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
- Ollie Bray, Education Scotland
- Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
- Laura Caven, CoSLA
- Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Craig Clement, Education Scotland
- Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
- 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, SG
- 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
- Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum Scotland
Apologies were received from Clare Haughey, Gayle Gorman, Gillian Hamilton and Sheena Devlin.
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. Data shows signs for cautious optimism. There should be a continued focus on health and wellbeing of staff and young people.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
Covid cases have reached a peak around 13 January 2022 and are decreasing in all age cohorts apart from the five to 11 age group. There is still a high proportion of cases throughout schools, however, there are now fewer schools with high numbers of cases.
Vaccine uptake report shows that at least 84% of teachers have received their booster and 64% of ELC staff. This also shows that 52% of 16 to 17 year olds and 27% of 12 to 16 year olds have taken a second dose. Vaccine uptake among young people remains lower in more deprived areas.
Some concern was expressed from members about the accuracy of LFD tests. PHS noted that tests were accurate, particularly when prevalence of disease is high as at present (there is a higher proportion of false positives when prevalence is lower). PHS noted the request for further communications on this issue, and are considering a further supportive blog.
Data shows that adults are four times more likely to be hospitalised if they haven’t received their vaccine or booster. The risk of hospitalisation or death from Omicron is around a third of what it is compared to Delta, though the re-infection rate with Omicron is higher.
There are still significant pressures on school leadership teams to maintain classes in schools and keep schools open. This leaves less time for leadership teams to focus on continuous improvement. Education Scotland was due to meet with colleagues later on 20 January, to ensure any activities undertaken by HMI are supportive of the system.
School staff absences are still a concern, although rates are improving, with data showing that 2.6% of all school staff and 3.7% of teachers are off due to Covid reasons.
It was also noted that there are added pressures on ELC staff, with some unable to get boosters over the Christmas break due to isolation/infection, some staff in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector don’t have access to sick pay so this can add further financial pressure to staff.
Managing the transition to living safely alongside COVID-19
Update to the Strategic Framework
The Strategic Framework will be updated in the upcoming weeks, and will take us to the end of 2022 and beyond. The key theme will be how to live with Covid safely and managing the transition to from pandemic to endemic status.
As part of the development of a ‘pandemic-proof’ education system, the focus is likely to include, digital devices and connectivity, workforce resilience and support, the National e-Learning Offer and ensuring ongoing good ventilation.
Protections in schools
There was discussion of the schools guidance, and initial consideration of the appropriate timing for a move to baseline measures. Next week will see the highest contrast between schools and wider societal restrictions.
The group advised that restrictions should be relaxed in a measured, planned way, focusing on key areas such as health and wellbeing of children and young people, and mitigations affecting learning and teaching. A more in-depth discussion would be required to look at the timescale for a move to baseline measures. It was also noted that, in the longer term, schools should have the same mitigations as wider society in place.
There continue to be workload challenges around changing the mitigations in schools, and the capacity of school staff to manage further change. More discussion is needed about how to live with COVID in the longer term, including cleaning and facilities management capacity. Concerns around the accrued amount of non-contact time for leadership teams, and staff resilience more generally, were noted, and the Cabinet Secretary agreed that all of these detailed points merited further consideration in the coming weeks.
The priority of clear communication to young people was strongly emphasised.
Any other business
No matters were raised.
27 January 2022 at 10am.
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