Teacher Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given on behalf of those unable to attend.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM), began proceedings by reflecting on the agenda items: education recovery and the 2021 exams diet.
DFM introduced the first agenda item and spoke of the achievement of schools maintaining a high level of education and engagement despite the challenging environment. He confirmed that pupil attendance levels have been consistently high, sitting at between 88-91% at various stages since August.
DFM referred to adaptation of the curriculum to ensure a greater focus on learning and teaching for senior phase pupils. He also reiterated the importance of ensuring that there is appropriate and adequate opportunity for young people to be supported in the aftermath of lockdown, indicating that this would be an ongoing and significant priority.
With regard to the Christmas holidays, DFM advised the panel members of the difficult judgements that had to be made, and that these were based on public health advice from the advisory group. He confirmed that support would be made available to ensure that staff would be able to take a much-needed break during the Festive period.
A number of points were raised by panel members:
- Attendance levels were queried and the way in which these are captured via SEEMiS, the management information system used by all local authorities. One panel member cited an example from their school, where SEEMiS was recording attendance at 80% when the actual rate was lower.
- The decision not to break up early for Christmas and/or shift to remote learning has affected staff morale. A number of panel members stated that they and their colleagues would have preferred to end in-school attendance on Friday 18 December.
- Panel members referred to the workload challenges throughout the year in relation to safety measures; adjustments to the curriculum throughout the year; the consequences for staff who cannot spend Christmas with family; demands in relation to contact tracing over the Festive period and impending workload challenges from January onwards in relation to senior phase qualifications.
- Some panel members asked whether there was any possibility of the decision being changed, or for further adjustments to be made to allow for remote learning.
With regard to SEEMiS, DFM advised that officials would investigate the issue in more detail, providing DFM and the Teacher Panel with further clarification on codes and attendance data.
On the subject of Christmas holidays, it was noted that a range of factors and advice had led to the decision on term dates, including the potential consequences of a shorter term on more vulnerable learners. DFM thanked panel members for their frank and open views and confirmed that their comments would be shared with officials and reflected upon.
DFM asked for panel members’ reflections and suggestions regarding measures to further improve the current situation in terms of school safety.
- One panel member suggested that in instances of larger-scale Covid-19 outbreaks across schools, there should be an automatic shift to two weeks of blended learning. This would lead to a break in virus transmission whilst ensuring continued learning. However their local authority had advised that all schools must remain open regardless, so a move to blended learning did not appear to be an option.
- Another panel member commented that secondary schools do not face the same challenges as primary schools in relation to the requirements for parent-led childcare. They also stated that they would prefer to welcome one third of pupils into the secondary school building when schools re-open in January 2021. It was acknowledged that this would require investment in IT in order to provide every pupil with access to a device.
Exams diet 2021
DFM introduced the second agenda item, confirming that yesterday’s announcement regarding Highers and Advanced Highers was based on the degree of disruption that has already taken place, and the challenge to ensure fairness in the system following the disrupted access to learning for some pupils.
Although DFM appreciated that the information regarding the exams diet was still very fresh, he was happy to take the panel’s comments.
A number of points were raised by panel members:
- The panel felt that the decision to replace Higher and Advanced Higher exams with an assessment model was the right one.
- The additional dialogue with the SQA during the course of this year and the removal of the algorithm were both broadly welcomed.
- There was a request to explore the possibility of additional in-service days to assist with the additional moderation that would be needed on the back of this week’s announcement. Several panel members noted the announcement regarding additional payments, but commented that it was additional time and space that were now needed.
- Panel members requested consistency on when local authorities ask for provisional grades.
- ASN support staff tend to support learners at prelims at final exams. They will now need to provide the same level of support to ASN pupils throughout the year. A panel member suggested that this raised some key questions in terms of ASN senior phase practice. What does the approach look like under the new arrangements? How do we ensure equity for ASN children undertaking assessments?
- One panel member suggested that this year’s decision on exams is a positive opportunity to make changes in senior phase assessment for the long-term. For example, greater use could be made of the in-year assessment evidence beyond the prelim and end-year exam each and every year.
DFM drew the meeting to a close and acknowledged that although there is a lot of work to do on the alternative to exams, we are in a much better position than last year. DFM thanked the panel members for their open and candid conversation.
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