Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues: 2 November 2021

Published: 3 Dec 2021
Date of meeting: 2 Nov 2021
Date of next meeting: 16 Nov 2021

Minutes from the thirty-ninth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 2 November 2021

Published:
3 Dec 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues: 2 November 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Catherine Agnew
  • Prof Marion Bain 
  • Iona Colvin
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick 
  • Prof Paul Flowers 
  • Gayle Gorman
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Prof Chris Chapman

Apologies

  • Prof Brigid Daniel

Public Health Scotland

  • Diane Stockton

SG (observing)

  • Stephen Edgar
  • Marianne Emler
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Mick Wilson

Secretariat

  • Sam Anson
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark

Items and actions

Welcome

The Chair welcomed members to the meeting and provided a brief update on actions from the previous meeting.

Minute of meeting on 19 October

The minute was confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Review of evidence

The sub-group considered the latest data on the state of the epidemic. There appeared to be a continuing slight decline in the overall 7-day rate of positive cases across 2-17 year olds, with a continuing decline in cases in the 12-15 age group. The R rate was between 0.8 and 1, and 85.7% of the population aged 16 and over were now fully vaccinated, with 75.5% of 16-17 year olds, and 54.5% of 12-15 year olds, having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

There had been a slight increase in hospital occupancy up to in the few days up to 29 October, with ICU occupancy continuing to fluctuate. Hospitalisations in people aged 2-17 continued to reduce, with decreases in admissions for this age group. There were 130 registered COVID related deaths in the week to 24 October, a decrease of 8% on the previous week.

It was noted that there were increasingly fewer cases in schools than earlier in the term, with 56% of schools having no new cases in the week to 2 November. However the full impact of the October break on cases was still to be seen. The variation in the rate of child cases by local authority area had increased, with relatively high child case rates observed in Na h-Eileanan Siar, Clackmannanshire, Orkney Islands, Stirling, Argyll and Bute, East Dunbartonshire, Angus, Highland, Aberdeenshire and South Lanarkshire. As expected there had been an increase in COVID-19 related school absences following the October half term, with the expectation that these figures will continue to increase slightly before settling.

The sub-group discussed presumed antibody levels in children and the possible impact of infection in children on infection in adults. It was noted that living with others continues to increase transmission risk, but that there is a higher increase in risk of transmission from living with another adult compared to living with a child. Sub-group members highlighted that very high case rates in child age groups don’t necessarily result in comparatively high case rates in adults.

Sub-group members noted both the announcement that the FDA had approved the Pfizer vaccine for 5-11 year olds in the USA and also their interest in the outcome of any discussions of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) regarding second doses for 12-17 year olds. Vaccine uptake of a first dose in 12-15 year olds had increased quickly at first, but appeared to be slowing down. Sub-group members emphasised the importance of continuing national communications to encourage uptake of the vaccine and noted that there is also good work on this taking place locally.

Sub-group members also discussed the impact that COP26 might have on case numbers over the next few weeks. 

Action: Longer term modelling of a range of scenarios will be provided at a later meeting, once COP26 is over and data is available on any potential impact on case numbers.

Forward workplan

The sub-group discussed its forward workplan with an aim to focus on where the sub-group can most add value. The importance of considering how the role of the sub-group fits into the wider landscape of education and children related groups was highlighted, as well as the need to avoid duplication and draw on a range of existing work. This will include looking at how the sub-group might inform the work of the recently established Standing Committee on Pandemics.

It was agreed that one of the strengths of the group is being able to analyse data and literature in real time, discuss and respond. A good deal of data and evidence is already collected, it will be useful to consider how the sub-group might use this to identify the wider impacts of the pandemic on education and wellbeing.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • it will be helpful to think about how the group might contribute to monitoring of the impact of learning loss and provide advice on key findings. It is important that any consideration of learning impacts does not focus solely on literacy and numeracy, but other factors such as learning readiness, executive functioning skills, inhibition control and working memory
  • the impact of interactions between teachers and children and young people cannot be underestimated. It will be important to consider how COVID-19 has impacted teachers, including their professional development, wellbeing and ability to deliver education, which consequently impacts children and young people
  • health data should be considered alongside education and social data, given the reciprocal nature of education and health and wellbeing. The link between home, school and community is important, with education being more than just the formal education system. Additionally, some indirect health impacts of the pandemic may only start to affect the education system in a few years’ time
  • community based work also has a significant impact on children, young people and families. In some cases flexibility for allocating funding at a local level may help with preventative and community support which can reduce demand for CAMHS and more intensive support. This may also apply to schools
  • recovery usually takes longer than any epidemic or pandemic, how long do we foresee recovery taking? It may be helpful to consider other emergencies which may be useful to plan for.
  • can we look at this through a children’s rights lens? It is important to consider things from the perspective of children, young people and their families and how they experience and access services. This is wider than just education
  • there is work from the third sector on the impact of the pandemic on minority communities, which we may wish to draw on. In the long term it is likely that those who are the most disadvantaged or vulnerable will be most affected by the pandemic. It will be important to model long term educational deficits and how they’re socially patterned (though this may not be for the same group as the current membership to consider). There is a lifetime impact of socially patterned educational harms. This would require ongoing capacity for evidence/data to inform these discussions (from PHS and others)

There is still a need for the group in its current form in the short to medium term, including in terms of ongoing monitoring of data and evidence. Consideration of what might be required for a pandemic proof education system may help inform the future work of the Standing Committee on Pandemics. The group works very well when it considers the data on the health impacts of the pandemic and brings a societal harms perspective to this. The work of the group is very valuable, but it was suggested that some of its contributions may need to be mainstreamed into existing work.

Action: Sub-group secretariat to update the forward workplan based on the above discussion.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 16 November.