Attendees and apologies
Chaired by Deputy First Minister/Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney.
The Chatham House Rule applies to this group, so attendees will not be listed.
Items and actions
Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given from those unable to attend.
Empowering teachers / Reflections from the front line of teaching
In relation to the first paper, 'Reflections from the Front Line of Teaching', the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM) suggested a ‘take stock’ conversation which would enable him to hear the reflections of Panel members. DFM noted the current negotiations in relation to teacher pay. DFM stated that workload continues to be raised as an issue and was interested to hear the Panel’s opinions on what steps can be taken to tackle it. With regard to inclusion, DFM noted that teachers are dealing with the twin factors of an increase in the number of children with additional support needs (ASN), and a desire to avoid interruptions to the education of those without additional needs.
In relation to the paper 'Empowering teachers', discussion focused on the inter-relationship between the empowerment agenda, additional support needs and issues in relation to pupil and teacher wellbeing.
The following provides a summary of points raised by the Panel under both papers.
Wellbeing / additional support needs (ASN)
The Panel provided a range of comments in relation to wellbeing and Additional Support Needs:
- it is important to consider and address staff members’ own mental health and wellbeing
- it was commented that although teachers welcome the idea of more educational psychologists being brought into schools, it is felt that the benefits will be limited given that some only have an advisory role
- one Panel member raised a very specific practical issue in their own local authority where educational psychologists are not allowed to divulge pupils’ names to staff members as this would breach General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
- there is tension in the system due to a lack of funding, with an example cited in one area whereby more pupils are joining local schools but with no extra funding being made available.
- marking and lesson preparation can suffer due to teachers covering for absent colleagues
- panel members confirmed that all of their schools currently have teacher vacancies and provided detail regarding their specific experiences and challenges
- as the funding available to schools has come under pressure, the curriculum has to be as efficient as possible. This can result in reduction in pupils’ subject choices (one member referred to the introduction of an ‘asymmetric timetable’)
- pupils with additional needs are being supported in classes, but in some instances there is a lack of access to personal assistants available to support them. This can affect stress levels amongst staff
- although Panel members stated that they strongly support inclusion there is a need to look at how provision is arranged
- one Panel member referred to the report into Restraint and Seclusion in Scotland’s Schools, and provided a specific example from their school
- the Panel discussed one member’s comment that poor mental health and wellbeing are due to a lack of understanding amongst staff of their legal duties on equality, diversity and children’s rights, and that this leads to young people reporting that they don’t feel safe. Another Panel member remarked that a child’s future success depends on the school they go to. Some schools are doing great work so it is vital that there are methods available for sharing this best practice
DFM commented that the key is to identify mental health issues as soon as possible and act to prevent issues escalating, rather than referring all instances to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). DFM then asked Panel members whether they believe Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) is making a difference and lessening the negative consequences of austerity.
Panel members’ comments on this point were as follows:
- PEF is targeting the most vulnerable and deprived areas, a fact that has been commented on by school inspectors. However, a challenge remains in relation to 'upper and middle learners'
- the Panel discussed the preference for young people to stay within their local communities whenever possible, as leaving them could lead to the loss of friendship groups, families etc. It was confirmed that community funding work is on-going and it is hoped that this will enable a more community-based approach. The DFM is encouraged that some schools are using PEF to pursue nurture-based approaches, and that experiences are being shared
The Panel then discussed a range of additional points as follows:
DFM commented that the ‘traditional’ course choices are not always suitable for some pupils. He shared the example of a recent visit to a Castlebrae Community High School project and noted that it was an excellent way of engaging those pupils who aren’t interested in timetables, exams etc. Panel members noted that this flexibility is important.
Collaboration and improvement
The DFM referred to the Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) which have a vital role in sharing experiences such as those alluded to earlier in the meeting. The Panel was advised that the RICs are lining up a range of networks and events, many of which will focus on health and wellbeing. DFM stated that the RICs need to be a resource that adds value.
The Panel reflected on the RICs as follows:
- one Panel member suggested that although their local RIC is currently having limited success it has now employed a Quality Improvement Manager, an appointment that will undoubtedly make a difference
- the Panel discussed how to make teachers aware of the opportunities that would soon be available to them, and how they could find the time to attend the events, given current staffing pressures
- panel members offered suggestions as to how head teachers can work with RICs in order to ensure that they focus on key priorities
The Panel discussed school inspections, including the belief that there is a lack of clarity about what is required of schools by inspectors. DFM referred to Education Scotland’s newly-released 'Readiness for empowerment thematic inspection report', adding that although there would appear to be a consistent vision the challenge is who is hearing it and who is affected by it.
Diversity in the profession
Panel members discussed the report 'Teaching in a diverse Scotland: increasing and retaining minority ethnic teachers In Scotland’s schools', published in November 2018. Some Panel members commented that a number of teachers are victimised because of their race, while others are wrongly accused of abuse, and that the problem is endemic because those responsible feel they can say what they like without fear of reprisal. It was noted that in order to address this issue clear articulation and leadership is required
There was a brief discussion around the challenges of Brexit and what it may mean for the teaching profession, and the potential that Brexit will hinder recruitment. Panel members commented on recruitment generally, pointing out examples of probationers who are now opting to spend the first two years of their career overseas
Promotion and progression
One Panel member advised of some of the limitations in the current promotion structure. The Panel then discussed the need for a system that encourages the best teachers to stay within the classroom. It was confirmed that this issue is being considered by the Career Pathways Panel.
Ensuring opportunities in the senior phase and beyond
DFM introduced the paper 'Ensuring opportunities in the senior phase and beyond'. DFM emphasised that he is keen to encourage links between schools, colleges and employers, and that there should be sufficient flexibility within the system to create pathways that meet the needs of young people. However, he pointed out that there is some rigidity within the senior phase due to the requirements of universities. This rigidity can deter those pupils who are unsure about which path to take.
The following comments were made:
- one Panel member alluded to the September meeting between the Teacher Panel, SQA and Education Scotland and re-stated the need for the SQA to consider concordance and parity between different qualifications
- teachers feel that they can guide pathways through Broad General Education (BGE), but there are continuing challenges in the senior phase. Assessment becomes an issue for those who struggle to articulate themselves through written examinations
- it was felt that although teachers are empowered to develop the curriculum in BGE, SQA requirements continue to influence the experience in the senior phase. Some exams are now longer than they were previously, while some subjects now have exams where exams didn’t exist before e.g. hospitality, metalwork and woodwork
- the most important transition for young people is when they leave formal education and move onto the next stage. Schools need to work with pupils and a structure should be in place to enable them to do that
- the message to parents and communities needs to be clearer. Parents need to be made more aware of the various pathways available to those leaving school e.g. young people can attend college for one year before going on to university, then, should they drop out from university they will still obtain a college qualification
- the routes into college for those achieving N4 and N5 should be publicised. Although Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) are a good approach they can be more complicated and complex in that some are for 1 year, others for 2 years. Some young people may be discouraged by the latter
- it was suggested that good interactive learning is required in order to improve access for those living in rural areas
DFM thanked attendees for their input, and confirmed that refreshing and restoring the Panel membership to its full complement is a priority for the coming months.
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