Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 20 April 2021

Minutes from the twenty sixth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 20 April 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

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


  • none

Public Health Scotland:

  • Diane Stockton

SG (observing):  

  • Mick Wilson
  • Elizabeth Sadler
  • Paul Fagan
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Liz Levy


  • Dr Alexander McTier


  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark

Items and actions


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 6 April

The Chair asked for a small addition on face coverings. Other than that, 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 which was very reassuring. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had decreased in the week to 15 April, with R remaining between 0.8 and 1.0. The number of patients in hospital and ICU had continued to decline, and registered COVID related deaths had remained stable. The overall number of cases across child age groups decreased. Test positivity increased in age group 16-17 years, while it decreased for all other child age groups. The uptake of vaccinations remained high, with 59.6% of Scotland’s adult population having received their first dose of the vaccine as of 13 April.

There was some discussion of what Scotland could learn from the international situation. The discussion focused on Israel and Chile which had both had successful vaccination rollout programmes in place, but were now in very different places in terms of prevalence. Israel is maintaining an overall downward trend in cases despite easing restrictions, however strict travel restrictions remain in place and there are also differential restrictions depending on whether or not people have been vaccinated. In Chile, despite a relatively fast vaccine rollout, cases are continuing to rise. This may be due to easing travel and other restrictions too early, and strict lockdown restrictions have had to be reintroduced as a result.


  • the Chair asked that information comparing the impact of approaches internationally should be brought to the next meeting of the sub-group

There was also some discussion of the B117 variant and transmission in schools, and whether there was any more evidence that could be presented to the sub-group.


  • PHS to bring a paper on transmissibility of the B117 variant among children and young people to the next meeting of the sub-group.

Impact of wider harms

The sub-group heard a presentation about research that had been carried out by the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS) on behalf of the collective leadership group for children and families. CELCIS looked at how local demand for children’s services has changed since March 2020 compared to previous years, whether there have been any distinctive trends across different groups of children, where instances of hidden harm might exist, and asked what should be the priority areas for consideration going forward? 

The main concerns identified remain the same as in pre-pandemic times i.e. child or young person’s mental health, parental mental health, domestic abuse, problematic parental alcohol or substance use, neglect, and emotional abuse. The biggest area of concern was those families which were new to social services and which may not actively reach out for help and support. The consensus was that there would be an upturn in demand through to July 2021 as schools return, face-to-face visits by professionals increase, and interactions between households increase. All of these things would make neglect and family poverty more visible, and it would take time and resource to fully assess their needs. 

The research paper should be finalised in early May and will be provided to the sub-group once it is complete.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • a number of children and young people will have experienced bereavement over the last year, and it will be important to consider the need for bereavement support
  • the research highlights that this is an opportunity to look at all the responsibilities across the system, and to improve collaboration across all the agencies involved with children and young people. It is not just about how well individual services work, but about how they work together
  • the research should inform the work on education recovery so that it is not focused entirely on what can be delivered by schools
  • the importance of having a trauma informed workforce was also mentioned as any child, at any stage, could have needs that had not been identified previously

Education recovery and renewal

The sub-group discussed the need for education recovery and renewal now that the schools had returned. This included the proposals for enhanced holiday activities and learning experiences, integrating food and wider family support where needed. The view of the Education Recovery Group (CERG) was to focus on wellbeing, play and reconnection in the summer rather than focus on ‘catch up’ programmes of literacy and numeracy for children. The plan is, therefore, for a summer offer that will contribute to supporting children and young people to return to their classrooms in the autumn as well prepared as they can be to engage with their learning in a constructive way.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • Scotland should treat this as an opportunity to build a better and more resilient education system. Progress on driving improvement within Scottish education has been interrupted, so what do we need to do differently to increase the pace of improvement, learning from what went well before and during the pandemic, and how that can support the next stage?
  • it will be impossible to address any learning gaps without addressing the physical, emotional and mental health impacts of the pandemic. We need to understand the interdependencies between all the various harms, not just the impact on educational attainment
  • however, there is a danger that messages of a ‘lost generation’ will percolate to children and young people, affecting their wellbeing and motivation, and becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The narrative should be around resilience and adaptation; recognising and celebrating what was achieved to maintain learning and connection. We need to put resource, time and energy into supporting children and young people, not supporting a narrative of despair
  • how has the pandemic changed us as a society, and how do we design better for the future?
  • we should focus on existing examples of changing the narrative, and think more creatively about what we can learn from other areas which have faced challenges historically and have responded effectively to them e.g. the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community, or countries which have had to recover from war
  • it is clear that recovery is a complex and wide ranging issue, and there is a need to consider carefully the data that will be required in order to inform the work


  • sub-group members to share any further thoughts or evidence with the Secretariat who will draw up a future workplan for the sub-group which sets out its role as we move into the new recovery and renewal period. The workplan will be discussed at the sub-group meeting on 18 May.

 Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 4 May.  

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