Scottish Education Council minutes: November 2018

Minutes from the seventh meeting of the Scottish Education Council, held on 21 November 2018.

Attendees and apologies


  • John Swinney, MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Chief Inspector of Education
  • Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning, Scottish Government
  • 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
  • Sheena Devlin, RIC Lead, Tayside Collaborative
  • Mhairi Shaw, RIC Lead, The West Partnership
  • Robert Naylor, RIC Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
  • Andrew Griffiths, RIC Lead, The Northern Alliance
  • Ken Muir, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • Karen Reid, Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross Council
  • Jamie Fleming, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Kayla McKinnie, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Claire Doyle, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Mathilda Ellis, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Bleona Statovci, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • George Wyeth, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • David Fraser, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Cameron Henderson, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Rachel Stevenson, Musselburgh Grammar School 
  • Felicity Johnston, Musselburgh Grammar School 

In attendance

  • Andy Bruce, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Clare Hicks, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Kit Wyeth, Scottish Government Learning Directorate
  • Glen Deakin, Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Maria Harris, Scottish Government Learning Directorate (Secretariat)
  • Nicola Dickie, COSLA
  • Clair Halliday, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Colin Gerrie, Musselburgh Grammar School
  • Emma Ormerod, Musselburgh Grammar School
  • Zoe Walker, Musselburgh Grammar School
  • Caroline Brown, Musselburgh Grammar School


  • Councillor Stephen McCabe, Children and Young People Spokesperson, COSLA
  • Maureen McKenna, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
  • Ian Rivers, Chair, Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Douglas Hutchison, RIC Lead, South West Collaborative
  • Joanna Murphy, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

1. Colin Gerrie, the headteacher of Musselburgh Grammar School, welcomed the Deputy First Minister (DFM) and Council members to the school and thanked them for giving the pupils of the school the opportunity to be directly involved in shaping the agenda and contributing to discussions in the meeting.

2. The DFM formally welcomed everyone to the Scottish Education Council meeting. He thanked the staff and young people of Musselburgh Grammar School for the warm welcome to their school and the excellent musical and theatrical introduction provided by the pupils. 

3. In introducing the meeting, the DFM advised that the first three items for discussion would be led by the pupils of Musselburgh Grammar. The pupils had been involved since the early stages of organising this meeting and they had decided what topics they would like to discuss and what questions they wanted to ask the Council. It had been agreed to involve young people in the meeting in this way as part of the Year of the Young People. It provided an opportunity for their voice to be heard by the Council on matters that were important to them.

Health and wellbeing: consistent approach to health and wellbeing across Scotland

4. This discussion was introduced by a presentation from Jamie and Mathilda highlighting their concern around support available for pupils experiencing mental and emotional wellbeing issues. Concern was raised that many current services are reserved for those already dealing with issues rather than being aimed at preventative measures for all pupils. They spoke of the current waiting time to receive specialist support, with some young people waiting more than four months from referral to receiving specialist services. Some of the causes of mental health problems were highlighted, eg: social media; exams; puberty and societal pressures, as were the possible positive impacts on pupils if support was more readily available to all, eg; increased attendance, feeling of belonging, feeling of security and safety. The questions below were asked of the Council members:

  • what is being done to understand and prevent mental health issues for all young people?
  • what will be done to raise the minimum requirements for health and wellbeing in schools to meet the needs of pupils?
  • how will support systems cope with the unforeseeable problems that will arise in the future, as a result of continued changes in the field of technology?

5. In response to the presentation and questions raised, open discussion followed. Points made during the discussion included:

  • it was crucial to have the right people in schools with the right skills to support young people with mental health issues.  It was suggested that training in mental health is needed for all teachers and other school staff, including janitors and cleaners to promote wellness. They should also be supported by specialist staff within schools
  • there needs to be urgent, short term activity to develop a longer term strategy. It was crucial to recognise concerns quickly and take effective action to address them
  • There is a need to try to prevent mental health issues, to learn to identify warning signs, and to promote wellness rather than treat it when it happens.  There is a need for honesty - it is sometimes okay not to feel good
  • help for young people needs to be available as soon as concerns are raised. Targeted support needs to be readily available, not months down the line when problems have escalated
  • we need to hear more from young people and what they want and need from adults in the education system. This would help improve understanding of what can be done at a basic level.  Workstreams are being established to support this.  Specialist services should only be referred to for those who need it
  • mental health and wellbeing is very important not only for pupils, but also for teachers. The General Teaching Council Scotland is currently looking more closely at what can be done and how we prepare teachers to understand the issues both teachers and young people will face
  • it is clear that relationships are an important factor in supporting wellness. We need to encourage pupils to speak openly and feel confident enough that we are listening and able to support them. They need to know that we will act on their concerns. Schools need to be a more nurturing environment and the whole ethos of the school needs to reflect this
  • young people want to know how they can support their friends when they are suffering with anxiety and other mental health issues – what is available to help them with this?
  • parents are also concerned about how they can support their children. Social media presents problems for example, some young people say things on social media that they would not say face to face.  Wellbeing is built on good relationships but sometimes social media can make the world a lonelier place. If, however it is used in the correct way, a lot of good can be achieved
  • there is considerable pressure on your people to achieve well educationally. Not everyone will be academically excellent and the qualifications available need to reflect value across all areas. The expectations of parents and carers can create additional stress for young people

6. The DFM thanked Jamie and Mathilda for their input and the questions they had posed for the Council. He reassured the young people that the concerns they had raised had been heard and he would reflect further on them. In particular he highlighted the current review of Personal and Social Education and said that the conversation had by the Council will be taken into account as part of that review and will help shape the way forward.

