Teacher Panel meeting: minutes September 2019

Minutes from the fourteenth meeting of the Teacher Panel, held on 04 September 2019.

Items and actions


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

2.The DFM passed on an apology from the Teacher Panel Secretariat for not circulating the minutes from the previous meeting in June. Members were advised that they would be circulated for comment, by email, after the meeting.

SQA Results 2019

3.The first agenda item and accompanying paper were introduced. In summary the statistics from the 2019 results showed a high performing system with science Higher passes up, although attainment at Higher was down by 2% points. The Scottish Government view is that fluctuations are a natural part of any system. The panel was invited to note the increase in skills-based qualifications.

4.DFM provided some additional observations and he stressed the importance of acknowledging that the SQA results do not tell the whole story across the system. This is why he visited a college on results day in order to highlight school-college partnerships. 

5.DFM confirmed that he has commissioned further work by Education Scotland, local authority Directors of Education and the SQA, thus providing a deeper analysis of what the results tell us. He stated that Scottish Ministers want to be satisfied that all analysis is being considered. DFM confirmed that the SQA was attending the panel meeting to ensure it is well engaged in conversations and reflections.

6.The SQA official agreed with the paper’s analysis in terms of overall numbers and confirmed that its first round of ‘subject-by-subject’ analysis will be published in the coming weeks. Panel members were advised that the SQA is interested in how it can improve the support available to the system, and will soon be writing to head teachers on this point.

7.A number of comments were made by panel members including:

  • They are encouraged by DFM’s comment that the system is about more than exam results and are keen to see a development of this concept into something akin to a ‘portfolio of achievements for young people’
  • Members are keen to develop the concept that the senior phase transitions into the next phase of a young person’s life and that they take this ‘virtual portfolio’ with them
  • There is a need for greater clarity about what the SQA certificate looks like when the pupil receives it. Often it just states the units that they have received rather than the overall achievement. In particular, there should be scope for the Foundation Apprenticeship certificate to be added to the main SQA certificate.
  • Many elected members at local level continue to be focused on the number of Higher passes. This continues to drive reporting at local level, and the behaviour and approach of schools
  • There is a concern about the ‘middle 60%’ of pupils. Such pupils were referred to as ‘always on the cusp’ of things
  • There are more bi-level and tri-level classes and fewer study classes, which has a detrimental effect on pupils who are ‘on the cusp’
  • Some of the skills-based courses that introduced a written element now disadvantage certain children
  • We can and should do better than accepting a ‘20/60/20’ split in our children

8.The DFM reflected that the government has taken a conscious decision to shift resources in order to address the attainment gap, but we are doing this at a time when public finances overall are challenged. This puts limits on the resources that head teachers can draw on to give extra support to the ‘middle 60%’. It is important, therefore, to continue to address the general education system and the overall quality of learning and teaching. 

9.Another key question is ‘What does Results Day tell us?’ and ‘What place does it have in the system?’ DFM concluded that we need to shift to a wider understanding about what young people are achieving both overall and at the end of the senior phase. The SQA official commented that Results Day is about the SQA results and it is purely a report on the numbers. The broader point is about how we can evidence the broader achievement of pupils. Subject-by-subject there are some more significant changes, but the Results Day figures are focused on Highers and Nationals.

10.Education Scotland acknowledges that there is work to do with employers to improve awareness and understanding of the new system. As the senior phase continues to re-shape in line with policy aims, it is likely that the reduction in Higher entries that we have seen thus far will continue. The reason for this will be that the system will be delivering a much more varied range of pathways. It will be important to communicate this message throughout the system. 

11.    A number of points were raised by panel members:

  • Looking at a 2% drop in isolation, without looking at what happened in the Broad General Education, is a mistake
  • The press – local and national – and many Parent Councils continue to focus on the numbers of Highers and Nationals rather than the full range of qualifications available. However, our schools are helping to communicate the message that it is the ‘end point’ that is important. Higher candidates who may have previously taken five Highers are now taking three or four and also undertaking apprenticeships or other routes. 
  • Many schools are looking at Senior Phase as a continuum but there is more to do in order to shift away from the year-by-year basis. If we start to think of the system in that way there will be a more positive perception.

