Scottish Education Council minutes: February 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Education Council on 22 February 2023

Attendees and apologies


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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Kay Sillars, Regional Manager, UNISON Scotland

  • Audrey May, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative

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

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

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

  • 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

  • James Wylie, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Northern Alliance

  • Sophie Reid MSYP, Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament

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



  • Cllr Tony Buchanan, COSLA Children and Young People Spokesperson

  • Professor Mark Priestley, University of Stirling

  • 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

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

  • David Leng, Head of the Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit

  • David Begley, Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit

  • Elisabeth Boyling, Head of Learning Analysis

  • Andrew White, Learning Analysis

  • Helen Mclellan, Senior Policy Manager: Learner Participation

  • 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 8th meeting of the Scottish Education Council. The Council acknowledged that this would be Gayle Gorman’s last meeting in her role as Chief Executive of Education Scotland and the Chair thanked Gayle for her many years of service in Scottish Education.


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


Alison Taylor provided a short verbal update on progress with the working group on understanding and comparing local performance following the most recent meeting on 16 February. While providing a verbal update on progress with the short-life sub-group on school-college partnerships, Shona Struthers asked the Council for assistance in finding a headteacher to join the sub-group on school-college partnerships to represent the school sector. The other progress updates and outstanding actions were noted by the Council.


Members were content with the minutes of the previous meeting on 15 December 2022 (paper 2), and an amendment was agreed at the request of the Chair to add a line of reassurance in response to comments raised by members during the Education Reform update around ensuring a key direction of travel in the reform programme. An updated version of the minutes will be circulated to SEC members via correspondence.




  • SEC members to recommend a possible head teacher representative for the sub-group on school-college partnerships (Action: SEC members)
  • SEC Secretariat to circulate an updated version of the minutes from SEC20221215 via correspondence. (Action: SEC Secretariat)


Paper 3 – Updated SEC workplan February-June 2023


The Chair invited Eilidh McCreath, SEC Secretariat, to present paper 3, seeking the views of the Council on an updated workplan for the remainder of the academic year. The Council last reviewed the workplan in September 2022. The revised workplan included a proposal to delay the young person’s takeover, provisionally planned for June 2023, in anticipation of the outcomes and recommendations from the Young People’s Collaborative Project. The Council were invited to suggest any further items they wished to be added to the workplan for the remainder of the academic year.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members asked whether young people have been consulted on the suggestion to delay the young people’s takeover to the next academic year. The Secretariat clarified that an education setting to host the young person’s takeover had not yet been confirmed, and as such there have been no discussions with children and young people outside of the SEC. The Secretariat agreed to pick up this discussion with the two young people representatives on the Council, and the Chair would take a steer from the outcomes of that discussion to establish an approach to a young person’s takeover
  • Greg Dempster, AHDS, suggested adding a discussion around headteacher applicant numbers to the discussion on Initial Teacher Education intake numbers due to take place in April 2023
  • Gillian Brydson proposed an item on behalf of the South West Collaborative around digital access to SCQF Level 7 and the potential benefit this has on curriculum access for rural education settings




  • SEC Secretariat to arrange a follow-up discussion with Sophie Reid MSYP and Beinn Reid MSYP regarding the young person’s takeover. (Action: SEC Secretariat)
  • Discussion on headteacher applicant numbers to be added to the discussion on ITE intake numbers at the April SEC meeting. (Action: SEC Secretariat/Greg Dempster)
  • Item on digital access to SCQF Level 7 to be brought to a future SEC meeting. (Action: SEC Secretariat/Gillian Brydson )


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. The most recent meeting of the Education Reform Stakeholder Reference Group took place on 18 January 2023 and included an update from Professor Louise Hayward on progress with the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment. There was also further discussion around the draft Target Operating Models (TOMs) for the new education bodies. A detailed analysis of 6000 responses to the National Discussion on Scottish Education is currently underway, and Professors Carol Campbell and Alma Harris will be testing initial outputs from this analysis with the International Council of Education Advisers in early March. Officials will ensure alignment across the various strands of reform with a phased approach over the Spring period. Phase 2 of the Hayward Review is coming to a close, with an interim report to be published in early March. The review’s timeline has been extended to take on board outcomes of the National Discussion and the Purposes and Principles of Scottish Education, with the Withers Review also to be published in Spring 2023.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members discussed the potential costs associated with the TOMs and establishing what budget is available, while also ensuring that there is opportunity for innovation as part of the reform process
  • members asked about work around the National Discussion in consideration of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In particular, members asked if there will be a summary of the demographics who responded to the consultation as part of the analysis, particularly among groups such as care experienced children. Officials confirmed that a lot of detailed planning and work went into ensuring that the National Discussion included seldom heard voices – particularly those of care experienced children and young people. The analysis of responses needs to be able to provide assurance around how the input of seldom heard voices is evaluated and taken into account
  • members commented that, despite the complexity of the work across different areas of the system, the reform programme provides a unique opportunity to examine how different parts of the system interact with each other, and how these interactions can be strengthened
  • members asked if the report recently published by Dr Marina Shapira and Professor Mark Priestley - Exploring the impact of curriculum policy on choice, attainment and destinations – was being factored into work around the Hayward Review. Officials confirmed that the different strands of reform work will respond to that report, as well as work carried out by the Curriculum and Assessment Board. The new improvement agency will also have an important role in leading on curriculum work in a way which can address the challenges identified by the report
  • Juliet Harris provided the Council with an overview of a report submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in February 2023 by Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights). The report includes points around inclusive reform and the need for seamless transition between Early Learning and primary education, with a rights based approach throughout this transition




  • An item on a children’s rights-based approach to Education Reform to be brought to a future SEC meeting (Action: SEC Secretariat/Juliet Harris).
  • SEC members to approach the Director for Education Reform with any follow-up questions on the reform programme (Action: all members).


