Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 12 January 2021

Published: 28 Jan 2021
Date of meeting: 12 Jan 2021

Minutes from the nineteenth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 12 January 2021.

Published:
28 Jan 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 12 January 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group Members

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Sheila Rowan
  • Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Gayle Gorman
  • Prof Brigid Daniel
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Dona Milne
  • Gaenor Hardy

Apologies

  • Iona Colvin

Public Health Scotland

  • Dr Diane Stockton

SG (observing)

  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Andy Drought
  • Elizabeth Sadler
  • Mary Stewart

Secretariat

  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey
  • Frank Creamer

Items and actions

Welcome

1. The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed colleagues, and introduced Mrs Gaenor Hardy, the headteacher at Heathfield Primary School in Ayr, who has been invited to join the sub-group.    

2. The Chair provided an update on events since the last meeting on 6 January, and advised that, as part of the fortnightly review process for the recommencement of face-to-face schooling and formal childcare, the sub-group had been requested to provide updated advice on whether it would be appropriate to return to face-to-face learning on 1 February.

Minute of Meeting on 6 January

3. Aline-Wendy Dunlop asked for a minor revision of the minute, otherwise it was  confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Evidence review  

PHS Summary of Evidence

4. The sub-group was given an update on the latest Public Health Scotland (PHS) review of evidence on COVID-19 in children and young people. PHS had been asked previously whether search terms in the literature trawl would pick up genomic studies.  PHS confirmed that they would, but that no genomic papers focused on children and young people (CYP) have come up in the searches.  Similarly nothing had come up about the new variant and CYP within the timeframe of the literature review, but PHS will ensure that any new studies on the variant will be included in the next update to the sub-group.

5. PHS noted an increase in the number of research studies on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people, the growing evidence base in relation to the impact on mental health, and the correlation between low community transmission rates and reported cases in schools.  There was limited research evidence available on the impact on teacher well-being.  Professor Chapman offered to develop a proposal for research on this issue, which was welcomed.

6. PHS also asked whether the sub-group needed to continue to see the extraction tables, or whether the key messages and narrative overview were sufficient.  Sub group members said that the key messages were the most important, and that they would be happy to follow up with PHS individually if they required more detail on particular research papers.

7. Action – PHS to focus on providing the key messages and summaries from the research and, in particular, on any recent evidence on the new variant and CYP (particularly on child to adult transmission.)

Modelling of the pandemic

8. Scottish Government officials had considered a wide range of potential scenarios. The impact of the recently introduced restrictions is as yet unclear, and evidence is still accumulating in relation to the spread of the new variant in Scotland and its transmissibility.  Data on in-school attendance since the term began was also reviewed, with early indications of an increase in the number of children and young people now in schools compared to the lockdown in March 2020.

Wider impact of school closures

9. The sub-group was given an update on work that PHS had been doing with the Scottish Directors of Public Health about the wider impacts of school closures beyond the immediate public health impact of COVID-1  These included impacts on household income, mental health and wellbeing, gender inequality and domestic violence.  Those experiencing the greatest negative impacts of the move to remote learning are more likely to be living in more deprived areas.  Children in these areas are more likely to experience pre-existing inequalities in health and education outcomes, and to be living in families experiencing poverty. Schools cannot address these issues alone – it requires a whole system approach.

Testing

10. The sub-group was given an update on the work which was already underway to look at the logistics of testing in schools.  It was noted that two pilots are currently being established: in-school testing using LFD and a home test model using PCR test kits.  

A phased return to in-person learning

11. The sub-group agreed that, at this time, it was too early to offer any further advice on the timescale or process for the return of face-to-face teaching, given the need for a longer period of time to monitor the effects of current restrictions in reducing community transmission.  The sub-group agreed to consider the scenarios under which a phased re-opening might proceed. 

12. The sub-group felt it was unlikely that all schools would be able to return to in-person learning for all pupils at the same time.  There will need to be an incremental approach to school reopening, based on a range of considerations, including what the evidence is telling us about the level of community transmission, the positivity rate and the prevalence of the new variant of the virus among children and young people.  However, it remained essential to focus on what needs to be done to mitigate the worst impacts of school closures.

13. The sub-group advised that, during this period of in-person learning for key worker and vulnerable children only, the immediate priority should be reinforcing the current mitigations designed to reduce the risk for staff and pupils, including two metre distancing where possible, the use of face coverings in line with existing sub-group advice for schools and ELC settings,  respiratory hygiene, ventilation, improved cleaning regimes within schools and ELC  (including regular cleaning of surfaces) and regular handwashing with greatest emphasis on hand hygiene etc.

14. Action - The sub-group will provide further advice after its meeting on 26 January, when it will have had the chance to consider the latest data and evidence.

Date of Next Meeting

15. The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 26 January, at the revised time of 14:30-16:30.