Teacher Panel meeting minutes and papers: September 2021

Minutes and papers from the Teacher Panel meeting on 22 September 2021.

Items and actions



Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, welcomed Teacher Panel members to the meeting and apologies were given on behalf of those unable to attend.

Before asking the members to introduce themselves, Ms Somerville described the great responsibility of taking on the role of Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Cab Sec), particularly after the long-running COVID-19 pandemic, and alluded to the fact that much of the agenda focused on that issue.

The return to school

The Cabinet Secretary introduced the first agenda item. She stated that schools had now been back for a number of weeks and COVID-19 cases were still high despite dropping. The Cabinet Secratary outlined the sheer amount of work being undertaken to make sure schools are safe but asked the panel to share their experiences of compliance with mitigations, the measures in place and the mood within their schools.

A number of points were raised by panel members:

  • the return to school has been productive, with current mitigations working well. However there are challenges around the number of pupils testing positive – 60 pupils and four teachers in one school today – which brings difficulties in providing cover etc. Hopefully many pupils will be vaccinated before the October break
  • there are definite positives in terms of compliance, but there is currently a high level of staff absence which is affecting cover. There is some frustration around some elements of the guidance e.g. where family members are infected but pupils are allowed to remain in school after a negative test
  • the start of term has been positive, despite the significant number of absences amongst staff and pupils. Infection appears to be random and not necessarily spread through the school. The roll-out of CO2 monitors by the local authority has provided reassurance to staff. Trying to cover classes and keep pupils learning is a challenge. Staff absence is also being affected by some teachers being off to attend surgery as the local health board tries to catch up with its backlog
  • a lack of mixing with others has made staff and pupils more susceptible to bugs, leading to significant absences. Staff absences are having a knock-on effect for those pupils with Additional Support Needs (ASN). One positive though is the empowerment agenda which is coming back and coming back stronger. Head Teachers feel they did a good job throughout COVID-19 and what they did worked and helped them and their schools to cope with the situation. It is important that we capture the good work that has come out of the last 18 months
  • while it is good to see that this year’s Scottish Learning Festival (SLF) is accessible online, work pressures mean that many staff members are unable to ‘attend’ the courses they have signed up to
  • the Cabinet Secratary remarked that although the creativity shown during the pandemic was remarkable, she did not wish to detract from how hard things have been for everyone

Education recovery

Cab Sec introduced the second paper stating that, in many ways, Education Recovery is not new given that we have been thinking about it throughout the whole period of COVID-19. There has clearly been a detrimental effect on pupils’ health and wellbeing and there are consequences that we should not shy away from.

The Cab Sec went on to confirm that the Scottish Government has been looking at what can be done, with a paper to be published soon.

Sam Anson, Deputy Director, Improvement, Attainment & Wellbeing, stressed the importance of language, citing the Chief Inspector of Education for Scotland’s speech at the SLF. This referred to a ‘golden generation’ rather than a ‘lost generation’. He stated that two key issues have always been at the heart of the government’s approach: protecting those children and young people most in need of support; and focusing on the health and wellbeing of pupils.

the panel members raised a number of points, including:

  • schools in more affluent areas can fall through the funding gaps and miss out on Pupil Equity Funding (PEF). Although the local authority has done a good job on working out how to spend recovery money some schools are not seeing support from that funding
  • we are seeing heartening results in terms of reading levels across the school, which is a sign of the hard work done by teachers when they were teaching remotely. However there are concerns regarding speaking and listening. The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) system cannot currently cope with the most vulnerable and ASN pupils and we need to be better at signposting. Support packages are expensive so our school cannot afford them. Ideally we need to direct mental health support rather than sending pupils straight to CAMHS
  • our school is seeing subtle gaps in the S1 cohort and a surprising lack of engagement in general – this must be due to the last 18 months. Those pupils from the lowest
    Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) appear to be the worst affected. The S1 classes appear to consist of two distinct groups – those who are where they are expected to be and those who are far behind. The health and wellbeing and spirit of some S1 children is deeply worrying, and it is likely that this is replicated across Scotland
  • there are clearly gaps and schools are good at identifying where they are. Some gaps may be due to the fact that not all pupils were able to continue their learning at home. However we are seeing the resilience of staff coming through. Pupils are being well supported, especially those struggling in S1, with more reading groups being established. As a result pupils are doing well and progressing. It is therefore dispiriting that a negative picture is being painted in the media – although some things need to go better we must recognise what has worked
  • pupils’ mental health is a huge issue. Many young people found themselves in difficult scenarios during lockdown and are now struggling to get back to some sort of societal normality. Significant investment in mental health is clearly needed otherwise we may face a crisis when these young people become adults and come to rely on adult mental health services
  • a framework has been introduced in order to help attendance, and COVID-19 money is being used to address key difficulties. Secondary schools have more access to health and wellbeing supports than primary schools and this needs to be looked at. Transition stages continue to cause issues, especially amongst P2 and S1/S2 year groups. There continues to be an increase in home educating and flexi school requests to local authorities
  • with P2 and P3 pupils experiencing 20 weeks of remote learning we are now looking at the need to both recover and reimagine at the same time. The benefits of remote learning are being looked at
  • pupils have dealt with the situation terrifically well. From missing being in school and being amongst friends to then go on and produce such a fantastic set of results is outstanding. Staff and pupils deserve credit. We need to ensure that pupils are kept in schools, with no further lockdowns, as they are clearly benefitting from being back. Staff are addressing any gaps where they exist and are going the extra mile to make sure these are closed