Verbal update – Progress with the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge Framework


The Chair invited David Leng, Head of the Scottish Attainment Challenge Unit, to provide the Council with a verbal update on progress with the refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) framework. During the last meeting in December the Council were updated on the publication of 2022-23 local authority stretch aims and their emerging themes. The process observed a high degree of engagement and ownership from all local authorities, with rigorous use of data for improvement. Work is now moving from ambition to implementation, with the establishment of a short-life working group to examine key challenges associated with the refreshed framework. These include ensuring that the core measures are inclusive of a wide set of achievements, and examining the difference between ambition and tracking/monitoring. The group is also considering timelines for reporting, and how the release of different data sets can be better aligned into some form of annual reporting cycle. The Chair thanked colleagues in local government for their work in this area, noting that the new process has produced a lot of learning at pace. The Chair was keen to see how we (as a system) can take forward that learning into the new year.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • members discussed how to increase the pace and momentum in our shared ambition so that we can improve attainment and progress. Members noted that one of the challenges is that progress is measured differently across different councils, and capturing the wider workforce picture beyond teachers would be helpful to capture work underway in local settings
  • members noted the importance of examining the empowerment agenda to ensure that resources are targeted to the point of need at an individual level
  • members flagged that any changes to data sets will also mean that benchmarks will change, and ambitions will therefore also need to be adjusted. It is important to adopt a granular understanding of interventions to data sets as part of any further work around wider achievement
  • members discussed the significant impact of the cost of living crisis on children and how that is picked up within the data used to capture progress
  • collaboration, both in terms of headteachers working together and schools working in partnership with universities can help to push the improvement agenda. This can also help to avoid the trap whereby an indicator of equality becomes the definition of equality. Instead of being driven by external accountability we need to work towards collective responsibility
  • Gayle Gorman and Matthew Sweeney updated the Council on the work of the School Empowerment sub-group to balance an empowerment agenda with a nationwide reform. The Chair noted that a further update on this work at a future meeting of the Council would be helpful




  • A more detailed update on the work of the School Empowerment sub-group to be brought to a future meeting of the SEC (Action: SEC Secretariat/Education Scotland Officials/COSLA Officials).


Verbal update – ‘Single source of truth data’ work


The Chair invited Andrew White, Learning Analysis Unit, to provide the Council with a verbal update on work to align the Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations (SSAILD) and Insight data sets. The SSAILD data published each February provides data for 3 of the NIF key measures and 2 of the SAC core stretch aims. Insight is a benchmarking tool for the Senior Phase which is based on a wider set of qualifications. This work aims to align the two data sets which would produce a single set of measures with a single methodology for both national statistics and Insight. Officials are currently discussing this work with the relevant parties and will be consulting in due course with the intention to have an agreed approach in place by the end of the year when the next iteration of the NIF is published in December.


The following points were made in discussion:


  • There was broad agreement to move away from referring to this as work to establish a ‘single source of truth’, as it might suggest that other achievements not captured by the aligned data set are not truthful.
  • Members noted that the aligned data set needs to be accessible for stakeholders as well as policymakers so that all levels of the system can use data to establish if their initiatives are having the desired impact.
  • Members had a discussion around the utility of the data captured across the different sets, and whether a new core data set would be specific to Senior Phase or to the whole system.







Paper 5 – Curriculum and Assessment Board update  


The Chair invited Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, to present paper 5, which provided the Council with an update on the work of the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB). The Chair noted that this standing item would usually also include an update from the Strategic Board for Teacher Education (SBTE) but the Board has not met since the SEC was last updated on their work in December. During its last meeting in January 2023 the CAB discussed curriculum review and improvement activity, before moving on to discuss a paper on Gaelic Medium Education (GME). The two items are tied in terms of ensuring that GME is considered from the outset in the context of curriculum development and review.


The following point was made in discussion:


  • members asked if the full package of curriculum development and improvement activity underway at present is aligned with UNCRC incorporation. Due to time constraints, it was agreed that this matter could be picked up at the next SEC meeting




  • Further discussion to take place at the April SEC meeting around incorporating the UNCRC into curriculum development. (Action: SEC Secretariat/Colin Morrison).



Any other business and future meeting arrangements


No further business was raised at the meeting. The Chair thanked members for joining the 8th meeting of the SEC, and confirmed that the next meeting would take place on the 27th of April.

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