Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Subgroup on Universities and Colleges minutes: 15 February 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 15 February 2022.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Jon Vincent
  • Eileen Scott
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Kathy Johnston
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick

Assessment discussion representatives

  • Prof Louise Hayward
  • Mags Paterson


  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Gary Gillespie

SG COVID-19 analysis division

  • Audrey MacDougall

SG (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • Alistair Imlach
  • Alan Sloan
  • Steven Scott
  • Keira McCutcheon
  • Nicolas White
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Kris McKeown
  • Elizabeth Morrison
  • Keith Fernie
  • Sara Lightbody
  • Jonathan Sewell
  • Evangelia Nakou
  • Tracy Manning

Secretariat (Scottish Government)

  • John Keenan
  • Sarah Wotton

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Professor Linda Bauld. The Chair welcomed Professor Louise Hayward, Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation at the University of Glasgow, and Mags Patterson, Scottish Qualification Agency (SQA) Head of Service - Qualifications Development, Creative, Hospitality and Sport, to the meeting. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation. Apologies for the meeting were received from Professor Chris Chapman and Gary Gillespie.

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising

Sub-group members were asked for any comments on the draft minutes from the meeting on 1 February. All were content for the minutes to be published online.

The Chair updated members on the following:

  • the Advice Note Adaptations to help manage the next phase and future phases of COVID-19, an output of the last meeting, was discussed at the Advanced Learning COVID-19 Recovery Group (CRG) on 8 February, along with the Strategic Framework update. The Chair thanked all CRG members for their feedback, and highlighted they welcomed that the Advice Note was balanced. The Chair highlighted that universities and colleges representatives also welcomed signalling towards less prescriptive sector-specific guidance and the idea of national level leadership with support from a group, like the CRG. Union representatives provided written feedback on the importance of continued support for more vulnerable staff and students
  • the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues provided advice on the removal of the mandatory requirement for pupils to wear face coverings in secondary school classrooms, whilst retaining it for other parts of the school estate, and supporting staff and students who choose to wear face coverings. The recommendations were made in the context of classrooms and school pupils. The First Minister stated that the secondary school classroom face covering requirement for pupils will be lifted from the 28 February 2022. The requirement for face coverings in the Further, Higher education and Community Learning and Development settings will be considered within the Strategic Framework as part of considerations for wider society. There are variations in mitigation requirements across the UK
  • colleagues are exploring options for testing requirements given possible changes in England. Mass asymptomatic testing of students may not be possible in the future and could have implications on student testing capacity for national and international student and staff travel. There are changes regarding international travel requirements that may have implications on student and staff travel. Future considerations for health surveillance requirements are in discussion across the UK
  • the Chair thanked members for updating their Register of Interests

COVID-19 Surveillance update

Dr Eileen Scott summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in FE/HE, symptom surveillance and outcomes.

  • 83% of individuals aged 17 to 21 years old have had their first vaccine, 73% have had their second vaccine and 64% of eligible 17 to 21 year olds have had their booster vaccine
  • antibody rates for 16 to 25 year olds in Scotland are estimated to be 91%. ONS data for 16 to 24 year olds estimates that 98.5% have COVID-19 antibodies
  • there has been a decline in cases among individuals aged 18 to 19 years old and a small increase in cases in individuals aged 20 to 39 years old and 16 to17 years
  • ONS data suggests infection prevalence is lower in the 16 to 22 year age range. Data from England shows a slight increase in cases among the college and university cohorts and cases remain relatively low overall
  • initial COVID-19 postcode data analysis of university and student accommodation settings shows 1130 positive cases, a 151% increase in cases compared to the previous week. Prevalence of cases are greatest in Fife, Tayside, Forth Valley and Grampian health boards. The halls of residence of St Andrew’s University show a greater proportion of cases compared to others. A greater proportion of cases have been asymptomatic overall. Figures are currently under review before this data will be published

Modelling: projections for the academic year

Dr Audrey MacDougall updated members on recent modelling outputs summarising that:

  • Four Worlds Modelling slides were updated and shared with members. While the situation is currently optimistic, Dr MacDougall warned of the need to guard against optimism bias to be prepared in case things worsen in the future
  • the Scottish Contacts Survey shows contact numbers remain relatively low, around 5.1 per person. This indicates that despite restrictions easing, there remains a level of caution within the population. Individuals aged 18 to 29 years old reported an increase in contacts relating to work. Increases in visits to pubs and restaurants and decreases in visits to health care facilities were indicated
  • if baseline measures remain in place, modelling demonstrates a slow downward trajectory in cases, hospitalisations and intensive care unit (ICU) numbers. If all restrictions were to be eased on 28 February, as a modelled example, in a worst-case scenario there may be increases in infection and hospitalisation numbers. In a central case scenario, the situation should remain manageable

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • members were interested in the University of St Andrews postcode analysis case data showing that outbreaks can occur even when the overall prevalence of cases is declining. It is a reminder that transmission can still occur, particularly in student accommodation. Members said they would like more information about the context and behaviours related to this outbreak and the significance and impacts of outbreaks of varying sizes for future planning. The University of St Andrews data may be linked to social events. Other universities have reported an increase in cases to the Scottish Government. Dr Scott will gather more information on the University of St Andrews outbreak for future learning
  • using current case prevalence, modelling shows that lifting a number of small restrictions at the same time makes marginal differences to modelled data

