Teacher Panel meeting: minutes March 2019

Minutes from the twelfth meeting of the Teacher Panel, held on 27 March 2019.

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


Teacher Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given on behalf of those unable to attend. 

For the benefit of those new members in attendance the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM) provided a brief background on the creation of the Teacher Panel and explained its role in helping to formulate his thinking on relevant issues.

An empowered school system / Independent Panel on Career Pathways for Teachers

DFM stated that he was keen to hear panel members’ thoughts on the first two agenda items, and alluded to the teacher pay claim issue which he believed would soon be resolved. DFM listed three major elements of the proposed pay deal which he would welcome, if the profession accepted the deal: strike action would be avoided; the profession would feel more valued, and the inclusion of more in-service days would help to address the workload issue. 

DFM suggested that the pay deal is about working jointly to achieve a climate of empowerment, but the system has to change to allow that in a meaningful fashion. 

With regard to the first paper, 'An empowered school system', DFM told the Teacher Panel that good progress is being made on the empowerment agenda, referring to the results of a recent Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland survey which indicates that a majority of its members feel that they are now operating in a more empowered context.

DFM acknowledged that what is critical is how teachers spend their time – it shouldn’t be wasted on fruitless tasks and they need time to focus on professional development.

A number of points were raised by panel members:

  • the system has experienced a sea-change in recent years. Barriers are still there but teachers are now being listened to more, with more channels opening up for more effective school engagement
  • there is now more co-operation from a wider field e.g. parental involvement is increasing
  • there is too much focus on constant improvement and there should instead be a culture of trust
  • the considerable pressure felt by headteachers (with regard to inspections etc.) is passed onto teachers
  • teachers must be trusted if they want to try doing things in different ways. If their methods don’t work they can then learn from this and reflect on what did and didn’t work – this will allow teachers to feel empowered
  • headteachers need to challenge staff to stop them creating unnecessary work for themselves. Teachers should use their professional enquiry and trust their professional judgement

DFM touched upon the issue of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) and the range of innovative practices that have been undertaken because of it. Findings of the HMIE suggest that funding decisions are based on data, fuelling an atmosphere of professional confidence.

The Teacher Panel provided comments as follows:

  • there needs to be more ‘noise’ in the system about teacher agency, and more said directly to those teachers on the ground. This should be at every level in order to bring about a change in culture
  • PEF has opened up an informal career structure in schools which has led to the creation of ‘stepping stones’
  • some PEF funding is sitting with local authorities and not being distributed. This is due to a perception that schools/teachers must prove success before allocation
  • practitioners should be inspired to try new approaches, enabling them to learn from what (if anything) went wrong and why
  • success is rarely celebrated, the only thing that is highlighted is when something goes wrong. This should be challenged to ensure it’s not just about the ‘deficit model’
  • we want a capable, confident profession with teachers who are motivated to work together. There are three key elements to promoting teacher agency: social elements; resources, and teachers’ belief in themselves

The second paper, Independent Panel on Career Pathways for Teachers, was introduced.

The independent panel was established in June 2018 and aims to engage broadly with the teaching profession to develop a range of models of career pathways to enable the development of different and exciting careers in teaching. The main issues identified by the independent panel are:

  • how teachers are valued outside school e.g. social services, parents etc. must put their trust in teachers
  • working with new teachers in order to make them feel trusted by others
  • the need for good self-evaluation in schools

The independent panel has been tasked to:

  • make sure that its proposals don’t hinder school empowerment, but support pathways
  • look at how teachers who are expert in a particular area can be valued throughout the system
  • consider how headteachers can be engaged beyond headship

Although the independent panel’s report will be submitted to the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers on 20 May 2019, it is crucial that the momentum is not subsequently lost and that the agenda keeps progressing.

Since its inception the independent panel has undertaken a systematic process of engagement, including the creation of an online survey for teachers and stakeholder organisations. Furthermore an online literature review has been undertaken, which found no direct correlation between pathways and improvement in the system.

By attending seven events throughout Scotland, independent panel members have learned stark lessons on how geography affects pathways. The main headlines found were:

  • the step up between class teacher and principal teacher is considerable
  • the profession’s status profoundly affects an individual’s self-esteem
  • the need for parity of opportunity
  • the need for flexibility, and the ability to progress outside traditional leadership roles

A number of points were made by those in attendance including:

  • one feature of world education systems where teacher agency is high is the prevalence of discussion amongst teachers i.e. there is a willingness to share experiences etc. We need to spread this across our system in order to create the right culture.
  • accountability measures can undermine the trusting of teacher judgement
  • at present the teaching profession isn’t viewed favourably by the media
  • generic skills should be available to all teachers to enable progression

DFM agreed that there are multiple demands within the system, and because of this he is interested in how the different cultural elements can be weaved together in order to avoid the undermining of professional judgement.

The subject of league tables and exam results was discussed, with DFM arguing that their presentation can give false impressions of young people. He also stated that there’s a perception in society that five Highers is the ideal for pupils to aim for, and that apprenticeships are seen as being for other people’s children.

The Teacher Panel reflected on the matter as follows:

  • why are examinations deemed the only measure of success? Achievement can be recognised in many other ways
  • there is a need to recognise Level 3 qualifications – these aren’t classed as achievements by the wider community
  • working in a high tariff system was not the intention of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)
  • does CfE provide pupils with ‘deep learning’? If we asked pupils this question today their responses probably wouldn’t be encouraging
  • providing successful curriculum pathways for a broad range of pupils with varying requirements is difficult, especially for those schools in rural locations
  • schools are diverse places, so how can we provide sufficient scope and flexibility to reflect this


DFM thanked attendees for their input and confirmed that, following the refresh of the Teacher Panel membership, the next meeting should see a full complement of members in attendance.


Curriculum Unit
Scottish Government

Meeting agenda: March 2019
Paper 1: Empowered school system (update)
Paper 2: Independent panel on career pathways for teachers
Paper 3: Teacher Panel membership (update)


Teacher Panel


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