COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 21 October 2021

Minutes from 21 October 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)  
  • Sam Anson, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government   
  • Jane Brumpton, Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland
  • Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Alison Cumming, Director of Early Learning & Childcare, Scottish Government
  • Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) 
  • Andy Drought, Deputy Director, Workforce & Infrastructure
  • Lynda Fenton, Public Health Scotland  
  • Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
  • Liam Fowley, MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive and Chief Inspector, Education Scotland 
  • Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, Scottish Government  
  • Douglas Hutchison, Incoming President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)  
  • Ben McKendrick, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Kay Sillars, UNISON
  • Victoria Smith, GTCS
  • Gill Stewart, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE   
  • Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS


Apologies were received from:

  • Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People
  • Sheena Devlin, (Executive Director, Perth & Kinross Council (ADES)
  • Carrie Lindsay (President, Association of Directors of Education, in Scotland (ADES)
  • Fiona Robertson, (Scottish Qualifications Authority, Gill Stewart attending)
  • Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland, Lynda Fenton attending)
  • Pauline Stephen, (GTCS, Victoria Smith attending)

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting. The meeting would look at data and receive an update on the asymptomatic testing programme in schools.

Cllr McCabe stated that he thought the decision taken on retaining mitigations in schools was the right one given the weekly data, and he was pleased to see the good vaccination uptake data for 12 to 15 years old age group.

The Cabinet Secretary stated that she had been aware of some of the concerns raised by CERG members regarding potential changes to mitigations at the previous meeting, and she thanked everyone for their engagement in subsequent discussions with clinicians, officials and other stakeholders. These had been very valuable in informing the decision to pause implementation of any changes at this stage.

The Scottish Government’s current position is that mitigations will remain in place while we continue to monitor key data series. In particular, this will include a weekly review of case rates and seroprevalence levels. She understood that there would be a mixed reaction to this position, with some people being frustrated, while others would welcome the decision.

The Cabinet Secretary expressed her disappointment that confidential information had been leaked and stated how damaging this was. It was important for CERG to continue to work in a supportive and collaborative manner as this had been extremely beneficial to the group’s previous excellent work.

Minutes of previous meeting

Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.

Standing items: data and feedback 


The meeting received a presentation from PHS colleagues.

The uptake of vaccination in young people was encouraging with 48.2% uptake in the 12 to 15 age group and 74.1% in the 16 to 17 year old group.

There had been a small decrease in cases, and the case rate in 16 to 17 years olds was beginning to show the disrupting impact of vaccination on transmission. However, it was noted that case numbers were still higher than would be desirable.

The distribution of cases within schools based upon available management information appeared to be stable.

Hospitalisations had declined in all age groups, and in particular in the older age groups who tended to be fully vaccinated.

The reporting of testing rates showed a decrease, but this was most probably reflective of the mid-term break period.

Feedback from CERG

No feedback had been received

Update on the asymptomatic testing in schools

The testing programme in schools and ELC (Early Learning and Childcare) settings is the largest asymptomatic testing programme within Scotland other than the universal offer, and feedback on the guidance and overall infrastructure of the programme had been broadly positive. The programme had identified over 7,500 positive cases, and this is likely to have had an impact on transmission of the virus in school settings and in families.

The rate of reporting of all LFT results (as opposed to actual testing) remained low and there were significant variations across local authorities. Feedback from users and local authorities had, over the course of the programme, identified a range of factors that might be influencing people's behaviour in testing and reporting results, including issues around the UK Government reporting portal, testing fatigue, perceptions of accuracy of tests, a lack of a supportive home environment for some pupils, and concern over having to isolate at important times in the school year. Early user feedback had also shown that in some cases there was a lack of awareness that all tests should be reported, and a lack of understanding as to why this was important.

The motivations for taking tests were largely positive and altruistic, for example helping keeping friends and families safe and contributing to wider efforts to control the virus, as well as due to encouragement from parents and schools etc. It was clear that parental support and encouragement was an important influence for pupils.

In order to improve test uptake and reporting rates, the SG (Scottish Government) team had drawn on user feedback to work with partners to put in place a range of improvements. These included work with the UK Government to simplify and improve the recording of tests on the digital portal, updated and enhanced guidance to schools and local authorities, publication of data for local authorities and schools to help with local action, and a significant range of communication material for example radio and digital media campaigns, Parent Club and Young Scot communications including video and live sessions.

In addition, they were working with other stakeholders to encourage sharing of good practice and targeted messaging through their networks.

Further actions planned included looking at ways to reduce the administrative burdens on schools, and updating key communication channels, for example via the YoungScot website. As parental support appeared to be a strong contributing factor it was suggested that further promotion and engagement with parent forums for example NPFS could be effective.

The Cabinet Secretary noted the comprehensive and valuable presentation and thanked officials for their work in the area.

Any other business

No matters were raised.

Next meeting

The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone for their contributions and closed the meeting. Next meeting 4 November (10.00am).

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