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
- Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth and Kinross Council (ADES)
- Greg Dempster Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
- John Gallacher, UNISON
- Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive and Chief Inspector, Education Scotland
- Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People
- Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
- Ben McKendrick, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Janie McManus, Education Scotland
- Eleanor Passmore, Deputy Director, Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government
- Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority
- Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland
- Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA
- Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)
- Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
- apologies were received from Jane Brumpton, (Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland)
Items and actions
The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting. The primary purpose of the meeting was to undertake the routine review of the data and to receive an update on the most recent Advisory Sub-Group meeting.
She noted in particular:
- the letter from Professor Jason Leitch that issued to parents, 16 September
- the CMO letter to Directors of Education and headteachers, 20 September and
- the NPFS webinar with PHS experts and Scottish Government officials, 22 September
Cllr McCabe noted that the case numbers amongst pupils had started to fall despite no recent changes to protection levels and mitigations. While the fall was welcome there would still be challenges ahead and it would be useful to carry out a horizon scanning exercise to inform the education delivery and strategy.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
Standing items, data and feedback
As of 22 September, 70% of 16-17 year olds and 76% of 18-19 year olds had received one dose of the vaccination. The number of Covid-related deaths across Scotland thankfully remained low, and were predominantly in the 80 plus age group. The rates of hospitalisations were still low and it remains the unvaccinated grouping that are showing the highest rate of admission for severe illness. In particular the data is showing a decrease in the level of admissions for children.
There was a decline in cases in the 5-15 age groups, and a slight levelling off in the downward trend in cases amongst 16-17 year olds. Data indicated that 45.8% of schools had no reported cases that week. As the school registers were only now beginning to settle, the data for P1 had not been included to date. This will be included from next week.
It was suggested that it could be helpful if the data on cases over the whole school estate could be published, as this may provide context and reassurance to the wider society around transmission in the school environment.
There was also some discussion as to why case rates were falling across most age groups, but no definitive answer at this stage.
Feedback from CERG
The feedback paper was noted.
This was a successful event, with a range of questions submitted from parents. NPFS reported that a degree of confusion remained amongst some parents around the self-isolation guidance. However, it was still too early to see if the changes to Test and Protect would help to reduce this. An example provided was that some parents represented were still unclear on the requirement for testing of primary school pupils in the event of a positive case within a class. It was confirmed that the guidance states that a lateral flow test (LFT) twice a week is required for secondary pupils, while parents of primary school children are advised that they can also support their children to take tests if they wish to do so.
The webinar had been an opportunity to dispel some myths and provide reassurance, especially around vaccinations, on which parents frequently see conflicting messaging.
- officials to work with NPFS to identify how the evidence and clear messages over vaccinations could be shared more effectively to reach more parents
It was reported that some headteachers had started to receive unpleasant letters threatening them with legal action in relation to the perceived involvement of schools in vaccinations. Local authorities were working to provide a high-level response to these letters, and it was suggested that this message should be reinforced with government level communications explaining the extent of the role of schools in the programme. The Cabinet Secretary, CoSLA and Scottish Government to work together to resolve this issue.
School inspections commencement
Members reported that the announcement of the commencement of inspectorate work had not been well received in schools, given the additional pressures that COVID had already added to school operations, and the potential cumulative impact of this additional work. It was reiterated that Education Scotland teams would work closely with local authorities and schools over scheduling and structure. Education Scotland colleagues expressed the importance of gaining an insight into the work of Scottish schools throughout the pandemic, to be able to share good practice and to build on the work that had been carried out virtually between schools and Education Scotland during the last school year.
Update from the Advisory Sub-Group
The Sub-group had considered four main themes:
- school visitors
- the approach to self-isolation within ELC settings and
- provision of support within ASN settings
Four categories of visitors had been considered: parents attending for a child-centred meeting; parent council meetings and community interventions; parent spectators at in-school sports activities; and religious observance and assemblies. The subgroup considered that there was increasing evidence that the risks of the first three activities in particular were marginal, and that these could resume. In addition, they recognised that there were still some concerns over the associated risk of bringing large numbers of individuals together, as would likely happen for religious observance and assemblies. On balance, however, they felt it would be okay for such activities to also resume, but stated that clear parameters should be put around that change.
Early learning centres
Members had agreed to maintain the current advice, emphasising that vaccination is the main protective measure for adults, the risk of very young children contracting COVID-19 remains low, and it may be very difficult for under 5s to tolerate repeatedly being testing. The group committed to further exploring, at its next meeting, the evidence base on transmission in under 5s and any data on household transmission that is available, given that childminders often operate in family homes. To address the issue of confidence in the sector the group agreed to set out a short summary of the rationale for the existing policy.
Additional support needs settings/provision
The Sub-Group had reviewed the evidence and their judgement was that no new guidance was required. Public Health Scotland and ASN policy colleagues would work further with sector representatives to address any remaining operational concerns. National data on transmission rates and case numbers in ASN settings would be shared with CERG.
Any other business
No matters were raised.
The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone and closed the meeting. The next meeting would be 30 September.
Note: There would be no meeting on 14 October.
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