority stretch aims, which were published on 8 December 2022. Some key emerging themes from these stretch aims include health and wellbeing, capturing wider achievement and supporting care experienced children and young people.


Next steps following publication of the stretch aims include establishing agreed data sources and understanding variation across local authorities, linking to discussions held at previous SEC meetings.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members noted the need to continue work to close the attainment gap with a multi-service approach to support young people in achieving the best outcomes
  • there was a discussion around the link between teacher numbers and the closing of the attainment gap. Members also queried the lack of inclusion of wider school staff, such as speech and language therapists, who are not captured by the inclusion of teachers in local authority stretch aims
  • members commented on the importance of clarifying the purpose and process of stretch aims to avoid locking local authorities into a process of annualised targets as opposed to developing ambitious stretch aims
  • members queried where the development of stretch aims will sit within the wider empowerment agenda, noting that something more akin to 3 year planning might be useful to link in with existing school plans
  • SG officials provided assurance that partners and stakeholders would be included in the ‘lessons learned’ phase of the refreshed SAC framework, noting that the new system of stretch aims is designed to establish a rhythm of reviewing ambitions and opportunity for further stretch, rather than to create annual targets


Paper 5 – Strategic Board for Teacher Education update


The Chair invited Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland, to present paper 5, which provided the Council with an update on the work of the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) following their most recent meeting in November 2022. The Board discussed their developing workplan which will aim to incorporate the various work strands of activity across teacher education, embedding the principles within the Teaching Scotland’s Future document. Other areas of discussion included challenges around intakes to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes and the evaluation of the Into Headship programme undertaken by Professor Alma Harris.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members noted the need to maintain existing standards and expectations for entrants of ITE programmes, despite the concerns around numbers in specific programmes or geographical areas

  • teacher numbers, contact time, and availability of permanent contracts were all identified as contextual issues linking to challenges around ITE numbers

  • members queried points raised in the Into Headship evaluation around concerns about the academic workload for busy professionals and whether there would be further discussion on those points at a future meeting of the Board. Jim Thewliss confirmed as the SBTE representative that this work would be looked at further by the Board



  • challenges around ITE numbers in the context of work to reduce contact time for teachers to be noted as a substantive agenda item at the next SEC meeting. (Action: SG officials)



Any other business and future meeting arrangements


No further business was raised at the meeting. The Chair thanked members for joining the 7th meeting of the SEC, and confirmed that the next meeting would take place on the 22 of February.

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