COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 16 December 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the COVID-19 Education Recovery group, held on 16 December 2021.

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
  • Linda Bauld, Chair, Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
  • Laura Caven, CoSLA
  • Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • 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 
  • 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)
  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE

No apologies were received.

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed all to the meeting and reminded attendees of the need for confidentiality, given the potential for confusion where messages or discussions find their way into the public domain before decisions are fully agreed.

Minutes of previous meeting

The minutes of the last meeting were agreed with matters arising to be taken as part of today’s agenda.

Data monitoring and surveillance

The PHS focus was now primarily on Omicron. It was noted that there was good booster coverage for those aged 50-plus and better for those of age 60-plus, although this was less so in the under 20 age group. Case numbers had been increasing in those under 60 years, while for those at 60 plus the proportion of Omicron cases was currently similar to Delta. For children and young people, Omicron was at around 20% of cases, with a higher proportion for those over 18. 

The UK Health Security Agency data had demonstrated that the booster is effective in reducing the Omicron variant, although it was too early to look at hospitalisations. Data from South Africa had indicated that Omicron may not be as severe as Delta. In relation to secondary attack rates, household contacts are more likely to convert to cases with the Omicron variant, compared to Delta. In Scotland, it is more likely that someone will be an Omicron case if they are unvaccinated or have only had a single vaccination, and hospitalisation is less likely where two vaccinations have been given. Numbers of children in hospital with the disease is similar to recent weeks. Cases have recently increased in secondary schools. PHS will make checks as to the secondary attack rate for schools although there has not been a significant surge in cases in relation to school age children.

Sub group update

The sub-group had expressed concerns from an educational perspective about the delay in vaccine approval for five to 11 year old children. The Group had welcomed the recent comments from the First Minister about maximising mitigation measures and school closures being a measure of last resort.

They noted the recent data publication about school attainment, and also commented on the option of learner groupings in schools to be applied to reduce mixing. This should be proportionate, and there was no need for outdoor groupings to be re-instated. 

Actions such as enhancing ventilation measures, continued reporting of cases, testing those who visit schools, the need for primary children to take LFD tests, parental visits to schools to be supported on a case-by-case basis and that parent councils should not meet in school premises were considered. The previous restrictions in place on expressive arts should not be reinstated.

Schools and ELC guidance

The ventilation guidance was welcomed, and it was noted that around a third of staff who had been surveyed through EIS were supportive. In view of potentially cold conditions in school, the updated guidance highlights that schools should be flexible in the application of their uniform policies.

On critical worker exemptions, it was emphasised that this is a voluntary measure, with further discussion required around identifying who might volunteer and the extent to which personal household circumstances can be effectively established and risk-assessed in view of the need for personal confidentiality.

In view of the high case numbers, it was particularly important that communications to young people should be clear including the Education Scotland national e-learning offer.

Further guidance may be needed in relation to large gatherings. This would be particularly relevant for schools about to be involved in prelims.

It was noted that the government was having to respond to what was a fast-moving position. The teaching profession will wish to play their part in what is an exceptional challenge for the country as a whole. 

The Cabinet Secretary thanked members for their ongoing commitment to the partnership approach in framing guidance and gave an assurance that it would be developed collectively. 

Any other business

No matters were raised.

Next meeting 

The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone for their contributions and closed the meeting. Next meeting 13 January 2022 at 10am.

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