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)
- Sam Anson, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government
- Jean Blair, Scottish Qualifications Authority
- Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland
- Simon Cameron (CoSLA)
- Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Craig Clement, Education Scotland
- Alison Cumming, Director of Early Learning & Childcare, SG
- Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth & Kinross Council (ADES)
- Greg Dempster Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Eddie Follan, CoSLA
- John Gallacher, UNISON
- Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive and Chief Inspector, Education Scotland
- Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland
- Julie Humphreys, Deputy Director, Children & Young People Covid Recovery
- Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
- Janie McManus, Education Scotland
- Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, Scottish Government
- Jamie MacDougall, Deputy Director, Vaccines Policy and Strategy, SG
- 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
- Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
- Clare Haughey MSP
- Liam Fowley MSYP
- Fiona Robertson (Jean Blair attending)
Items and actions
The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting, including introducing Chelsey Clay, who works alongside Liam Fowley in the Youth Parliament.
The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone for their contributions to the updating of the ‘Reducing Risks in Schools Guidance’ and directed members attention to the new vaccination programme for 12 -15-year-olds, as announced by the FM on 14 September.
The focus for discussion in this meeting would be on the most recent data and feedback on the implementation of the updated guidance.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
Standing items data and feedback
Data (item 3a)
As of 15 September, 65% of 16-17-year-olds had had a first dose, as well as 75% of 18-19-year-olds. The uptake amongst teachers was 95% for the first dose and 92% were now fully vaccinated. This data was seen as encouraging as the vaccines were holding up well and remained effective in disrupting the transmission pathway.
The number of cases reported is now decreasing across all the children and young people age groups. Although case numbers still remained high, the trend was now downwards. 41% of schools had not reported any cases, although the number of cases was proportionally higher in secondary schools. The proportion of hospitalisations for children had remained steady over a number of weeks and remained at a low level. The data was still indicating that school transmission is not a major driver of overall case rates, and it was noted that current modelling predicted that the downward trend in case numbers would continue.
Feedback from CERG (item 3b)
The feedback paper was noted.
The updated ‘Reducing Risks in Schools Guidance’ had been well received by the sector. Concerns were however raised over the ongoing high number of reported absences for teaching staff. It was acknowledged that it is difficult to determine what proportion of such absences were due to Covid illness and/or symptoms, and what proportion was due to self-isolation or family isolation.
The tightening of the contact tracing approach and the new Information Letter were noted. Some concerns remained over how schools and school staff were alerted to outbreaks. It was confirmed that all low-risk contacts would receive the Information Letter. It was reiterated that where a member of staff has any concerns, they can seek a PCR test. Individual risk assessments for members of staff in the higher risk category should also have been carried out at the start of term and this would reflect any specific requirements.
Some concerns were noted that the changes in contact tracing would mean that teachers may be classified as low risk, despite spending extended periods of time with potential cases. While this was equivalent to the categorisation applied across the adult population, it could also have a detrimental impact on staff wellbeing and lead to staff perhaps feeling unsafe at work.
The Cabinet Secretary stated that the guidance for the safety of the school environment for staff and pupils had been built on a range of mitigations measures and was informed by the advice of clinicians and other experts. These mitigations and the vaccination programme collectively helped to ensure the safety of schools. The specific points raised by union colleagues would be further reflected upon.
The meeting was provided with a progress update on the adoption of CO2 monitors in schools. There is a mixed picture at the moment, but no local authorities had reported that they would be unable to meet the October target. Members were asked to help support local authorities to reach to this deadline, sharing knowledge and solutions. One issue that local authorities were facing was in the delivery of monitors, with some waiting up to 6 weeks from ordering to delivery.
It was noted that there were currently 307 vacancies in 29 local authorities and 150 of these were for permanent posts. Some of the larger local authorities were now advertising for supply teachers as well. There remained some concerns over the ability of some local authorities to attract candidates, and further analysis and work was taking place to identify the issues around this.
Letter on setting up the Scottish COVID-19 public inquiry
The meeting papers included a letter regarding the Scottish COVID-19 Public Inquiry. The Scottish Government team establishing the Inquiry has indicated that they would value the input of CERG members in their professional and representative capacities by 30 September. A meeting between stakeholders and the readiness team would be arranged if there was an appetite for that.
Any other business
Recommencement of Inspection Activities.
Education Scotland had made unions and local authorities aware of its intention to recommence inspection activities in the current school term. This was to be communicated to schools later in the day. The decision to recommence inspections while case numbers and staff absences were at very high levels was questioned with the request that it be delayed.
It was noted that the Inspectorate was fully aware of these issues, and therefore a phased approach would be taken, with the inspections in the autumn term focusing on the schools waiting for follow up visits. The Inspectorate plan to employ a mixture of virtual and non-virtual methods to carry out the inspections and no new documentation would be asked for. Local circumstances would be taken into consideration in confirming any visit and the format of that visit. The Inspectorate intends to commence inspections after the Christmas break, and there would be close liaison with local authorities and schools on timings etc. A webinar for headteachers had been produced to explain the approach and to support schools in managing their visit.
It was noted that inspections would only be carried out where there was a safe environment to do so and the schedule would of course reflect the circumstances of wider society at that point of time.
The Cabinet Secretary thanked members for their contributions and closed the meeting. Next meeting will be on 23 September 2021.
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