Publication - Minutes

COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 1 July 2021

Published: 31 Aug 2021
Date of meeting: 1 Jul 2021
Date of next meeting: 15 Jul 2021

Minutes from 1 July 2021 meeting of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group.

Published:
31 Aug 2021
COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 1 July 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees:

  • Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)   
  • Councillor Stephen McCabe, Children and Young People spokesperson, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) (co-Chair) 
  • Toni Andrews, Young Scot
  • Sam Anson, Deputy Director, Scottish Government  
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland 
  • Craig Clement, Education Scotland 
  • Alison Cumming, Interim Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government 
  • Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)  
  • Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth and Kinross Council (ADES)  
  • Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) 
  • Liam Fowley, MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament 
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive and Chief Inspector, Education Scotland    
  • Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People 
  • Elaine Kerridge, Children in Scotland
  • Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)  
  • Ben McKendrick, MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Janie McManus, Education Scotland
  • Jane O’Donnell, CoSLA 
  • Fiona Robertson, SQA  
  • Eileen Scott, NHS Health Scotland
  • Kay Sillars, UNISON 
  • Pauline Stephen, GTCS 
  • Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA 
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)  
  • Grace Vickers, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)
  • Margaret Wilson, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) 

Items and actions

Introduction  

The Cabinet Secretary opened the meeting. Councillor McCabe also welcomed everybody to the meeting and expressed enthusiasm to hear the views of the Education Youth Panel.

Minutes of previous meeting  

Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.

A question was raised about the progress of further talks regarding extended placement for probationer teachers. It was agreed that officials would take this forward, on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary.

Standing items data and feedback 

Data  

Data from across Scotland (not school specific data due to the school summer break) showed a steep increase in registered positive tests. This rise was reflected in a proportional increase across all age groups, with the biggest increases in the 18- 21 and 24 - 44 age groups. In particular, there were increases amongst men in both of these age groups. The Delta variant is known to be more transmissible than other strains. It was noted that it was too early to be able to determine trends or to fully understand the possible trajectory into the autumn, however the situation continues to be closely monitored by PHS.

Vaccination programme 

PHS colleagues shared that data is indicating that the vaccines are standing up well against the Delta variant, with hospitalisation and death rates remaining low. They also updated that the vaccination programme has now been expanded to include drop-in clinics for over 18s for both first and second jabs. However, it also remains important that baseline mitigations are followed e.g., washing hands, ventilation. 

The Cabinet Secretary outlined the change of emphasis in the Strategic Intent expressed in the updated Strategic Framework as: "to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future." This change has been possible due to the success of the vaccination programme. Concern around the rate of removing restrictions, given previous experience, is understandable and there would have to be a careful balance between the implications for all four harms.

Feedback from CERG  

The feedback paper was noted.

Young Scot/Education Youth Panel presentation

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed the representatives of the Education Youth Panel to the meeting. The Youth Panel (YP) had carried out a review looking at the priorities and experiences of children and young people. The meeting received a presentation from five members of the YP covering the key observations and findings from the report.

The issues raised were: 

Digital communication

  • some pupils felt that not all teachers were able to keep in touch with their pupils regularly enough during periods of remote learning. This led to reduced opportunities for guidance and feedback, and particularly affected pupils for whom it was necessary to share a device with a sibling

Digital connectivity and devices

  • the provision of devices for pupils was praised. However, there was a call for greater consideration of user skills and how these can be enhanced
  • it had been noted that there had been issues with variable Wi-Fi access across areas and a big divide between access in urban and rural environments
  • the panel welcomed the new opportunities that the online platforms gave, such as class delivery capture, which allows pupils to access past lessons online. The panel would like to see greater use of online resources incorporated into teaching practices going forward

Qualifications

  • the panel would also like to ensure a more productive relationship between the qualifications body and learners going forward
  • it was generally felt the 2021 cohort has had a better experience than pupils sitting national qualifications in 2020. However, frustrations continued to be felt over the timescales of decision making and communication with pupils and schools

The Cabinet Secretary thanked the panel members for their excellent presentation and the clarity of the key messages. The input of young people was highly valued and steps are being taken to ensure panel members are invited to take part in further meetings with stakeholders, where appropriate.

Update on the August return and mitigating measures 

The meeting received Paper 3 ‘CERG – Mitigations in education settings post-summer – approach to production of guidance’. 

It was agreed that the three main pieces of guidance to publish ahead of the next academic year should be: 

  • baseline mitigation measures for schools, with guidance in line with wider society protection levels
  • the approach to outbreak management 
  • a linked piece supporting readiness and assurance

The plan is to combine the three into one combined guidance document for publication before the start of the new school term, albeit with changes to come into place at a time (still tbc) thereafter.

As already communicated, the existing Reducing risks in schools guidance and associated mitigations will remain in place for the start of next term. A version of that longer guidance will remain available to act as a ‘how to’ compendium of mitigation.

The group welcomed the paper and agreed that guidance should continue to be developed in line with scientific advice and evidence. Views were also shared on the importance of balancing the need for a consistent and high-quality service provision alongside staff and pupil safety. 

It was requested that, given that the vaccination programme has moved to open access for all adults under the age of 40, members use their networks to encourage as many members of the education workforce as possible to participate in this offering. It was noted that the new self-registration and drop-in clinics were predicted to cover between 90 - 94% of the adult population by end of July. 

Education recovery – risks/horizon scanning 

The meeting received Paper 4. This paper focused on existing and emerging risks in the education recovery landscape, with members invited to comment either at the meeting or by correspondence. 

The paper was welcomed with a few points being emphasised:

  • the need to further consider ventilation and heating in schools
  • the utilisation of current data to determine the impact of the pandemic on learning, rather than introducing additional data collection reports
  • the request to maintain current enhanced levels of cleaning, due to the impact on reduced transmission of other common illnesses, as well as COVID

Any other business  

None raised. 

The Cabinet Secretary concluded the meeting and invited members to send any future potential agenda items to the Secretariat. The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues would be invited to present at the next meeting.

Next meeting   

The next meeting date: 15 July.

Meetings shall remain fortnightly over the summer holiday period.