The Cab Sec added that a lot of time is spent considering what is wrong with education, when in fact we should be more positive about what has actually been achieved. She is mindful that we need to present a balanced approach that reflects the successes.

Education Reform – background on the reform programme provided by Professor Ken Muir, adviser to the Scottish Government

In introducing the final agenda item the Cab Sec confirmed that she had approved a package of reform measures to ensure that the Scottish Government is responding to the recently published the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report. The measures will ensure that the national agencies have a structure and culture designed to ensure the best possible outcomes for our pupils. She introduced Prof Ken Muir who will be taking forward the actions.

Prof Muir stated that we have a golden opportunity to think about what we have learned from Curriculum for Excellence. The OECD report does not suggest reforms from ground zero, in fact it identified a lot of good in the current system and we need to capitalise on that.

The Teacher Panel was provided with background on the establishment of both an expert panel and a Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group (PSAG) that will provide Prof Muir with advice.

Prof Muir advised the panel members of the imminent launch of a national consultation document. Open for eight weeks its aim is to ask questions about what we want Scottish education to look like. The consultation document looks at assessment and how the roles and functions of Education Scotland and the SQA might change. Prof Muir confirmed that reform would only take place where the learner journey can be enhanced and advised the panel members that other engagement opportunities will be available beyond the consultation. For example webinars will take place throughout September and October with everyone being able to participate.

Prof Muir asked the panel members for their reactions, particularly with regard to Education Scotland and the SQA.

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

  • this is an exciting time and the big question is what is education and what is it for? The Wood Report of 2014 led to the acronym DYW which is still very much an add-on but should be integral to schools. There is not enough focus on the transition from the end of secondary school to further education/apprenticeships/jobs and we are keen to see a stronger focus on that. Although a lot of good work is being done there is a hope that the review will provide a clearer focus on what works well and what does not
  • there is a feeling that this is going to be something outstanding and it will be interesting to see such a wide range of partners on the PSAG. We need to look at how we make our education the most fit-for-purpose and exciting that it can be
  • processes at the moment are very narrow and there is no bespoke avenue for learners – this needs to be thought about. In the transition from primary to secondary school pupils can lose their confidence and ability – how can we improve those pathways? This is a good opportunity for change – we are ready for it and ready and able to engage
  • we are looking forward to the changes that we will see with regard to inspection and scrutiny activity. There is a need to identify the stumbling blocks for celebrating success in the Scottish system. There is a disconnect between the inspection models that are in place e.g. the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland which is not always helpful

Prof Muir thanked the panel members for their contributions, adding that he is interested in what the role of an independent inspectorate might look like. He confirmed that the consultation document provides an opportunity for respondents to let him know where the stumbling blocks and challenges currently lie, and to give their ideas for overcoming them for the benefit of children and young people.


Cab Sec thanked attendees for their input and confirmed that the next Teacher Panel is scheduled for mid-December.


  1. Welcome and apologies 14:00-14:05
  2. The return to school - paper 22/01 14:05-14:30
  3. Education recovery - paper 22/02 14:30-14:55
  4. Education reform - background on the reform programme provided by Professor Ken Muir, adviser to the Scottish Government 14.55-15.25
  5. AOB and close 15:25-15:30

Paper one - return to school


This short paper is intended to assist the Teacher Panel with its discussion on the position in schools since returning in August.

Current context

Levels of infection have risen significantly in recent weeks, and they have risen particularly sharply in younger people. As a result, enhanced attention has been focussed on compliance and adherence across all sectors. Schools have been asked to focus efforts on specific areas including rigorous implementation of guidance on contact tracing, proactive promotion of asymptomatic testing for staff and secondary pupils, and improvements in ventilation and CO2 monitoring. 

