Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 4 May 2021

Minutes from the twenty seventh meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 4 May 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

Public Health Scotland

  • Diane Stockton

SG (observing)

  • Mick Wilson
  • Gary Sutton
  • Elizabeth Sadler
  • Niamh O’Connor
  • Liz Levy


  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey

Items and actions


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.

2. The Chair informed the meeting that it would be Elizabeth Morrison’s last meeting before she retired, and thanked her for her invaluable contribution to the work of the sub-group.  Elizabeth’s expertise, built up over a long and varied career working in education, would be sorely missed.  The other members of the sub-group joined the Chair in thanking Elizabeth and wishing her a long and happy retirement. 

Minute of meeting on 20 April

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

Health and Wellbeing Census

4. The sub-group discussed the need for better data on the health and wellbeing of children and young people in the context of previous discussions about the wider harms of COVID-19.  The sub-group was strongly supportive of the health and wellbeing census currently being developed by the Scottish Government for use by local authorities.  It would provide vital information to support the recovery from COVID-19, and help local authorities to plan and deliver better policies for the benefit of all children and families.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions

5. The sub-group discussed the latest evidence on face coverings, as well as the ongoing UK Government review of physical distancing, face coverings and other protective measures, in order to gain a better understanding of the wider context in which the future role of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in managing the pandemic is being considered.

6. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • the evidence on the risk of infection, transmission, and severe illness of children and young people has not changed since the last time the sub-group considered the issue of face coverings in schools.
  • evidence continues to indicate that face coverings - if worn correctly and implemented in addition to other measures such as physical distancing,  hand and respiratory hygiene, cleaning of surfaces, and good ventilation - can be effective in reducing transmission when people are in close proximity, in crowded settings, and in poorly ventilated places.
  • SAGE is currently finalising a paper on the recommended baseline NPI measures for the months ahead.
  • it is important that the use of face coverings in schools is coherent with the requirements in the rest of society, particularly while there is an improving picture in terms of community transmission and a move to relax wider lockdown restrictions.  It would not be reasonable to continue to require young people to wear face coverings in classrooms while requirements on adults were relaxed as we move through the levels in the strategic framework.
  • it would be premature to change the sub-group’s advice on the use of face coverings in schools before the latest SAGE review is available. 

7. Action – to consider the issue of face coverings in schools at the next meeting of the sub-group on 18 May.

COVID testing

8. The sub-group discussed the current schools/ELC asymptomatic testing programme, uptake of which had been lower than anticipated and had varied considerably across local authorities.

9. In discussion, the following points were made:

  • the figures are based on individuals testing and recording results on the digital portal, so they are likely to be an underestimate given that some participants may test and then fail to record results, particularly negative ones.
  • further work is being done to improve the granularity of reporting on a weekly basis, to help identify any trends with regard to uptake and equality.
  • there is concern about the impact of self-isolation resulting from the testing programme.  Children and young people are disproportionately affected by contact tracing but are least likely to give COVID to anyone else.
  • the testing programme has been crucial in providing reassurance to school staff, parents, and pupils during the return to full time in-person learning.
  • once the pre-election period is over, there should be further survey work undertaken with parents and pupils in order to identify any potential barriers to uptake.
  • need to consider whether the asymptomatic testing system should be linked to the levels in the strategic framework, as analysis suggests there is an increased risk of a positive result being a false positive at lower prevalence levels.  This may tilt the risk-benefit balance away from mass testing at lower levels, given the potential disruption to education.

10. Action – there is not enough information to make a decision on whether to make changes to the testing programme at the moment.  Scottish Government will collective further data on the efficacy of the programme and bring it back to the sub-group at a later date.

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC)

11. The sub-group had a brief discussion of the issue of mitigations that are having an impact on ELC service delivery and the ability of children and families to meet their childcare needs and, in some cases, to access their statutory entitlement to high quality funded early learning and childcare that supports children’s development. This had been raised at a previous meeting and it was agreed that, given the continued positive picture of community transmission in Scotland, and the ongoing positive data on cases in childcare settings since all children returned to ELC on 22 February, it would be appropriate to review childcare guidance and mitigations.

12. Action –sub-group members to provide the secretariat with their comments on mitigations and approaches to future guidance, with a view to bringing a consolidated response back to a future meeting.

Physical education and expressive arts

13. The sub-group considered whether advice on physical education and the expressive arts in schools should be aligned with the levels approach in the strategic framework.   The sub-group noted  that there hadn’t been the same amount of investigation into the risks around the expressive arts as there had been for sport, and concerns were raised that children and young people’s access to creativity was being stifled due to the controls being placed on music and singing. In particular, for very small children, singing often adds considerable value to learning through play.

14. Action – members to provide the secretariat with their views on physical education and the expressive arts by Friday 7 May, in order to facilitate the production of updated sub-group advice on this issue.   


15. The sub-group discussed the issue of P7 to S1 transition and whether it could go ahead this year now that schools were open fully.  Schools and local authorities had asked for guidance around in-person transition activities to support P7 pupils with the move to secondary.   The sub-group agreed that P7-S1 transition was an important support for the children moving to secondary school and that, given the current low levels of community transmission, and the easing of restrictions in wider society,  that schools should be able to offer some in person P7-S1 transition for all pupils in June 2021. However, P7 pupils should remain in small groups and should follow the guidance for S1 pupils as set out in the current guidance on reducing risks in schools. Where possible, schools should promote the use of the outdoors for transition days, as that is the safest space in which young people from different schools should mix.


16. The sub-group discussed a seminar which some members had attended on wastewater COVID-19 monitoring.  There was a question about how it would complement the systems which are already in place to monitor COVID infection in communities.  Would it be used to optimise the delivery of mass testing, and what does it add in terms of new variants?  Members remained keen to explore the issue further.

17. Action – PHS and DCMO to consider how wastewater monitoring might fit with the overall surveillance programme for children and young people, and whether it would be helpful to carry out a pilot in one or two schools. 

Data and surveillance

18. The latest data on the state of the epidemic remained reassuring, with case numbers, patients in hospital and ICU, and admissions to hospital declining  over the last week.  The uptake of vaccinations remained high, with 61.6% of Scotland’s adult population having received their first dose of the vaccine as of 13 April, including over 50% of teachers.


19. PHS asked whether any consideration had been given to the requirement for 2 metre physical distancing for school aged young people while attending college.

20. Action – the Chair to discuss with PHS and SG analysts the additional data that would be required in order to make an informed decision on this issue. 

21. The Chair mentioned that Ipsos Mori were developing the first omnibus survey of parents in Scotland, which is due to run in early summer. This could represent an opportunity to get feedback from parents on a range of education issues.

22. Action – The secretariat will circulate an email asking members for any thoughts on what questions it might be helpful to ask in the survey.

Date of Next Meeting

23. The next meeting will be held on 18 May.  

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