COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 12 August 2021

Minutes from 12 August 2021 meeting of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group.

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)  
  • Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)   
  • Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland   
  • Craig Clement, Education Scotland   
  • Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth & Kinross Council (ADES)   
  • Greg Dempster Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)  
  • Andy Drought, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government 
  • Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA  
  • Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland 
  • Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People 
  • Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)   
  • Janie McManus, Education Scotland  
  • Eileen Scott, Public Health Scotland  
  • Grace Vickers, Chief Executive, Midlothian Council / SOLACE
  • Duncan McCormick, Public Health Scotland  
  • James Wilson, SG COVID Testing and Contact Tracing Policy
  • Jamie Dunlop, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Kay Sillars, UNISON 
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, GTCS 
  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority  
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)   
  • Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) 

Apologies :

  • John Gallacher (Kay Sillars representing Unison) and Gayle Gorman

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting.

Minutes of previous meeting  

The minutes of the last meeting were agreed.

Standing items data and feedback 


Public Health Scotland (PHS) provided a brief update on data. Numbers of cases had been relatively stable during the past few weeks, albeit at a slightly higher level than last August.

Initial data around LFD uptake and reporting in the small number of local authorities returning during that week were presented. These appeared to show continuing low uptake - however, these initial data needed to be treated with caution, as new baseline denominators (to reflect changes in the school population) had not yet been finalised, and some return to school testing may be being undertaken via the universal testing pathway.

PHS noted they publish a weekly report on the impact of the vaccination programme in terms of cases, hospitalisations and deaths by vaccination status. This shows in particular that hospital admissions are at lower rates in those who are double vaccinated. PHS expects the rate for double vaccinations (plus two weeks to build effectiveness) in teachers to be around 94% by 25 September; PHS are actively considering similar projections for wider school and ELC workforce.

Feedback from CERG  

The feedback paper was noted. 

There was discussion of changes to the contact tracing approach. Some members raised the risk of more asymptomatic transmission in schools if there was to be less tracing and testing in schools. This would be closely monitored. Work previously undertaken by PHS on the (low) levels of risk of transmission in asymptomatic children and young people will be published shortly.

PHS noted that the contact tracing service remains the same risk-based service, but the way in which transmission risks would be managed had developed in light of emerging evidence. The risks of direct harm from COVID (which were very low for children and young people, and significantly altered for the adult staff population due to vaccination) had to be balanced against the negative impact of requiring self-isolation among large numbers of children and young people, when the available evidence suggested that the large majority of them would ultimately be unlikely to develop COVID. 

It was agreed that SG contact tracing officials would work with PHS and Learning Directorate officials to develop and share further information in response to remaining questions from members, including the evidence/rationale in support of the refined approach. This has now been published: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools.

Results update  

Fiona Robertson from SQA set out the 2021 SQA qualifications achieved and released this week.

Total entries per year had been broadly similar over the past five years, for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. Attainment of A-C grades had climbed in 2020 from 75-80% to 89-94%, but had fallen back slightly this year by 2-3 percentage points. More A grades were achieved this year compared to last year, across the three qualification types (though clearly the totality of young people's attainment is considerably broader than these). In looking at the uppermost and lowermost SIMD quintiles, the gap had remained broadly similar to the previous year. 

Members expressed thanks to staff and congratulations to young people for good results in a difficult year. The rate of appeals relative to the number of awards looked very low. Members did ask what the arrangements and contingency plans would look like for the 2022 session. The Cabinet Secretary will make an announcement soon, but work continues at the National Qualifications group, including consideration of contingency plans. It was recognised that consideration needs to be given to arrangements for practical, vocational and college courses to ensure continuing levels of access to these.

Return to school

Members took the opportunity to discuss the return to school, beginning this week. There was a particular focus on ventilation. The strengthened guidance and further commitments on CO2 monitoring were welcomed. Some members reported that practice to date on CO2 monitoring was inconsistent across local authority areas, and felt that the good practice demonstrated by some local authorities needed to be shared more widely. The issue of ventilation and warmth would become ever more pressing in the coming weeks moving into autumn. Officials reported feedback that some local authorities had placed large orders for CO2 monitors following the announcement of funding, and that positive joint working through SHOPS and ADES Resources continued.

Members indicated that staff training to prepare for any changes to mitigations would be important to ensure consistency, particularly around complex issues such as ventilation/CO2 monitoring.

On vaccinations for young people, around 17% of 16-17 year-olds had already been vaccinated through existing priority groups. PHS expects strong uptake within this group, especially if JCVI were to recommend vaccinations for other groups under 18 in the future. Guidance now made clear that pregnant women should get vaccinated.

Education recovery strategy/plan

Members had received the most recent draft document, which was now nearing completion. There were still some final updates to be made, with future communications likely to be undertaken via correspondence rather than further meetings of the Education Recovery Strategy Subgroup.

Some members indicated they wished to provide further final feedback. The possibility of case studies demonstrating how local authorities/schools were making use of additional funding to address the impacts of Covid-19 on children and young people was also raised.

Any further comments on the strategy were requested by return, to CERG Secretariat.

Any other business  

None raised. 

Next meeting   

Weekly meetings have now been reinstated for the first few weeks of term. The next meeting will be 19 August. 

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