Teacher Panel meeting minutes: January 2020

Minutes from the fifteenth meeting of the Teacher Panel, held on 8 January 2020.

Items and actions


Teacher Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given on behalf of those who were unable to attend. Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, was introduced to the panel.

Delivering an empowered system 

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM) introduced the first agenda item and accompanying paper. He stated his ambition to create an education profession that is confident and empowered, essential to the successful delivery of Curriculum for Excellence. 

A Scottish Government (SG) official provided background to the paper, and highlighted the work of the Schools Empowerment Steering Group and its partners. The Teacher Panel (TP) was reminded of the availability of development guidance, and was also informed that further draft guidance has been issued since the TP last convened. Panel members were asked whether the principles contained in the guidance or the empowerment agenda are now filtering through to their schools and practice. 

A number of points were made by panel members, including: 

  • there is now a genuine move towards empowerment, particularly from the point of view of headteachers. However, some systems are blocking progress and it may take a long time to ‘unpick’ them. There is no lack of willingness amongst local authorities, but they are currently facing a number of challenges
  • while there are opportunities for collaboration with colleagues, the diversity of opportunities can be limited by a lack of resources. Furthermore, the ability to be creative can be dependent upon the availability of local authority funding
  • the media often uses schools and teaching staff as a ‘media football’, with local authorities feeling under pressure when the media focuses on a particular issue e.g. PISA results. 
  • some local authorities are looking to teachers to solve the problems that exist within their own communities
  • a panel member gave an example of successful collaboration taking place through the ‘Clydesdale secondary schools collaborative programme’. The staff involved have been buoyed by the experience
  • in some instances the culture in primary schools is much more ‘open door’ than it is in secondary schools. A panel member explained that their cluster head wants the cluster members to be empowered enough to make their own decisions, but that the head is happy to take responsibility for any unintended consequences
  • it is important that empowerment is not merely seen as a ‘tick box exercise’ and just another thing for teachers to do, with extra work being given to teachers in the name of empowerment.
  • more opportunities exist now for staff to think about empowerment and to undertake the necessary training so that they can feel empowered

The DFM acknowledged that it can be difficult for teachers to keep track of projects e.g. for them to focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap and then on the empowerment agenda. It is because of this that he wishes to marshal a clearly focused agenda so that teachers are not thinking about too many different things at once.

The DFM went on to state that he was interested in any feedback from the TP members with regard to what they see as gaps in other areas. For example, whether any other interventions would be beneficial.

Panel members’ comments included:

  • Professional Review and Development (PRD) is an administrative test that is not empowering teachers. It is not fit for purpose and makes little difference to teachers’ work. The teaching profession could learn a lot from industry and how it conducts PRD
  • there is a lack of equity of opportunity across Scotland, and a real concern as to how staff in rural schools can engage with others. Teachers should be able to liaise with colleagues located outside their own geographical area
  • it is hoped that the Regional Improvement Collaboratives can enable teachers to see what’s happening nationally, with information being accessible to all
  • the last 18 months have seen a real increase in opportunities to collaborate. Staff can now go out and talk about what it means to do their job, what it means to be empowered and how to implement change. Training staff to have confidence in their abilities is vitally important

PISA 2018 Scotland Results and ACEL 2018-2019

DFM introduced the second and third agenda items and their accompanying papers. He gave some background to the data and stated that he sees the ACEL statistics as the more significant of the two as they illustrate outcomes. 

With regard to the PISA results, DFM believes that the significant improvement in reading may be as a result of work undertaken as part of the attainment challenge. The results in science could be due to weaknesses in the Broad General Education but this is being looked into.

An SG analyst provided more background to the PISA results, confirming that although only one test was conducted, the resulting data is invaluable. Over the next two years the SG’s Analytical Services division will go beyond the headline scores and dig deeper into the data. 

The SG analyst highlighted some interesting findings from the PISA results: the increase in reading scores was significantly higher for boys than for girls; background is now less of an influence on the results, indicating increased equity; and Scottish pupils are increasingly positive about their teachers.

An SG statistician provided the TP with more background to the ACEL data, explaining that the ‘experimental statistics’ label has now been removed, and outlined the key findings. It was noted that the attainment gap is narrowing within primary schools for literature, and within secondary schools for numeracy. The TP members were then asked for their views.

The panel’s comments included:

  • science appears to be an issue within primary schools, possibly due to a lack of teacher confidence in the subject
  • teachers are unsure how to link science to literacy, numeracy and the UN’s Global Goals. They need to be supported and their confidence built
  • a panel member gave an example of a STEM cluster operating across their cluster. It involves secondary pupils (those studying Higher Computing or Chemistry) visiting primary schools, enabling them to share their knowledge
  • Education Scotland could help schools and teachers by highlighting exemplars of good practice
  • there is a hope that the new generation of teachers coming through now will be more confident in science, given that they will have studied it themselves to S4 level

The SG’s Director of Learning suggested that the Curriculum and Assessment Board could be tasked with looking at the issues surrounding the PISA results for science.

The expansion of funded ELC and the impact on primary school provision

The final agenda item and paper were introduced by Maree Todd MSP, who recounted a nursery visit she had made that morning. She had seen science being taught via play-based learning, with the children experimenting and developing their motor skills. 

The minister provided background to the expansion of funded ELC, and she emphasised the notable difference that the 1,140 hours will make in terms of closing the attainment gap. 

The TP members were asked for their comments:

  • it is pleasing to see in a government paper that schools should become ‘child-ready’ rather than a child having to be ‘school-ready’
  • when transitioning to primary school, some children lose the skills that they gained in nursery as the teaching is much more formal e.g. pupils can lose their independence
  • the general public does not necessarily understand that the aim of the increase in funded hours is to close the poverty-related attainment gap. They think its main aim is to enable parents to get back into work
  • one panel member told the meeting of a probationary teacher in their school who has been using play-based learning. This approach has improved pupil engagement and enjoyment significantly

DFM reflected on the current level of uptake and the goal of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.


DFM thanked attendees and noted that the next meeting of the panel would be in March 2020. 

Meeting agenda: January 2020
Paper 1: delivering an empowered system
Paper 2: PISA 2018 Scotland results


Teacher Panel

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