Equity in schools

6. The discussion was introduced by a presentation from Kayla and David highlighting the ways in which the Pupil Equity Funding has been used at Musselburgh Grammar.  The Funding has contributed to the creation of five additional projects within the school which has helped with: improving parental communication; additional support for literacy and numeracy; early intervention when attendance levels are decreasing; working with external partners on employability programmes; and the creation of a nurture base within the school.  The young people spoke of the positive impact this additional funding had provided and gave examples of success stories.  The following questions were asked of the Council: 

  • how will you ensure the longevity of the Pupil Equity Fund?
  • could roles such as a Nurture Teacher, Attendance and Engagement Officer and Employability and Partnership Officer have funding separate to PEF?

7. In response to the presentation and questions raised, open discussion followed.  Points made during the discussion included:

  • it was welcome that PEF helps schools to consider what they need to do to get pupils into school, to support them and to improve outcomes for them. This ties in well with Curriculum for Excellence and GIRFEC as well as the move towards local empowerment and more decisions being made within each school
  • it was recognised that there would be a Scottish election in 2021 and that it was impossible therefore to confirm that PEF will continue beyond this date. It was hoped however that the positive impact of the funding will highlight the necessity to continue with it after the election, whatever the outcome
  • the use of PEF varied considerably across the country, because schools and local authorities allocate their core funding differently and some routinely support the kind of projects that PEF is supporting at Musselburgh Grammar
  • the kind of projects supported by PEF at Musselburgh Grammar highlighted the demand that teachers do more than just teach, eg by providing pastoral care. The role that teachers play needs to be determined by the individual school, based on local need, what works best and the needs for cohesion in all interventions
  • none of the PEF projects at Musselburgh Grammar would work as well by themself, the projects are closely linked and co-dependant
  • there was a need to evaluate what PEF has achieved, in particular which interventions have worked. What is working well in one school may be appropriate for a number of schools, depending on local needs and circumstances. Has the funding had the maximum impact, what more could be done to create economies of scale? This evaluation provided an opportunity for a collaborative approach within regional areas

SQA: the impact of changes on pupil outcomes

8. The final presentation from Rachel highlighted the changes to SQA qualifications over the last few years and the impact they have had on pupils.  Whilst the pupils recognised that changes were sometimes necessary to ensure all content was up to date and relevant, they felt that the amount of change over the recent years had a negative effect on both pupils and teachers.  They spoke of a lack of clear communication about the changes for and between teachers, parents and pupils – it had been difficult to see a clear line through the various changes.  Additional anxiety had been caused in schools as teachers sought to ensure that the most up to date resources were being used by both teachers and pupils.  The following question was put to the Council: 

  • how could the implementation of changes be improved to reduce the negative impacts on pupil experiences?

9. In response to the presentation and question raised, open discussion followed.  Points made during the discussion included:

  • it was recognised that there had been a significant amount of changes to the SQA examinations over the past few years and there was a need to ensure that this level of change did not happen again
  • it was important to recognise that the changes had been introduced to help create a better system, to give students a better choice and to reduce the amount of assessment required of students
  • in making the recent changes, it was recognised that ideally there would have been more time to implement the changes and to do it at a slower pace – to phase their introduction and to pilot the changes would have been desirable.  The changes were not made to make it difficult for learners, but to tackle issues of over assessment
  • SQA had committed to monitoring the new qualifications closely – the system needs to have confidence that the qualifications are delivering what needs to be delivered
  • SQA had also committed to not making further changes to the examinations in the immediate future in order to offer more stability and consistency. The new qualifications introduced in recent years need time to be fully assimilated into the system. Over the next decade as the curriculum evolves the qualifications should evolve too – but it would be a gradual evolution, not a large-scale overhaul
  • it was agreed by all that a stable period would now be helpful to ensure the establishment of the new qualifications

Progress update on the School Empowerment Steering Group

10. Gayle Gorman gave a brief update on the work of the School Empowerment Steering Group.  She said that the Steering Group had met on a number of occasions since its establishment and had recently been expanded to include parent representatives.  The Chief Social Work Adviser for Scotland was also a member of the Steering Group.  Discussion had ranged across the empowerment agenda and a draft Headteachers’ Charter had been prepared.  The Council will be updated on the work of this group as it progresses.

An update on SNSA P1 assessments

11. DFM advised that an independent review of the P1 standardised assessments had been commissioned and was currently at the planning stage.  The Government’s advice was that schools should continue with their existing plans for administering the P1 assessments while that review took place.  

Any other business

12. In closing the meeting DFM extended his gratitude to the pupils and staff of Musselburgh Grammar School.  Their presentations and input into the meeting had prompted invaluable discussions and let the Council members hear first-hand some of the experiences and concerns affecting young people in schools.  This would help Ministers and Council members understand and consider what steps need to be taken to tackle these concerns.

Date of next meeting

13. The next meeting of the Scottish Education Council will be held on 23 January  2019, at a venue to be confirmed.
National Improvement Framework Unit
December 2018


Scottish Education Council
c/o Learning Directorate
The Scottish Government
Victoria Quay

Tel: 0131 244 4000 or 0300 244 4000 (for local rate throughout UK and for mobile) 

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