12.    DFM reiterated that it is important that he receives more detailed analysis from SQA, Education Scotland and Directors of Education, reflecting fully on what the previous years of results are saying about the system. In addition it is important that all key parties develop much more sustained action on the communication front, shifting the focus of what the curriculum and education system is achieving. DFM stated that he and the Scottish Government have a task to help shift that focus and as part of this work it is important that we tackle the league table culture that pervades in some parts of the media. 

Scottish Attainment Challenge – Maximising Impact to 2021

13.    The second agenda item and accompanying paper were introduced. The five key areas were summarised as:

  • looking at what the data is telling us and deciding where additional support is needed
  • supporting the use of data at school level
  • sharing what is making a difference in a more effective way
  • working to embed successful approaches into the curriculum 
  • sharpening our focus on the consequences of the Attainment Challenge

14.    The Scottish Government’s Senior Academic Adviser added that he regularly speaks to Directors of Education, Attainment Advisers and those in schools. One of the key points raised in those discussions is that people feel they need to be invited to make changes. It was suggested that Education Scotland should be more systematic about providing guidance on effective approaches, and that the system needs to find new, more creative ways of identifying successful methods of improving schools. 

15.    The panel was advised that Education Scotland will soon start to see evidence from its recent head teacher survey. In addition the Regional Improvement Collaboratives have now submitted their revised plans to Education Scotland. Those plans are re-focusing on the National Improvement Framework priorities of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

16.    Panel members offered a number of comments on the key benefits arising from the Attainment Challenge approach, including:

  • Every school now has a focus on narrowing the attainment gap, a focus which they didn’t have 10 years ago
  • The funding from the Challenge has made a crucial difference because it allows schools to do what they couldn’t previously.
  • ‘Making space’ is critical for schools and school leaders to tackle the key challenges. The experience of the Attainment Challenge has helped to harness and make better use of cluster working, to have the time, space and expertise to take part in collaborative improvement.
  • The Attainment Challenge provides accountability and greater opportunity for continuous learning
  • Not only has the Challenge improved the data and awareness of how to utilise that data, but it has provided the ‘challenge and support’ aspect to the head teacher
  • The National Improvement Framework is a very important aspect which holds things together – the four priorities within it are very clear and they are driving what schools do

Panel members also provided suggestions for the future direction of the Attainment Challenge and its relationship with the wider system: 

  • One of the key challenges which needs addressing is what happens when pupils leave school. An example was shared of a pupil with a two-week gap between his funding through school and funding through college. In this instance the school was able to assist, but had it not the pupil could have fallen through the gap. It was commented that the 12-18 months after leaving school is a key risk period for a lot of pupils. 
  • There is a need to identify learning that could be shared and applied universally
  • Teacher training and Initial Teacher Education need to be looked at. A lot of schools are facing a challenge due to having a larger proportion of newly qualified teachers. 
  • Head teachers need to take charge of empowerment – to free up the space for collaboration and to find creative ways to do that
  • It is equally important to empower staff. There is a need to develop their confidence in trying and testing new approaches, evaluating effectiveness and then deciding if they wish to progress. This is a cultural and leadership point as much as anything else.
  • A truly empowered school is one where the young people are also empowered e.g. through learner participation. There are some excellent examples, particularly in primary schools, and these should be celebrated.
  • We need to ensure that the Attainment Challenge doesn’t become too narrow a focus on schools ‘fixing’ everything, but instead retains a multi-agency and collaborative approach

17.    The panel was advised that Education Scotland has deployed 32 full-time Attainment Advisers within local authorities, and they are now linked into a new regional structure. Education Scotland will seek to embed this approach as part of a universal offer via the Regional Improvement Collaboratives. ‘Quality first teaching’ remains a crucial element alongside the targeted intervention activity.

