Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 18 May 2021

Published: 2 Jun 2021
Date of meeting: 18 May 2021

Minutes from the twenty eighth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 18 May 2021.

Published:
2 Jun 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 18 May 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group Members

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Iona Colvin
  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Devi Sridhar

Apologies

  • Prof Sheila Rowan
  • Gayle Gorman
  • Prof Brigid Daniel
  • Prof Chris Chapman

Public Health Scotland

  • Diane Stockton
  • Janine Thoulass
  • Maria Rossi

SG (observing)

  • Mick Wilson
  • Liz Levy
  • Judith Ainsley
  • Laura Merenciano
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Julie Aitken

Secretariat

  • Sam Anson
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark

Items and actions

Welcome

1. The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed members to the meeting and provided a brief update on actions from the previous meeting.

Minute of meeting on 4 May

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

Review of evidence

3. The sub-group considered the latest data on the state of the epidemic.  The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had increased in the week to 14 May, with R between 0.8 and 1.0. The number of patients in hospital and ICU had increased slightly over the last week, and registered COVID related deaths had decreased in the week to 9 May.  The overall number of cases across child age groups decreased. Case numbers were continuing to increase in Glasgow, and there were some indications that cases were spreading from Glasgow to neighbouring Local Authorities. Case rates had decreased in Moray, but increased in East Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian.

4. It was noted that there had been no significant increase in the number of schools with 3 or more cases, though there had been a small increase in positive cases in the senior phase, which is in line with wider case numbers. There was continuing uncertainty around the transmissibility of the new B.1.617.2 variant, but there were no early indications that the new variant causes more severe infection in either adults or children. The sub-group also discussed the latest school absence data. The numbers of COVID-related absences had increased in the last 10 days, but numbers remain very low, with the majority of absences due to isolation not illness.

5. The significant impact of restrictions on prison visits on the mental health of children with a parent in prison was discussed, as well as the impact of restrictions on children in detention. The sub-group noted the ongoing work in this area, including measures such as distributing devices to facilitate contact.

Variants and transmission

6. The sub-group received an update on variants from Public Health Scotland (PHS), including the process for monitoring different mutations and lineages. The spread, hospitalisations and mortality, and vaccine status of VOCs are monitored by PHS. Cases of the B.1.617.2 variant were increasing more rapidly than other variants of concern (VOCs). There was no evidence to suggest vaccine escape or more severe outcomes, but the small case numbers make identifying differences between variants difficult.

Mitigations

7. The sub-group discussed whether there was a need to update their advice on face coverings to respond to recent changes in protection levels across society. The evidence on face coverings has not changed: when used alongside other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) they continue to be an effective control measure provided they are worn properly and are of good quality.

8. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • some school staff report greater difficulty projecting their voices and communicating through facial expressions when wearing a face covering.
  • it is important to acknowledge the potential negative impact on staff and pupils of wearing face coverings for prolonged periods of time.
  • there was support in principle for partial relaxation of face covering advice as levels of infections and associated risk reduce. However, this should be considered in conjunction with other NPIs.
  • given the current uncertainty around the new variant of concern, it was prudent to take a precautionary approach and retain the current policy.

9. Action – Any future changes to the requirements for face coverings in schools should be linked to wider protection levels and aligned with the position on the use of NPIs across society. Given the current uncertainty, the current advice on face coverings in school settings should remain in place. The sub-group will consider the issue again at its next meeting on 1 June.

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC)

10. The sub-group had a discussion about approaches to future guidance on contingency planning for ELC settings, with clear expectations set out for the sector at each level. It was agreed that any mitigation measures should reflect the balance of harms and be aligned with the wider strategic framework. Partial relaxation of restrictions on cohort sizes, blended placements, peripatetic staff and family visits will be linked to protection levels. There was a question about whether cleaning requirements could also be relaxed. The sub-group will need to review the evidence and advice on fomite transmission before providing advice on this.

11. Action – The secretariat will circulate an update on fomite transmission advice to sub-group members for consideration at the next meeting.

12. Action – Liz Levy to provide a paper on mitigations in ELC settings, taking into consideration contributions from the sub-group, for the next sub-group meeting.

Forward work plan

13. The sub-group discussed its forward work plan. It was noted that future guidance on reducing risks in schools should be linked to the protection levels in the strategic framework, and be adaptable based on circumstances. Stakeholders should have a shared understanding of requirements, and there should be wider contingency planning for the return after the summer holidays. It will also be important to consider more holistic education recovery. Policy officials are aiming to refresh the guidance for schools in the next 4-6 weeks. The sub-group agreed to provide advice on what the refreshed guidance framework should include.

14. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • it is important to look beyond formal education settings and take a holistic approach to guidance relating to children and young people (CYP). In the absence of clear communication, differences between settings can confuse families about what is allowed.
  • how do we support those who have the most difficulty accessing home learning, e.g. learners with additional support needs? It is important to address the widening attainment gap for vulnerable learners.
  • it was noted that CYP should be actively involved at every stage of planning for recovery. Are there ways to link to COVID in the curriculum?
  • the importance of early intervention to reduce harms was also highlighted. Those in the early years have experienced the most developmental deficits, having been deprived of many of the usual opportunities for socialisation and group play. 
  • early planning for possible alternative scenarios would also be helpful e.g. what would the approach be to a new variant of concern which enabled vaccine escape

15. Action – Dona Milne and Sam Anson to discuss how to make links to informal education and community settings.

16. Action – The sub-group will return to the discussion on forward work planning at their next meeting.

AOB

17. The Chair noted that, with Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop having stepped down as a sub-group member, there was a need for enhanced early years expertise in the sub-group.

18. Action – Sub-group members to provide the Chair with any suggestions for a potential sub-group member with early years expertise for consideration.

Date of Next Meeting

19. The next meeting will be held on 1 June.