From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was evident that decision makers would be faced with unforeseen challenges, and that it would continue to be necessary to take a broad approach to involving key groups in policy development throughout.
For this reason, the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) was formed. It is co-chaired by the Deputy First Minister and Councillor Stephen McCabe, CoSLA's Children's and Young People's Spokesperson. It brings together ministers, Education Scotland, senior officials and expert representatives from unions, local authorities, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Early Years Scotland (EYS) and National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS). The group has met regularly since April 2020 and has contributed to policy development at every stage.
Advice and views have also been gathered from other groups, including:
- Discussing international approaches to reopening schools and learning from experiences in other countries. This has been achieved through drawing on the expertise from the International Council of Education Advisers, data gathered regularly by the Scottish Government's Education Analytical Services team plus meetings with other experts such as e.g. UNICEF Scotland .
- As well as being invited to represent the voice of parents on the Education Recovery Group the Scottish Government has also supported the NPFS to produce a range of parent-friendly guidance which explained a number of the policy and legal directions and developments regarding school closures and adapted learning support in a parent-friendly manner. NPFS also hosted an online Q&A session between DFM and parents on 16 June 2020 which attracted an audience of over 3000 parents. Topics covered included: school safety and hygiene measures; blended learning; school transport and the effects of social distancing; the impact of COVID-19 on children with additional support needs; the impact of COVID-19 on exams and the future planning of exams for the 2020/21 school term; and digital and home learning support.
- The Deputy First Minister hosted a meeting with learners on 17 June 2020 to hear the views of children and young people. Topics discussed included: learners' experiences of learning at home; additional support that schools, local authorities and government can provide to help overcome barriers to learning during COVID-19; learner concerns regarding a return to school in August; learner hopes for the new school term in August; the mental health and wellbeing of learners during COVID-19; and any positive impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on learning or learners. In addition, reviews have been carried out by key groups including Children's Parliament, The Scottish Youth Parliament, YouthLink Scotland and Young Scot, as well as valuable feedback from the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS). The views of children and young people will continue to be included in the consideration of ongoing issues affecting the full-time return to schools.
- Officials have sought and listened to views of the Gaelic medium sector through meeting with representatives from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Comunn na Gàidhlig. This has allowed the nuances of the GME sector to be considered alongside policy development.
- It is recognised that decisions about when to reopen schools has, from the outset, been dependent on decision makers having access to the most up-to-date scientific and medical advice available, in order to protect the health and safety of children, staff and families. Therefore the CERG has sought the views of the Covid-19 Advisory Group and associated sub-group specialising on children's and education issues. These groups have provided data relevant to the school population, drawn on international comparisons and made recommendations to support education experts in their planning. This has proved invaluable when making decisions around physical distancing in school buildings and transport.
- Throughout the development of both the Strategic Framework and the updated guidance on reopening schools, key stakeholders have been consulted. This includes members of the CERG, and wider representatives of groups with protected characteristics to comment of draft versions of this document.