Teacher Panel meeting minutes: March 2021

Minutes from the twenty-first meeting of the Teacher Panel, held on 10 March 2021.

Items and actions


  • welcome and agreement of minutes from the last meeting
  • re-opening of schools – paper 21/01
  • remote and online learning (panel members’ experiences) – paper 21/02
  • Senior Phase Return and the National Qualifications in 2021 – paper 21/03
  • AOB and close


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), reflected on this meeting of the Teacher Panel being the last of the current parliamentary session, and he thanked all those who had participated since the panel’s inception in 2016.

Re-opening of schools/remote and online learning/senior phase return and the National Qualifications in 2021

DFM listed the three agenda items and stated that he wanted to have one conversation that would encompass all three topics. 

DFM considered the position that we found ourselves in at the time of December’s Teacher Panel meeting, the decision to keep schools closed after the Christmas break and the hope that all pupils will return to full-time schooling after the Easter holidays. DFM stated that he has listened to a lot of commentary about ‘learning losses’ and the need for pupils to ‘catch up’, and he asked for the panel members’ feedback.

A number of points were raised by panel members:

  • the standard of remote/online learning on offer has been exceptional and well received this time round, with pupils and staff providing positive feedback. The 14-day window to bring BGE pupils back into schools may cause anxiety for some – with pupils coming back in small numbers they may not be returning in their friendship groups. It would perhaps be better to continue to support vulnerable BGE pupils through online learning, allowing the senior phase to return instead. There is also some apprehension around voluntary Covid testing for pupils
  • the digital infrastructure in local authorities has been generally good, although some schools experienced connectivity issues due to their remote location and catchment area size. Children and young people with additional support needs, and those of key workers, have been far more settled this time, and the gradual increase in pupils coming back has been a positive. Some schools are trying to think how they can maintain blended learning and the new ways of working in future – these have proved helpful in terms of professional learning and communicating with families
  • one panel member advised that their school has a number of part-time support staff who will be able to work full-time over the coming weeks. This will enable them to, for example, take some pupils outside to work, allowing teachers the time to conduct one-to-one discussions with pupils
  • there are slight concerns around numeracy and maths but we will get there. The greatest concern of some teachers is the wellbeing of pupils whose stamina is low. Schools in one local authority area are working together to identify whole-school approaches to this issue, utilising outdoor learning and physical education. It is more difficult for teachers to have conversations with parents about health and wellbeing than it is to have conversations with them about numeracy and maths. Some teachers want to focus on pupil health and wellbeing, but are concerned that the Scottish Government will instead ask them to focus and provide data on numeracy and maths instead
  • many pupils have forgotten how to positively interact with each other so their return to school will enable them to be ‘trained back up again’. After lockdown many colleagues were anxious, so the phased return is a positive and should help to allay any fears they may have. With regard to National Qualifications there are some concerns that teachers are defaulting to what they did last year and contemplating submitting assessments by the end of May 2021. We are therefore reminding them that this year we have more time to focus on learning and that assessments should only come when the pupils are ready. The local authority is proactively working with the SQA to make this clear. Our school currently has about 75% engagement with the senior phase and some pupils are further forward than they would have been had they still been in school – but the remaining 25% cannot be forgotten. That is why we are using Scottish Government funding to offer an Easter school
  • the mental and physical health of pupils is a concern. That is why, when they return, we will look to chat to pupils, take them for walks, re-engage with them and re-establish relationships. We are pleased to have these two weeks to allow for pupils to re-engage with learning. There is a hope that we have learned from the experiences of the last 12 months e.g. how to engage with pupils and communicate with parents. Teachers need to be imaginative in how they do things. Feedback from colleagues regarding e-Sgoil has been excellent, so we should not drop what it has provided, if anything it should be strengthened. 

DFM acknowledged the important points that had so far been made by the panel members regarding the delivery of education and asked whether the new models provide better solutions than traditional ones. He accepted the differential challenge and the importance of ensuring all pupils get to where they need to be. DFM touched upon the desire to continue the blended learning model and also acknowledged the panel members’ concerns about pupil physical health and wellbeing and their reduced physical activity during lockdown.

Teacher Panel members provided some further observations:

  • it would be helpful for Head Teachers to know what funding has been distributed to local authorities, aiding transparency and allowing conversations to be had. There are concerns for those pupils now in P2 who missed a lot of learning when in P1. This group is being watched very closely. Numeracy is a concern with P1-P3 pupils as their remote learning offer involved less live interaction. This was also tricky for parents as maths is taught very differently now compared to when they were at school 
  • giving the most engaging teachers more opportunities to broadcast and share their lessons should be considered in the future. We also need to think about the skills pupils have developed whilst the schools have been closed e.g. independent learning (time keeping, collaboration etc.). The challenge may be co-operative learning strategies given that pupils are now so used to working on their own or with the help of their parents
  • we should capitalise on the gains that have been made. There have been challenges but we have also made massive strides forward in terms of digital learning and pedagogical changes and collaboration. It would be sad if we were to return to the ‘old normal’ and not continue with the ‘new normal’. Groups could be put together to identify the gains and how to share them. There are concerns that empowerment has slipped a little. Local authorities have taken back a lot of the decisions normally made by schools. We therefore need to re-visit Head Teacher empowerment
  • one panel member commented on the speed with which schools had been able to implement the remote learning offer this time round. Scottish Government issued a directive on remote learning to local authorities who then distilled and contextualised it before sending it onto schools – this was achieved in under three days. We should aim to apply this momentum to other objectives that the profession has been trying to achieve for years

DFM hopes that there will be a climate, post-election, where there can be a discussion that is more focused and engaged and enables us to look at questions such as the role of digital learning in Scottish education and how we get into a pedagogy of active learning. DFM anticipates that the OECD report will enable us to look at questions such as these. He also expressed a desire to re-empower the profession, believing that the pandemic had been an excuse to draw decision-making back to local authorities.


DFM thanked attendees for their contributions and confirmed how valuable the panel is in helping to shape his decisions. 

Curriculum Unit
Scottish Government

Agenda: March 2021


Teacher Panel

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