Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 30 November 2021

Published: 17 Dec 2021
Date of meeting: 30 Nov 2021

Minutes from the forty first meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues on 30 November 2021.

Published:
17 Dec 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 30 November 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group Members

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

Apologies

  • Dr Eileen Scott

Public Health Scotland

  • Colin Sumpter

Scottish Government (observing)

  • Victoria Ayres
  • Marianne Emler
  • David Hamilton
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Eleanor Passmore
  • Gary Sutton

Secretariat

  • Sam Anson
  • Judith Tracey
  • Judith Clark

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 16 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 epidemic. The overall 7-day rate of positive cases for 2-17 year olds had decreased, with 5-11 year olds continuing to have the highest 7-day rate of positive cases within this group. The R rate was between 0.9 and 1.1, and 82.4% of the population aged 12 and over were now fully vaccinated, with 77.5% of 16-17 year olds, and 58.7% of 12-15 year olds having received at least one dose of the vaccine.  The sub-group noted their concern regarding the significant deprivation gap in relation to vaccine uptake for under-18s. 

Hospital occupancy had decreased overall in the week to 25 November, with ICU occupancy continuing to fluctuate. Average hospitalisations in people aged 2-4 and 12-17 had decreased, with a slight increase in hospitalisations for 5-11 year olds over the past three weeks. There were 85 registered COVID related deaths among the population as a whole in the week to 21 November, a decrease of 19% on the previous week.  

There was continued variation in the rate of child cases by local authority area, with relatively high child case rates observed in Falkirk, Angus, East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling, Aberdeen City, City of Edinburgh and East Ayrshire.

The sub-group received an update from Public Health Scotland (PHS) colleagues regarding the new omicron variant. It was noted that a cautious approach is being taken by health protection teams in relation to confirmed or probable omicron cases in order to slow the spread. The additional pressures and anxiety for the education workforce, pupils and their families, in relation to the new variant and any potential associated measures were also highlighted.
 
Sub-group members recognised the concern caused by the new variant and the need for a precautionary approach. It was noted that PHS would continue to review their guidance for health protection teams in this area to ensure it remains proportionate should the number of omicron cases continue to increase.

Winter preparedness

The sub-group returned to the topic of winter planning, and discussed a range of potential options in the event that the situation deteriorates over the winter for the purposes of planning for a realistic worst case scenario.  

Sub-group members reiterated that any additional or enhanced restrictions for education settings will result in wider social and educational harms for children, young people and families in addition to those which have already been experienced. These disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, and include concerns about learning, and speech and language development, as well as wider health concerns such as mental health and obesity. It was also noted that schools and early learning and childcare (ELC) settings continue to face greater restrictions than wider society. Equally, however, they acknowledged that taking measures related to education settings can help to reduce the R rate, and that such risks may need to be balanced depending upon the future trajectory of the virus. 

Most fundamentally, the sub-group advised that any future changes to mitigations should only be enacted if they constitute an approach that is proportionate with restrictions elsewhere in the community, both to ensure these changes are effective and in the interests of fairness. 

Vaccination

The sub-group received an update from vaccination colleagues on the status of the vaccination programme, including current plans for encouraging uptake of the vaccine in younger age groups. In terms of social media, the benefits, and risks. of using platforms and figures familiar to these age groups were highlighted. 

Sub-group members emphasised the importance of communications beyond the use of mass media, for example peer to peer communication and youth champion initiatives. It was welcomed that colleagues are already working with Young Scot and others, and sub-group members also suggested considering how colleagues might work with third sector organisations and sports clubs as well as other community groups. Some groups specifically work with young people from particular groups, for example young people with minority backgrounds, which may be helpful where there is a need to target specific groups due to lower vaccination uptake or compliance with mitigations. It was noted that similar work on communications is underway for university/college age groups, which may be of interest.

Action – Sub-group secretariat to liaise with colleagues undertaking work on communications with university/college age groups, to enable sharing of any relevant learning from this.

Wider harms

The sub-group discussed what should be included in their upcoming paper summarising the evidence on wider harms of the pandemic on children and young people, which will also help inform work on wider COVID-19 recovery.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • There has been anecdotal evidence of degradation in social skills. Evidence from developmental psychology experts may help to identify any critical development points for these skills. Speech and language development for younger children is also a real area of concern.
  • Factors such as learning readiness, executive functioning skills, inhibition control and working memory have huge impacts on learning and are difficult to measure. Schools in areas of deprivation might be well-placed to report on this, as they may have witnessed greater impacts in these areas.
  • Loss of strong transition support may also have been an issue, especially for more vulnerable children. This may be worse for secondary schools given their potentially reduced capacity for support in this area compared to primary schools.
  • It is important to remember the role of schools and ELC settings in the wider community. These settings are often responsible for reporting child protection concerns, as well as providing wider community support, for example community laundry facilities.

Action – Sub-group secretariat to liaise with wider Scottish Government and public health colleagues to ensure alignment with existing work and capture relevant evidence.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 14 December.