Scottish Education Council minutes: May 2018

Minutes of the fourth meeting of the Scottish Education Council, which took place on the 2 May 2018.

Attendees and apologies


  • John Swinney, MSP Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
  • Councillor Stephen McCabe Children and Young People Spokesperson, COSLA
  • Fiona Robertson Scottish Government, Director for Learning
  • Gayle Gorman Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Chief Inspector of Education
  • Jim Thewliss General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Larry Flanagan General Secretary, EIS
  • Janet Brown Chief Executive, SQA
  • Carrie Lindsay Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) Lead, South East Collaborative
  • Douglas Hutchison RIC Lead, South West Collaborative
  • Mhairi Shaw RIC Lead, The West Partnership
  • Morag Redford Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Robert Naylor RIC Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Laurence Findlay RIC Lead, The Northern Alliance
  • Maureen McKenna President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Ken Muir Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Joanna Murphy Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Josh Traynor Young people’s representative

In attendance

  • Graeme Logan Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Andy Bruce Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Kathleen Marshall Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Maria Harris Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Jane O’Donnell COSLA
  • Toni Andrews Young Scot Representative


  • Bernadette Malone Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross
  • Sheena Devlin RIC Lead, Tayside Collaborative

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

1. DFM welcomed Council members to the fourth meeting of the Scottish Education Council (SEC). He thanked the staff and young people of Smithycroft Secondary School for the warm welcome to their school. He advised that the minute of the second meeting is now available online and that any comments or queries around previous minutes should be raised through correspondence with officials.

National improvement activity [paper 04(01)]

2. DFM introduced this item by emphasising that he is keen that the National Improvement Framework (NIF) is supported by all Council members and that the NIF should be refreshed to ensure it remains relevant. Having an inclusive conversation with the Council members is important in shaping this.

3. Fiona Robertson provided an update commenting that since its launch in 2016 the NIF has had a considerable impact across the country. The paper highlighted the role of the SEC on both the NIF and improvement plan. Views were sought on the most effective way for the Council to contribute to the 2019 NIF and improvement plan and to consider the planning and reporting cycle moving forward. Comments were invited on the roll out of the BGE Benchmarking Tool.

4. DFM asked the Council to reflect on what effect the NIF has had; to consider what aspects need to be refreshed, and how this should be taken forward. Open discussion followed:

  • the general consensus was that the six drivers of the NIF are the correct approach. These should be used as a means of focusing discussion, giving the opportunity to streamline and simplify. It was also suggested that the drivers could be broadened in focus, to consider other partners operating outwith a school setting
  • there was discussion regarding getting the balance right between gathering data and pedagogical improvements in the classroom
  • it was suggested that we need to look at how different parts of the system engage with the NIF to determine how it is being used and what impact it has. It was also felt that a national dialogue focusing on improving pedagogical practices within schools would be useful
  • it was noted that pedagogy being recognised through the National Improvement Framework would be welcomed by universities and schools of education
  • it was suggested that teachers may have more interest in small data – not big data – as this assists in driving classroom practice
  • the meeting also noted the view that data is a good health check for the system and can drive improvement. Data provides clarity and accountability. The NIF brings clarity but it is important not to lose sight of curriculum for excellence

5. DFM advised that we need to consider what cohesive priorities can be taken forward. The International Council of Education Advisers recently spoke of the importance of pedagogy within and across the system, and recognised the challenges involved in achieving this. We need to find the natural balance between CfE, pedagogy and data. The NIF brings cohesion to the system. All elements discussed need to fit into a cohesive agenda.

6. There is a statutory obligation to review the NIF yearly and this is the start of that process. Broader engagement and a consultation will take place and there will be more discussion with the Council members. We need to look at whether the NIF has sufficient breadth to look at wider children’s services and whether there is sufficient focus on pedagogical development.

7. Fiona Robertson said that the frequency of review of the NIF was an item for discussion. The original intention had been for a two-yearly review but this was amended to an annual review following Parliamentary scrutiny of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016. Discussion followed:

  • it was suggested the NIF should be on a 3 to 5 year cycle and not an annual cycle. This may be helpful in addressing any misconceptions there may be that everything needs to be delivered within a single school year
  • it was also suggested that the four levels of improvement planning could be interpreted as a hierarchy. It was emphasised that the new regional plans should be seen as an offer to schools, to help them to take forward school level improvement plans, rather than adding additional priorities in to the system. The NIF can continue to help to bring a sense of coherence across national, local and school level planning

8. The meeting agreed that the critical issue was about improving what happens in schools, and the NIF should set the framework for this. Action: SEC 04 – (01) – Scottish Government officials to ensure Council members are consulted in the review of the National Improvement Framework.

Verbal update on Reform agenda

9. DFM said that consultation responses had been published and were in the public domain. As discussed at the previous Council meeting, there was broad support for the aims and principles behind the reform agenda and a variety of views about the mechanisms and approaches to best achieve those aims. DFM had asked Scottish Government and local authority officials to discuss this further, in particular around the formulation of the legislation, to ensure that once drafted it will be responsive to the particular issues raised.

10. The Young Scot representative requested clarity on whether the Bill will develop legal duties to promote and support pupil participation. He felt that young people need to be more valued and have a stronger say and asked if children and young people were still at the centre of the Bill’s priorities.

11. DFM confirmed that pupil involvement is key and that this can happen at schools in a number of different ways, it does not always require legislation. These aspirations are at the heart of the legislation but the main question here is how specific do we need to be to ensure pupil participation becomes a reality throughout the nation.

