Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 26 January 2021

Minutes from the twentieth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 26 January 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group Members

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


  • Gayle Gorman

Public Health Scotland

  • Dr Diane Stockton

Education Scotland

  • Gillian Hamilton

SG (observing)

  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Graeme Logan
  • Mick Wilson
  • Fiona Lawrence
  • Liz Levy
  • Paul Fagan


  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey
  • Frank Creamer

Items and actions


  1. The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed colleagues, and introduced Graeme Logan, the Director of Learning at the Scottish Government, who would be attending the first half hour of the meeting.
  2. The Chair provided an update on events since the last meeting on 12 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 advice on options for a phased return to in-person learning.

Minute of Meeting on 12 January

  1. Brigid Daniel asked for a minor revision of the minute, otherwise it was  confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting.

Policy context

  1. Graeme Logan thanked the sub-group for its invaluable advice over the last few months, which had helped support the development of policy and guidance. He provided an overview of the current situation and outlined the concerns the Scottish Government had about the potential impact that loss of access to in-person learning was having on the educational and developmental outcomes of children and young people, and the need to balance that with the concerns about the potential impact of the new variant of the virus. 

Evidence review  

  1. The sub-group considered the latest evidence on transmission and children, the latest available data on the state of the pandemic, and what the modelling demonstrates about the potential impact of a phased return to in-person learning on the prevalence and transmission of the virus, and on the NHS.

  2. At the moment the latest evidence on the new variant shows it is the principal variant of concern in the UK at the present time.  Public Health England (PHE) data suggests that the majority of cases in children and young people in England are now the new variant, but there is no evidence that children and young people transmit the new variant at higher rates than adults.

  3. The evidence base around disease severity is still emerging, with some recent information suggesting the possibility of an increased risk of death, however there is not age-specific data on this, and the current picture will be largely influenced by older age groups among whom severe outcomes are more likely with COVID-19 in general.
  4. With increased absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases, there is likely to be a proportionate increase in hospitalisation.  Hospitalisation rates remain low for children and young people, in comparison to other age groups, and there is not currently evidence of a disproportionate rise in hospitalisation in the period in which the new variant has been circulating.
  5. In discussion the following points were made:
  • The new variant of the virus appears to have increased transmissibility compared to other variants, but there is no consensus about the percentage increase in transmissibility, with estimates ranging from 30% to 70%. 
  • It is important to be cautious and ensure a sustainable approach to a phased return.
  • There should be a clear direction of travel to allow for forward planning by the education system. Changes should be made on an incremental basis, with the impact of each change being monitored before further changes are implemented.
  • Infection prevention and control mitigations, not only within schools and ELC settings but more widely in society, will play a critical part in ensuring a sustainable and phased return.

A return to in-person learning

  1. The sub-group considered the factors that would underpin its advice on a safe return to in-person learning in schools and ELC settings.  These were agreed as:

  • The state of the epidemic in Scotland and beyond, levels and trends in key indicators including community transmission, incidence and prevalence rates, test positivity, behaviour of the new variants, and consequential implications for hospital / ICU capacity;

  • Evidence regarding age-group-specific risk associated with the new variant, and evidence about changes in transmission;
  • Evidence regarding risks to staff or pupils of school/ELC-associated transmission and outbreaks, including risks associated with the new B.1.1.7 variant;
  • Evidence regarding the impacts of loss of access to in-person provision on educational and developmental outcomes;
  • The need to consider the impacts of remote learning and a phased return to in-person learning on children’s rights and wellbeing;
  • The need for a sustainable approach to a phased return, and a clear direction of travel to allow for forward planning by the education system.
  1. The sub-group felt there would also need to be some very clear and focused messaging around why schools and ELC were being prioritised, what that might mean for wider decisions around lockdown, and any changes to the strategic approach to managing COVID-19 in Scotland. It should be emphasised that any easing for schools did not suggest a return to wider ‘normality’ and that it would be crucial to maintain other restrictions in broader society.
  2. The sub-group advised that ELC and early primary (P1-P3) could reopen from 22 February, subject to continued reductions in prevalence and community transmission, no significant changes to the evidence, and reassurance that mitigations are in place.
  3. Going forward, the sub-group would like to see a phased plan setting out the order in which other cohorts might be able to return to in-person learning.  Given concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of young people in senior phase, and the need for some in-school input, particularly  in terms of delivering the alternative certification model for national qualifications, the sub-group felt that the senior phase should be the next priority to return as soon as it is safe to do so. 
  4. The sub-group will continue to scope out the wider harms being experienced by children, young people and families as a result of the pandemic and the absence of in-school learning.  Sub-group members were concerned that these wider harms are very significant for children and young people, and will be long-lasting in many cases.  By contrast, the direct health harms for COVID-19 are least severe for children
  5. ACTION - The sub-group will hold an extraordinary meeting on 1 February in order to provide more detailed advice after it has had the chance to consider the latest data and evidence.  The advice will be published as soon as possible after the meeting.

Date of Next Meeting

  1. The extraordinary meeting will take place on Monday 1 February, with the next scheduled meeting taking place on Tuesday 9 February at the new time of 14:30-16:30.

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