At the start of term a commitment was made to maintain all measures for six weeks to allow data gathering and review in the context of the impact of the pandemic in schools and wider society. As part of our commitment to review these mitigations, the Advisory Sub-Group met on 7 September to consider the data and evidence regarding the return to school so far.

In light of their advice and from extensive stakeholder discussion the decision agreed at Cabinet last week and announced by the First Minister on 14 September is to maintain existing mitigations – including the use of face coverings in classrooms for secondary school pupils – in schools for a further period, and until at least the October holidays.

Guidance on contact tracing following a positive case in schools has also been updated. As has been the case since schools returned in August, all staff and pupils who are identified as a high-risk close contact will be asked by Test and Protect to self-isolate until they have returned a negative PCR test. For children and young people, a high-risk close contact is most likely to be household members, or anybody who they have stayed overnight with.

All other close contacts are considered to be low-risk; this includes classmates, for example, but wouldn’t typically extend as far as year groups or whole schools. These low-risk close contacts will receive Information letters (previously ‘Warn & Inform’ letters). For primary school children, these letters will confirm that pupils should continue to attend if well, and that parents can support children to take an LFD test before returning if they and their child wish to do so.

Secondary school pupils should also continue to attend if well, but the letter advises that they take a lateral flow test before they next return to school, and continue with twice-weekly lateral flow testing thereafter.

Jason Leitch, national Clinical Director has also written a letter to parents, staff and pupils, sent out via schools, setting out the rationale for our updated approach to reassure school communities.

Next steps

We recognise that the pandemic has brought serious pressure to bear on local authorities, schools, ELC settings and their communities. The efforts by school staff to manage these difficulties has been outstanding.

We will continue to pursue engagement opportunities with staff, pupils and parents, giving them the chance to hear directly from authoritative voices and ask questions about the arrangements for school safety.

Points for discussion

  • what are the panel members’ experiences of compliance with safety measures within their own school settings?
  • we are keen to engage with pupils in order to communicate safety measures and to answer any questions they may have about them. Do panel members have any suggestions as to how we can improve communication channels?

Paper two - education recovery


This short paper is intended to assist the Teacher Panel with its discussion in relation to education recovery.

Current context

It is widely accepted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on school education for children and young people at a global level; the impacts and issues experienced in Scotland are ones common in countries across the world. The full extent and nature of those impacts, however, are less clear, and may not be fully appreciated for some time.

The dedication and innovation that our education professionals have shown – and continue to so do on a daily basis – to support children and young people during the pandemic has been truly inspirational. However, we know that some learners will have suffered adverse consequences, whether in terms of their health and wellbeing or their attainment. Different individuals are likely to have been affected differently – for example, our own Equity Audit recognises that disadvantaged children may have suffered disproportionately, although a small number of children are reported to have flourished under remote learning.

From the outset of the pandemic, we have been working to protect children and young people from the worst impacts of COVID-19, and to support them to recover where they have been affected. We are determined that any negative consequences will be addressed, and that every child and young person in Scotland will have the opportunity to fulfil their potential as they progress through the education system and on to positive destinations.

Education recovery

The COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) has been actively considering the impacts on children and young people throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year, a sub-group of CERG was convened to provide advice on, and help develop, an Education Recovery document which outlines to all our partners – including children and young people themselves, families, communities, and those responsible for delivering a high-quality education system – our ongoing response to the impacts of the pandemic on education in Scotland, and sets out some key next steps we will take to address them

Our ‘Education Recovery: Key Actions and Next Steps’ document will be published shortly (date to be confirmed). It sets out the action we and our partners in the education system have taken to date, and some key next steps in the coming period to support our learners to achieve their goals in life. It also summarises how we plan to build on the innovation and strengths that have emerged during the pandemic. It consists of the following short chapters:

  • overview and context
  • Early Learning and Childcare (ELC)
  • health and wellbeing
  • support for learning and attainment
  • ensuring equity
  • additional support needs
  • national qualifications
  • supporting positive destinations for children and young people
  • supporting the workforce
  • monitoring and reporting outcomes

Points for discussion

The Teacher Panel is invited to discuss the following:

  • do we have a sense of the extent of the impacts for children and young people?
  • do we think enough is being done to support children and young people to recover from any negative impacts?
  • do the themes outlined above cover all relevant aspects of education recovery? Are there any gaps?


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