Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 16 November 2021

Published: 2 Dec 2021
Date of meeting: 16 Nov 2021
Date of next meeting: 30 Nov 2021

Minutes from the fortieth meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues on 16 November 2021.

Published:
2 Dec 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 16 November 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members:

  • Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Catherine Agnew
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Iona Colvin
  • Prof Brigid Daniel
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Dona Milne
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Diane Stockton
  • Prof Chris Chapman

Scottish government (observing):

  • Victoria Ayres
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Eleanor Passmore
  • Gary Sutton
  • William Wardrop

Secretariat:

  • Sam Anson
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark
  • Benyamin Gaspersz

Apologies:

  • Gayle Gorman
  • Prof Ian Rivers

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 2 November

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 pandemic. There appeared to be an increase in the overall 7-day rate of positive cases in the under 20 age group, with the biggest increase in the 5-11 age group. The R rate was between 0.9 and 1.1, and 82% of the population aged 12 and over were now fully vaccinated, with 76.5% of 16-17 year olds, and 56.7% of 12-15 year olds, having received at least one dose of the vaccine. It was noted that 16-17 year olds are now eligible to receive a second dose, though this is still under discussion by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) for 12-15 year olds.

Hospital occupancy had decreased in the week to 12 November, with ICU occupancy continuing to fluctuate. Average hospitalisations in people aged 12-17 had decreased, with an increase in hospitalisations for 2-4 and 5-11 year olds over the past three weeks. There were 140 registered COVID related deaths among the population as a whole in the week to 7 November, an increase of 4% on the previous week. 

While the full impact of COP26 on cases was still to be seen, wastewater surveillance data did not currently give cause for concern. There was continued variation in the rate of child cases by local authority area, with relatively high child case rates observed in: Clackmannanshire, Moray, East Dunbartonshire, Highland, Orkney Islands, Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling, Angus, Falkirk, Aberdeen City, East Ayrshire, and Argyll and Bute.

The sub-group noted their concerns regarding the sustained increase in the number of developmental concerns reported in younger children at the 27th -30th month review point. These concerns were mainly in terms of speech and language development among other factors. Concerns were also expressed regarding childhood overweight and obesity data for England, which had been published this week and showed substantial increases. Child weight measurements in Scotland had been disrupted by the pandemic, but sub-group members expressed their interest in this data when it becomes available.

Additionally, recent publications looking at academic improvements in schools in England in the 2020-2021 academic year were highlighted. They show that, by the end of the summer term, it was estimated that primary-aged children had lost 0.9 months of progress in reading and 2.2 months in mathematics. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced greater learning losses than their more affluent peers. By the end of summer term, the gap in learning loss in reading was about 0.4 months for primary-aged children and 1.6 months for secondary school pupils.

Winter planning

The sub-group discussed the topic of winter planning and considered what action could be taken should the situation deteriorate significantly over the winter. It was stressed that there were currently no plans to introduce any further restrictions in education settings, and that this discussion was solely for the purposes of sensible planning for a potential worst case scenario. 

The sub-group reiterated that, given the balance of health harms across different age groups, a prime reason for having restrictions in schools in the first place was not for the direct benefit of children and young people, but was more to protect  adult staff and to prevent community spread. Children and young people as a group have a relatively low risk of direct COVID-19 harm but are at particularly high risk of wider – and long-term – social, educational, and wellbeing harms. 

Given that all adults have now had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated and the booster vaccination programme is underway, there was general agreement that schools and Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings were the last place where any further restrictions should be introduced. This was in light of the significant restrictions already in place in these settings compared to wider society, as well as the significant potential for associated impacts of any further mitigations on learning and wellbeing, which are likely to exacerbate existing learning loss and inequalities. The importance of encouraging the uptake of the vaccine among 12-15 year olds as a precautionary measure continued to be emphasised.

Action:

Sub-group secretariat to invite a member of the vaccination policy team to provide an update on the rollout of the vaccine to 12-15 year olds at the next meeting.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 30 November.