Assessment reform

The Chair drew attention to Prof Hayward’s presentation and the shared discussion questions, and opened the discussion on adaptations to assessment that have occurred during the pandemic impacting Higher and Further Education and young learners moving into tertiary education systems.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • Prof Hayward thanked members for their interest in assessment and learning from the pandemic. Many assessment issues faced during the pandemic existed before the pandemic, such as equity challenges. Approaches taken during the pandemic are not a model for the future, although lessons can be learned from the amended/alternative assessment practices, and where they worked well, consideration should be given to how such changes could enhance assessment, going forward. The pandemic provides an opportunity to consider what elements of assessment are essential for the learner journey, progression and assessment alignment. Prof Hayward acknowledged the relevance of a paper on post pandemic assessment by the International Education Assessment Network and Gordon Stobart’s report referencing the UK’s strong tradition of examinations
  • Mags Paterson thanked members for the invitation to the meeting and made reference to Professor Muir’s review and Prof Hayward’s forthcoming review
  • recognition was given to a wider programme of work on assessment that is being undertaken across government
  • interesting and authentic assessment approaches were introduced to the system as a result of the pandemic, such as open book and 24-hour assessment. As we move out of the pandemic, it will be important that the desire to return to the status quo of traditional practices does not mean the loss of these innovations
  • SQA has seen an increasing demand for online assessment during the pandemic. This has been challenging as many courses have been written for a particular type of assessment. Some good practices were developed through collaboration and there is an appetite not to return to the assessment status quo before the pandemic. The employer and training sector providers have good examples of assessment changes.
  • recent holistic processes for assessment have driven a focus on learning and less preoccupation with preparations for exams and assessments
  • in some vocational subjects, employers encourage more assessment, rather than a focus on skills capacity development
  • Professional Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRB’s) allowed temporary solutions to assessment during the pandemic and some are now returning to traditional assessment strategies. Some significant innovations for the assessment of student teachers on placement were undertaken during the pandemic. It is important to keep assessment innovations that have transformed education during the pandemic
  • the health service has undergone some transformations in assessment, particularly with digital innovations. Work to retain these innovative practices is underway and learning of assessment changes can be taken across sectors
  • it is important that young people leave the further and higher education sector feeling like they have been treated fairly and with dignity during the pandemic
  • there are small practical things that can be done to support young people with assessments and take into account the pandemic context for example, SQA are directing young people to areas of the curriculum that are likely to occur in this year’s assessment
  • identification of what really matters within the curriculum is important and assessment should be focussed on this. Assessment is not always aligned to what is important for employment. Young people, teachers, lecturers, accreditors of courses and employers need to be involved in assessment decision making and identifying what matters for lifelong learning. Any changes to assessment and innovation should benefit people equally in terms of health and wellbeing and minimise adverse effects on the most disadvantaged
  • some grade inflation occurred with the national school examinations and some students may have enrolled on courses that may have stretched their level of ability and this is resulting in particularly challenging educational experiences for those students. In the college sector, there has been a substantial level of student withdrawals from courses. Understanding the reasons for this are important along with available support for student re-engagement in education. This has implications for staff planning to support the cohort of students impacted by grade inflation as they are likely to experience more challenges as they progress through their courses
  • lost learning impacts need to be considered on an individual basis. Disruption to learning for students has also occurred as a result of staff absence
  • students often experience anxiety due to missing parts of their education as they are concerned about passing their courses. Adaptations during the pandemic have enabled students to progress despite missing elements of education and learning could be taken from this to improve mental wellbeing for students
  • the No Detriment Policy provides learning about what is essential for a student’s journey through the curriculum
  • members expressed that there is unused flexibility within the Scottish, Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) system that could be explored. An example of assessment adaptation was shared for the SCQF Level seven football refereeing qualification delivered in schools. At the start of the pandemic, many people did not want to enter school buildings. Assessment was therefore adapted to enable evidence gathering across the wider curriculum e.g. writing skills evidenced in History or English to show the ability to write a report
  • simulation can be an effective form of assessment. There may be opportunities to offer simulation assessment for elements of practical courses. Some employers prefer workplace assessment, which has been difficult during the pandemic, and simulation assessments were reinstated during the pandemic
  • involving staff in the identification of their professional learning from the beginning is important
  • the understanding across sectors of curriculum content and progression could be improved through cross-sectoral conversations to ensure qualifications complement each other

The Chair invited members to submit additional written submissions and thanked everyone for their contributions.

Wider Harms summaries discussion

The Chair outlined the amendments that have been made to the Wider Harms thematic paper.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the paper was very well received by members and they welcomed the amendments and provided positive comments
  • members suggested some additional amendments to the content
  • the intention is to publish the paper to facilitate further discussions
  • members are invited to share any additional relevant evidence for consideration

AOB and close

The Chair brought the meeting to a close and thanked all members for their time. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 1 March 2022.


  • Eileen to gather University of St Andrews outbreak information for future learning
  • members are invited to submit written admissions on the assessment discussion
  • the Thematic Wider Harms paper will be amended based on members’ comments and members are invited to share additional evidence
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