12. The structure is taking shape with discussions around alignment and coherence, but at a local level we need to look at culture. There needs to be cultural change in schools and classrooms. Collaboration can enable culture change. Sharing good practise across and within regions and local authorities can assist in bringing about change. Professional voice, parent voice and pupil voice is what builds a democratic school. Culture and ownership needs to be developed through engagement with the NIF.

Action: SEC 04 – (02) – Scottish Government and local authority officials to meet to further discuss legislation and best approach.

Action: SEC 04 – (03) – Regional Improvement Collaboratives to share good practice to enable pupil participation.

Role, remit and vision of Education Scotland [paper 04(02)]

13. Gayle Gorman introduced this paper, advising that Education Scotland is moving forward with a clear focus and vision of building an organisation that is for Scotland’s learners, with Scotland’s educators. She noted that this involved both institutional leadership, as well as focusing on supporting young people across Scotland at all layers of the system. Education Scotland intend to work with agencies, local government, RICs and schools to provide a national offer that supports the regional offer. Key to this will be the reorganisation of Education Scotland into regional teams, which will provide front line support to teachers, practitioners and others.

14. Education Scotland is working on its new strategic plan which will detail how it will fulfil its newly defined role, including providing a strong focus on learning, teaching and leadership. This will involve working closely with social services, families and children services through Getting it Right for Every Child; and making the best use of high quality evidence through inspection, scrutiny and pedagogy, and building effective partnerships.

15. Members of the Council were invited to comment on the paper:

  • the meeting noted the focus on partnerships and hoped that partnership working will grow through professional and collaborative learning
  • more clarity on Education Scotland’s role and offer was requested. Clarity on the RIC role within Education Scotland and on the inspection function would also be welcomed
  • it was suggested there will be a lot of interest in the professional learning offer and some reputational repair may be required

16. Gayle commented that regional advisers are HMIE but the inspection function of Education Scotland will be separate from the support functions. More clarity on all areas of Education Scotland business will be provided in the draft offer that is currently being compiled.

17. DFM noted there is a clear programme to strengthen the offer of Education Scotland and to build this up within the system. This will take time to draw up and will be achieved over the future. A first step is to solidify the core proposition from Education Scotland. The meeting noted that a key part of Education Scotland’s role is about collaboration with the Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

Action: SEC 04 – (04) – Education Scotland to provide clarification in their draft offer.

National 4: Presentation patterns following the changes to National Qualifications [paper 04(03)]

18. Andy Bruce presented paper 04(03) providing an update on presentation approaches to National 4 (Nat 4) and National 5 (Nat 5) qualifications. The paper also set out an approach to addressing perceptions of National 4.

19. SQA has provided data on presentation patterns for the 2018 exam diet, the first since the removal of mandatory unit assessments from Nat 5. The data shows an increase in the number of presentations for Nat 4 and a decrease in presentations for Nat 5 compared to 2017. It also shows that nationally 12% of Nat 5 entries have also been presented for the required number of units to be eligible for a Nat 4, through the interim measure for recognising positive achievement. There are a small number of schools where there has been whole scale presentation for both the Nat 5 course and the units that were formerly part of the course, which raises concerns, along with the fact that unit presentation entries at Nat 5 doubled between the end of February and the end of March.

20. Next steps include making a decision on the future of the interim measure for recognising positive achievement via fallback to Nat 4, which is intended to be used in exceptional circumstances only. This decision is linked with the issues relating to the perceived value and credibility around Nat 4. Rather than introduce further changes to the design of the national qualifications, work is being focused on a comms and engagement plan to promote the value of Nat 4 as part of a considered learner pathway through the senior phase.

21. Discussion amongst Council members followed:

  • there was agreement that 12% of Nat 5 entries being dual-presented for both the course and the units did not represent ‘exceptional circumstances’. Furthermore, there was a view that many more Nat 5 candidates were still completing the units, regardless of whether they were being presented for them
  • this raises a question around teachers’ confidence in their own judgement and the need to provide further support in this regard. RICs can help with this issue
  • there is a need to set out a clearer progression pathway from Nat 4 on to other courses and awards, including Foundation Apprenticeships. It was felt by some members that Nat 4 does not currently function well for progression to Nat 5

22. DFM agreed that there are issues around presentation patterns and building the status of Nat 4 as a valued component of a senior phase pathway.

Action: SEC 04 – (05) – Curriculum and Assessment Board to give consideration to next steps around the Nat 4 and Nat 5 suite of qualifications

Regional support for improving Scottish Education

23. A written update on the progress of each Regional Improvement Collaborative in the implementation of its interim plan was circulated at the meeting. The paper provided details of actions taken, and those in progress to implement current plans. The paper provided an overview of stakeholder engagement, progress with workforce planning and work underway in planning for phase two.

24. DFM welcomed the update.

Action: SEC 04 – (06) – Scottish Government secretariat to issue an electronic copy of the paper to all Council members.

Any other business

25. DFM reflected on the recent meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers and advised that a formal report will be issued shortly to mark the end of their initial two year appointment. Overall, the general assessment of the ICEA is that a lot of good progress has been made in Scotland, as was also the case with the progress of the RICs. DFM said that he expected the report would include feedback on the importance of pedagogical development.

Action: SEC 04 – (07) – Scottish Government secretariat to issue details of the ICEA report to all Council members once released.

Date of next meeting

  1. The next meeting of the Council will be held on 19 June 2018, 12:00-14:00 in Edinburgh, venue tbc.

National Improvement Framework Unit May 2018

Paper 1 - national improvement activity.pdf
Pape 2 - Role, remit and vision of Education Scotland.pdf


Scottish Education Council
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The Scottish Government
Victoria Quay

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