Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 15 December 2020

Minutes from the seventeenth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 15 December 2020.

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 Sridha
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Iona Colvi
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott


  • Dona Milne

SG (observing)

  • Daniel Kleinberg


  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey 
  • Frank Creamer

Items and actions


1. The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed colleagues, and apologies were noted from Dona Milne.   Ian Rivers had intimated that he would join the meeting late

2. The chair advised the sub-group that there had been a slight revision to the group’s summary report of the evidence on children and transmission, following a statement from ONS in order to correct the wording in a SAGE paper which had informed the report.  The revised version had been published on the Scottish Government website.

Minute of Meeting on 17 November

3. It was noted that the minute of the meeting on 17 November had been updated to reflect the comments provided by sub-group members, and it was agreed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Minute of Meeting on 1 December 

4. Minor amendments were proposed to the minute, which was then agreed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Research review  

5. The sub-group was given an update on Public Health Scotland’s literature review of research and evidence on COVID-19 in children and young people.  There is a huge volume of evidence, which varies in quality, but the evidence base is developing and the quality is increasing over time.  None of the recent evidence is changing what we already understand about transmission of the virus e.g. a systematic review of studies on transmission reported that transmission of COVID-19 was higher in household settings than in other community settings, including schools.  All of this contributes to the evidence that children and young people are not drivers of infection, but that their infection rates follow community prevalence quite closely.

6. However, more evidence is becoming available about the wider impacts of COVID-19 and the corresponding public health control measures.  There is emerging evidence that the mental health and wellbeing of children is being impacted adversely, and there is a general observation that inequalities in learning, health, and wellbeing had widened during the school closures.

7. The sub-group asked whether genomic studies (which looked at genome mapping and sequencing) were covered by the PHS literature review, as these will provide important evidence about routes of transmission.

8. Action: PHS to check whether the search terms in the literature trawl would pick up genomic studies.

9. The sub-group noted the need to ensure that it had the most up-to-date evidence, particularly in Scotland, to ensure that its advice was tailored to the specific needs of children and young people in Scotland.  In particular, it would be helpful to have comparative data with the other UK nations.  PHS confirmed that it would be publishing 4 surveillance reports on COVID-19 in education settings the following day, which would provide a stronger evidence base on infection risk.

10. Action: PHS to consider whether it would be possible to provide some comparative data for future meetings.

CERG dashboard

11. The sub-group was updated on the latest data on COVID-19 and education that had been prepared for the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG).  The evidence suggests that the number of cases of infection in education settings and those who work in education remains reasonably stable.  The national data on attendance and absence rates for children also remained stable.  However, there were marked variations at a local level in the attendance and absence profile, ranging from 0.2% to 15.4% in different local authority areas.

12. The following points were made during discussion:

  • There had been a slight increase in the proportion of children being withheld from school by parents, however that may be due to the proximity of the Christmas break.
  • The sub-group should recognise the local variation and consider what this means for the group’s future advice.
  • There was agreement to start the new year with a fresh look at the data on both the COVID and non-COVID harms, and see whether any of the sub-group advice needed to be revised accordingly.

13. Action: The Secretariat to revise the summary report of the evidence on children and transmission with the most up-to-date evidence on schools and ELC settings prior to the next meeting of the sub-group.

State of the Pandemic

14. The sub-group was given an update on the latest data on the state of the pandemic in Scotland.  The indications were that total infections were continuing to fall, but the rate of decline was slowing.  The evidence also demonstrated that the levels system was having an impact on the rate of infection, with level 4 restrictions shown as being effective in reducing the prevalence of the virus.  

15. Sub-group members reiterated their concerns about the potential impact of easing restrictions over the holiday period.  It continued to be important to encourage people to behave as conservatively as possible, and not to take advantage of the 5 day relaxation period at Christmas if at all possible. 

WHO reports

16. The sub-group discussed the recent meeting of the WHO pan-European technical advisory group on safe schooling.  The sub-group was informed that there would be an output statement from WHO the following week, and the indications were that it was likely to be in line with the existing approach being taken in Scotland, that schools were an essential service and should be one of the last places to close.


17. The Chair confirmed that the meetings were likely to change to an earlier time slot in 2021, and that the Secretariat would send out new diary invitations to all members with the date and times of future meetings. 

Date of Next Meeting

18. The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 12 January.

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