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, Minister for Children and Young People
- Sam Anson, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government
- Beth Black, SQA
- Linda Bauld, Chair, Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues
- Ollie Bray, Education Scotland
- Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
- Laura Caven, CoSLA
- Craig Clement, Education Scotland
- Alison Cumming, Director, Early Learning and Childcare, SG
- Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Sheena Devlin, ADES
- Andy Drought, Deputy Director, Workforce and Infrastructure, Learning Directorate, SG
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive and Chief Inspector, Education Scotland
- Derek Grieve, Deputy Director, Vaccines Division, SG
- Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland
- Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, SG
- Douglas Hutchison, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
- Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, Scottish Government
- Janie McManus, Education Scotland
- Jane Moffat, Strategy, GIRFEC and The Promise Division
- Eleanor Passmore, Deputy Director, Early Learning and Childcare, SG
- Fiona Robertson, SQA
- Kay Sillars, UNISON
- Pauline Stephen, GTCS
- Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland
- Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA
- Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
- Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum Scotland
- Grace Vickers, SOLACE
Apologies were received from Sheena Devlin and Gayle Gorman
Items and actions
Welcome and introduction
The Cabinet Secretary and Councillor McCabe commended the education workforce for their support for children and young people in what was a challenging time for all involved in education.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
PHS noted that case numbers were on a downward trajectory, and that Delta now formed only 3% of cases.
According to the ONS data series, around 45% of five to 11 year olds have Covid antibodies. Pupil absences currently stand at 4.1% for Covid reasons. While there has been an increase in hospitalisation for those under one year, this was not raising particular concerns. A high level of booster vaccination for those over 50 was reported. Almost half of 17 year olds have had a second dose, albeit with lower uptake for those living in deprived areas. Vaccination uptake for teachers was 82%.
Data on vaccines for ELC, broken down by private and public sector was requested and concern was raised about the efficacy of interpreting data for LFD tests when this relied on self-reporting.
Members highlighted that antibody levels in primary school pupils were encouraging, providing a level of protection. However, additional communications were needed to help further increase vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds.
Overall, the system had coped well with school re-opening, with the greatest challenge being disruption due to staff absences.
Professor Bauld noted feedback regarding workforce challenges, and provided an update on recent meetings of the sub-group.
She reported that the sub-group had welcomed the changes in self-isolation rules and had discussed senior phase pupils, emphasising the need for decision making on the exams process at an appropriate time.
Other issues raised were child protection, ongoing agreement that face coverings were not considered necessary for primary pupils, and support for recent moves to improve school ventilation. In response to stakeholder feedback, they also reiterated that adopting an overly prescriptive national approach to measures such as, in terms of providing parameters to do with school assemblies, was not helpful at this stage of the pandemic.
The sub-group intended to prepare an evidence paper for JCVI from the perspective of educational and social impacts related to decisions on vaccinations for five to 11 year olds.
It was noted that while the return to school had been fairly smooth, there remained concern that ELC and school staff were fatigued. In addition to Covid challenges, members highlighted that keeping schools open is reliant on positive staff well-being and there is a need to reward staff for their effort in some form.
While the Scottish Government updated guidance on reducing risks in early January had initially caused some concerns, the main focus now was on exams and any advice from the SQA. School leaders were having to take on other additional work to support COVID measures, alongside catering, cleaning, transport and janitorial staff. There were also concerns that COVID measures were impacting on time usually set aside for school improvement activity.
In relation to vaccination, there were some specific concerns still being raised to NPFS officers around heart problems associated with the second vaccination more communication would be welcome on the safety of the approach being taken to counter any misinformation and reluctance by parents. Actions had been taken to encourage uptake, such as directly text messaging, comms to challenge misinformation and plans for walk-in clinics. It was also noted that there are currently good levels of available vaccine capacity in the system.
Fiona Robertson noted that the SQA had set out their broad approach to assessment for 2022 in August last year, and that had included those contingencies that may be necessary. SQA will continue to look at the data coming through and keep CERG updated.
Plans are based on examinations going ahead from April to June. Modifications are in place for all courses to reduce the burden on young people. If significant disruption continues SQA will move to “Scenario two”. This means supporting learners with their final revision in the immediate run-up to exams, with the aim of reducing exam stress. A decision on implementing Scenario two could be made fairly soon, with materials being provided to students in March. SQA also have existing arrangements to address any disruption and non-attendance.
It was noted that communications on this is a major issue for young people and there is a sense that they are seeing a repeat of last year. Action on scenario two in March may be too late. However, there is a balance to be struck. If revision materials are provided too early, there is a concern around the narrowing of teaching and learning.
Education Scotland needs to look at what additional support is provided to students who have had their learning disrupted. ES support from National four to Advanced Higher had been well attended, with more than 2,500 young people engaged since last November. In addition, more live learning is being offered, particularly for primary. Any SQA support needs to try to reflect the different circumstances in which young people find themselves.
Any other business
No matters were raised.
20 January 2022 at 10am.
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