Scottish Education Council minutes: May 2019

Minutes from the tenth meeting of the Scottish Education Council, held on 8 May 2019.

Attendees and apologies


  • John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
  • Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • Janie McManus, Strategic Director, Education Scotland
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
  • Douglas Hutchison, RIC Lead, South West Collaborative
  • Elaine Cook, RIC Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Joanna Murphy, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Janet Brown, Chief Executive, SQA
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Chief Inspector of Education
  • Maureen McKenna, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Councillor Stephen McCabe Children and Young People Spokesperson, COSLA
  • Carrie Lindsay   Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC) Lead, South East Collaborative
  • Sheena Devlin, RIC Lead, Tayside Collaborative

In attendance

  • David Leng, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Moyra Boland, University of Glasgow
  • Nicola Dickie, COSLA
  • Graeme Logan, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Clare Hicks, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Glen Deakin, Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)


  • Ian Rivers, Chair, Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Mhairi Shaw, RIC Lead, The West Partnership
  • Larry Flanagan, General Secretary, EIS
  • Ken Muir, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Andrew Griffiths, RIC Lead, The Northern Alliance
  • Karen Reid, Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross Council

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

1. The headteacher of Parkhill Secondary School, Anne Maclean, welcomed the council to the school, described the school ethos and ambition, and introduced two of her pupils. A pupil from S2 told the council about his role as Junior School Captain. A pupil from S5 then explained her role as a buddy and ambassador for Parkhill Secondary School, her work towards attaining the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and her upcoming exchange trip to Nuremburg.

2. The Deputy First Minister (DFM) thanked the headteacher and young people of Parkhill Secondary School for the warm welcome to their school and congratulated the pupils on their personal achievements. He then welcomed everyone to the tenth meeting of the Scottish Education Council (SEC).

Equity [paper 10(01)]

3.  Janie McManus opened discussion on this agenda item by providing an overview of the key themes and findings from the inspections of the Scottish Attainment Challenge authorities. Discussion included the following:

  • there is a desire to ensure that lessons are learned from the Challenge, to identify critical interventions to help close the attainment gap
  • the ‘non-Challenge’ authorities were not disadvantaged by not being part of the Challenge; rather, the Challenge authorities were given extra assistance. We need to be careful that by addressing one form of inequity, we don’t inadvertently create a different inequity
  • the inspections highlight a lot of good work being done in the Challenge authorities and we should all seek to learn from that experience
  • the extra money made available to Challenge authorities enabled extra resources to be procured, which in turn promoted extra enthusiasm to address attainment and find out what works
  • tackling poverty requires long-term strategies. And poverty exists within families, not just children, so engagement with families is as important as interventions targeted at pupils. But we need to be clear whether interventions seek to reduce poverty, or mitigate the impacts of poverty on learning
  • after 4 years of the Challenge, there should be a good evidence base from which to draw examples of what works and what doesn’t work; we should have ‘exit strategies’ to stop funding interventions that are unsuccessful
  • where money is used to procure staff, there are examples of amounts being held in reserve to cover salary costs in future years; there needs to be some discussion over future funding to prevent this, and to maximise investment
  • there are 3 different attainment-related funding streams – the Challenge Authorities, the Challenge Schools, and the Pupil Equity Fund. All are unified by a common purpose, but are there circumstances in which one approach works best?
  • local authorities are best placed to take a wider, holistic view and co-ordinate funding, although recognising that schools need autonomy to find what works best in their specific contexts

4. Gayle Gorman advised that a full report is being prepared that will include much more detail of actions being taken in response to the Scottish Attainment Challenge. This will help address some of the issues and questions above, and inform the development of guidance.

Action: SEC 10 (01) – Scottish Attainment Challenge team – To ensure that learning from the report is captured and to consider how to disseminate best practice. Consider what more can be done during the next phase of the Challenge to maximise progress in closing the gap.

Career pathways

5. Moyra Boland gave a presentation on the Career Pathways work and the recommendations that have been developed from this, before inviting comment and discussion from the council. Discussion included the following:

  • the role of Lead Teacher was welcomed as a good example of distributive leadership
  • there are some examples of Lead Teachers in the system already, some provided for by PEF funding
  • the job-sizing toolkit is in need of refreshing. This could incorporate the Lead Teacher profile
  • one challenge is that it has not been possible to support sabbaticals in recent years owing to workforce planning restrictions; unless this is addressed, the likelihood of implementing this recommendation of the Career Pathways work by 2021 is low
  • another challenge would be to ensure that the Lead Teacher role isn’t seen as just another stepping stone on the hierarchical path to headship. This is a horizontal approach to career development, not a vertical one
  • this should been seen as an enhancement to the current system, not a re-formulation of it
  • the Lead Teacher role would be good for career enhancement, and introduce some consistency of opportunity across areas
  • the role would be an opportunity for individuals to develop skills within a fixed-term leadership role in some cases

CfE and subject choice

6. DFM introduced the topic of the number of subjects being typically offered in the senior phase. Recent reports of a perceived narrowing of subject choice have led to a parliamentary inquiry and debate, resulting in a call for a review of aspects of the senior phase. DFM invited the council’s views on this issue. Discussion included the following:

  • there was a feeling of frustration that this debate is being politically motivated, driven by the media, and not informed by evidence
  • critics are not considering the senior phase in its entirety, ie: as a three-year phase
  • there’s a fixation on the perceived ‘golden age’ of Standard Grades. But this was an unsatisfactory stop/start approach to education. The current 3-year phase may not be perfect, but it is more of a continuum of learning and is a step in the right direction to meet the individual needs and aspirations of young people
  • there were always limits to what subjects and combinations could be offered to young people, as schools have always had limited accommodation and time in the day to schedule lessons. Some subjects specialists are also in short supply. The new system has not been the cause of this issue
  • university is not the only valuable destination. If a young person is on a different path, the range of options is now broader than ever. This increased flexibility is a good thing as it meets the needs of more young people
  • this is not coming up as an issue for parents. When there is good communication with parents – when changes are explained and discussed – parents are, on the whole, happy. There was lots of engagement in the first year of Nationals/Highers, but less so recently; greater engagement would now be welcomed
  • questions only focus on quantity (number of subjects) not quality (depth of learning/level of pupil understanding). Statistics can introduce perverse incentives

Strategic Board for Teacher Education update [paper 10(02)]

7. This paper was provided for information. No comments or discussion points were raised.

Curriculum and Assessment Board update [paper 10(03)]

8. This paper was provided for information. No comments or discussion points were raised.

Any other business

9. No other business

Date of next meeting

10. The next meeting of the Scottish Education Council will be held on 25 June 2019, at Abbeyhill Primary School, Edinburgh.

National Improvement Framework Unit
May 2019
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