Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 9 February 2021

Published: 24 Feb 2021
Date of meeting: 9 Feb 2021
Date of next meeting: 23 Feb 2021
Location: Held virtually

Minutes from the twenty first meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 9 February 2021.

Published:
24 Feb 2021
Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues minutes: 9 February 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
  • Gaenor Hardy
  • Gayle Gorman
  • Iona Colvin
  • Apologies:
  • Dona Milne

SG (observing):  

  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Mick Wilson
  • Simon Mair
  • Dr Julie Aitken

Secretariat:

  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Judith Tracey
  • Frank Creamer

Items and actions

Welcome

The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed Simon Mair who would be speaking to the agenda item on school-age childcare and blended placements.   

The Chair confirmed that the sub-group’s advisory note on a phased return to in-person learning was published on 3 February. The advisory note set out the recommended approach which had been discussed and agreed at the extraordinary meeting on 1 February.  

Minute of meeting on 26 January

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

Mitigations to minimise transmission during phased return

In order to support the phased return to in-person learning in schools and ELC, the sub-group considered what potential additional or enhanced mitigations should be in place, beyond those which are already set out in its existing advice. During discussion, the following points were made:

  • it is important to focus on how to encourage and support widespread compliance with existing mitigations, including clear, unambiguous guidance on the required behaviour
  • there are already a number of mitigations in place to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools and ELC settings in Scotland, and these all continue to apply to the new variant of the virus. Schools and ELC settings should place very high priority on reinforcing the existing mitigations designed to reduce the risk for staff and pupils
  • risk communication, community engagement and ongoing learning about implementation good practice, are crucial components of an effective response
  • Scottish Government, Education Scotland and local authorities should provide appropriate support to schools and ELC settings to enable them to implement the mitigations fully, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff, children and young people, taking into account local circumstances and the practical constraints faced by different schools in terms of issues such as building design
  • as an additional protective measure, 2 metre distancing should be put in place at the current time for secondary-aged pupils, in addition to continuing to be in place for staff in secondary schools.  Physical distancing requirements in primary schools and ELC should remain unchanged
  • in order to line with the strengthened advice on 2 metre physical distancing in secondary schools, it will be also be necessary to ensure 2 metre distancing on school transport for secondary schools, recognising that this may not be possible in the case of school taxis. This should be kept under review 
  • the existing advice on ventilation should stand, although it should be kept under review
  • face coverings are only one measure in a hierarchy of controls and are only effective when used alongside other mitigations such as hygiene, ventilation and physical distancing. As such, a move to require medical grade face coverings to be worn in school would not be commensurate with the risk in school and ELC settings
  • pupils in residence halls/hostels provided by local authority secondary schools could remain in their residential “bubbles” for the majority of the time and attend schools for practical assessment
  • short local visits which promote outdoor learning should be encouraged, subject to being fully risk assessed
  • due to the small numbers involved, and the particular challenges faced, an exception to the phased return could be made for very small schools (those with 25 children or fewer on their school roll) which have the entire primary cohort in a single class, to allow them all to return to school

Action:

  • the Secretariat to draft a paper for publication, setting out the sub-group’s advice on mitigations

The sub-group then discussed the issue of school visitors, including student placements in schools and ELC settings. For school visitors generally, the sub-group felt that its existing advice remained appropriate i.e. that visitors should be kept to an absolute minimum, but that e.g. careers advisors and staff who support children and young people with additional support needs should be allowed to visit schools with the appropriate mitigations in place for each service. The sub-group did emphasise that every effort should be made to secure these wider inputs through lower risk methods such as digital/virtual means if at all possible.

For student placements, the sub-group acknowledged the revised guidance on student teachers in schools that will come into force after Easter. However, there still needed to be an agreement on how assessment of student teachers would be carried out across all local authorities. The sub-group advised that it was not sufficiently clear to them, as to the reasons for requiring  an assessor to be in school, and that in their view assessments should take place via digital/virtual means.  

The sub-group required further information on student placements for ELC in order to take a view on whether there should be any change to the current approach.  

The sub-group considered the issue of physical education for the purpose of assessment to ensure certification in the senior phase. The view was that relaxing the mitigations would not be appropriate at this stage, particularly as the science would suggest an increased risk of transmission among young people during physical exertion indoors. However, the sub-group was prepared to agree that in exceptional circumstances where, for example, snow precludes it taking place out of doors,  physical education for the purpose of assessment could be allowed indoors provided that all other appropriate mitigations were in place regarding strict 2 metre physical distancing, ventilation, and hand and respiratory hygiene etc. 

The sub-group recognised the importance of physical education for the health and wellbeing of young people, and would keep the issue under review.

School-age childcare and blended placements  

The sub-group considered whether a return to the provision of school-age childcare as part of the phased return to in-person learning, would increase the risk of transmission, and should be considered in the first phase.  The sub-group noted that there was limited headroom in R to allow more services to reopen, beyond those which had already been set out in the advice published on 3 February, and that as soon as e.g. breakfast or after school clubs reopened, it would entail more mixing between cohorts than would be appropriate at this time. It would be better to look at how schools could provide the support necessary for vulnerable children (such as providing breakfast supplies) within the individual classroom setting.

The sub-group also looked again at the issue of blended placements, and reiterated the need to be cautious about any situation which has the potential to increase the numbers of people with whom children and adults have contact. The sub-group understood that blended placements are deployed for a range of reasons, and reiterated its advice to carry out appropriate risk assessments and keep the use of blended placements to as low a level as is reasonable to ensure essential childcare and support for families. 

Home educators

The sub-group considered the issue of whether home educators could begin to gather in indoor community spaces for educational purposes when schools/ELC begin the phased return to in-person learning. The sub-group advised that it remained very important to minimise the number of contacts and the risk of transmission during the phased return, and that schools and the ELC sector would be subject to strict mitigations to ensure the safety of staff and pupils. As such, it would not be appropriate to ease restrictions to allow groups to mix in unregulated environments, and that home educators should be encouraged to continue to make use of digital platforms for the purposes of group learning.   

Evidence review

The sub-group considered the latest evidence on COVID-10 and young people. There was concern that evidence continues to grow about the adverse impact of the pandemic and the associated public health control measures on children and young people’s physical and mental health. Also that children living in affluent households were more likely to be doing well psychologically and behaviourally during lockdown compared to those in less well-off households. The sub-group agreed to take a closer look at the review of evidence at its next meeting.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 23 February.