Attendees and apologies
- 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)
- Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People
- Sam Anson, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government
- Linda Bauld, Interim Chief Social Policy Adviser, SG
- Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
- Simon Cameron, CoSLA
- Craig Clement, Education Scotland
- Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Andy Drought, Deputy Director, School Infrastructure and Organisation, SG
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland
- Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, SG
- Douglas Hutchison, Association of Directors of Education, Scotland (ADES)
- Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, SG
- Janie McManus, Education Scotland
- Ben McKendrick, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Fiona Robertson, SQA
- Kay Sillars, UNISON
- Pauline Stephen, GTCS
- Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland
- Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
- Grace Vickers, SOLACE
- Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum Scotland
- Sheena Devlin
Items and actions
Welcome and introduction
The Cabinet Secretary and Councillor McCabe welcomed members to the meeting and noted that today’s meeting was planned to be the final CERG in the current format in the absence of an esclation of the threat level. They thanked the group for their various contributions and efforts over the last couple of years.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
Infection rates are increasing across all age groups. Of the recorded infections, approximately 10% is estimated to be Omicron reinfections of previous Alpha and Delta cases.
Vaccine effectiveness at 12+ weeks is at 56-79%. Resistance appears to be starting to wane at the post 12-week period, and the rollout of the spring booster is intended to combat this. There is nothing to suggest that the new Omicron variant known as BA.2 is more severe than the BA.1 variant.
On new variants, the group was advised of a paper published by SAGE in February that indicated that we cannot assume future variants will continue to be less severe.
Feedback from Advisory Subgroup on Education and Children’s Issues
Linda Bauld (Chair of the Advisory Sub-Group) reported that the group had advised that it would be appropriate to return to routine measures in a timely manner, probably after returning from the Easter Holidays . This would bring schools broadly in line with the timetable for the wider Strategic Framework and other easings across society.
In relation to asymptomatic testing, the view of the advisory sub-group was that the benefits of asymptomatic testing were likely to be outweighed by the disbenefits.
The members highlighted some possible differences between the school environment and other public spaces – e.g. the mandatory presence of staff - and the benefit of continuing to provide schools with protections appropriate to those circumstances.
Professor Bauld expanded on the advisory Sub-Group discussion on the contribution of asymptomatic testing to absences, and possible deleterious effects on pupil’s mental wellbeing should schools be singled out from plans for wider society. Some members expressed concern that the removal of asymptomatic testing undermines the belief that there is concern about staff welfare. While it is clear that it is a reassurance to some, there is a balance of costs and benefits.
Andy Drought provided an update to the group on the Scottish Government’s stance on asymptomatic testing, which is that it is not proportionate to continue testing much longer in schools or wider society.
Members were thanked for their important work over the duration of CERG’s existence and updated on the next iteration of the guidance for schools, which would be shared early the following week.
Prompted by Councillor McCabe, the group discussed COVID’s development from “pandemic” stage to “endemic” stage, and how it has not yet reached the latter. This would be achieved when the patterns of infection become more predictable, and of course monitoring of the virus will continue over the coming months.
Any other business
Ms Somerville thanked the group for all their work and thoughtful, useful contributions over the course of this journey, expressing hope it has been as useful for them as it was for her. The Cabinet Secretary paid tribute to Cllr McCabe for his significant role in all this, noting that it was an excellent example of how national and local government can come together.
Cllr McCabe also thanked the group, noting the challenges ahead and thanking everyone for their spirit of partnership.
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