18.    The DFM concluded that it is important that we retain the focus that has been generated through the Attainment Challenge, and that we do not ‘chop and change’ our approach. It will be important to stay on course, focus on collaboration, continue to provide the additional investment, improve CLPL and free up the space and time for teachers to collaborate. 

Assessment of the Broad General Education

19.    The DFM offered his apologies for having to leave the meeting for another engagement, and passed chairmanship to a Scottish Government official who introduced the final agenda item. The accompanying paper referenced the learner journey and that journey being different for young people. Panel members were invited to reflect on the key questions of what is working well, where the gaps are in our knowledge and which key factors we need to focus on in order to improve how the BGE works.
20.    Panel members provided a number of comments:

Transition between primary and secondary 

  • The transition between P7 and S1 (less so between nursery and P1) remains a challenge in terms of consistency in professional practice. An example was given of a primary school with too great a discrepancy in its assessment of the second and third levels of CfE
  • Some secondary teachers continue to comment that pupils in S1 are not at the level that they would expect, indicating a disparity in the assessment of levels between primary and secondary. It was commented that ‘sometimes primary and secondary are speaking a different language’.
  • Most primary schools have realised that ‘taking a child from nursery and dropping them into P1 without a smooth transition isn’t helpful’ but we haven’t achieved this change in practice in relation to the transition from P7 to S1
  • We need to ‘re-imagine’ the transition to ensure that the pastoral transition is accompanied by an integrated curriculum transition

BGE in secondary schools

  • It was acknowledged that BGE has been the ‘poor relation’ in secondary schools during the implementation of the new qualifications. However this is beginning to change as secondary schools become more confident and familiar with the senior phase qualifications. 

Moderation, collaborative practice, tracking and reporting

  • There is some disparity between ‘moderation’ and ‘verification’. Schools are very good at verification in secondary but not so good at moderation
  • Expertise and confidence in collaborative practice is vital if secondary and primary schools are to collaborate effectively for an integrated BGE. One panel member gave an example where a primary and secondary are using an integrated tracking system linked to SEEMIS
  • The very positive QAMSO support (Quality Assurance and Moderation Support Officer) is often in place for literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, but not for the other five areas of the curriculum. This means that the other areas are missing the good practice and the more rigorous approach to moderation.
  • There needs to be a better understanding of progression and what progression looks like amongst staff 
  • There continues to be some confusion about what constitutes effective reporting to parents and what we mean by ‘progress’. There is still some unhelpful disparity in practice in assessment and reporting. 

21.    Panel members were asked for their views on a perceived concern that the benchmarks are being used in a narrow way as the curriculum, when they are in fact an aspect of the curriculum and should be utilised for a particular purpose. The panel commented as follows:

  • In some areas of the curriculum the benchmarks are working very well and have provided the positive results that were intended. However, in some other areas (e.g. science), the benchmarks are topic-based tick boxes rather than progression pathways
  • S3 is the year that is not yet working in many schools, with some children being held back and unable to make choices
  • One panel member asked for a review of the narrative in BGE, specifically a review of S3
  • It was commented that by the middle of S2, many pupils are ready to push on and make choices for senior phase. However, it was felt that the CfE entitlement of a BGE up to the end of S3 can sometimes create a road block. There is a perception that the school will be ‘marked down’ by inspectors for failing to provide a BGE up until the end of S3. It was commented that this is not empowering young people to specialise if that is what some young people want and need.
  • In contrast, another panel member commented that some schools are setting aside the perceived ‘requirement’ for S3 to cover all of the entitlements and are instead treating it more as a ‘transition’ year into senior phase
  • A final comment on S3 was that it should not be ‘the beginning or the end of anything’. Instead, it should be a continuation of the learner’s journey, tailored to the individual learner’s needs. Schools should be creative and confident in developing an S3 experience which works for their pupils.


22.    The Chair thanked the Teacher Panel members for their contributions.

Meeting Agenda: September 2019
Paper 1: SQA Results 2019
Paper 3: Assessment of the BGE within CfE


Teacher Panel

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