COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 26 August 2021

Minutes from 26 August 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   
  • Beth Black Scottish Qualifications Authority    
  • Craig Clement, Education Scotland    
  • Greg Dempster Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)  
  • Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth & Kinross Council (ADES)    
  • Andy Drought, Deputy Director, COVID Education Strategy and Recovery, Scottish Government  
  • Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)   
  • Eddie Follan, CoSLA    
  • Liam Fowley MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament  
  • John Gallacher, UNISON 
  • Gayle Gorman, Education Scotland 
  • Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland  
  • Clare Haughey, Minister for Children and Young People 
  • Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)  
  • Jamie MacDougall SG Vaccines Policy and Strategy
  • Ben McKendrick, Scottish Youth Parliament  
  • Janie McManus, Education Scotland   
  •  Eleanor Passmore, Deputy Director, Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government  
  • Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive, GTCS   
  • Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland    
  • Colin Sumpter, Public Health Scotland    
  • Matthew Sweeney, CoSLA   
  • Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland (SLS)    
  • Grace Vickers, SOLACE 
  • James Wilson, SG COVID Testing and Contact Tracing Policy
  • Margaret Wilson Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)


  •  Jane Brumpton
  • Alison Cumming
  • Graeme Logan
  • Fiona Robertson  (Beth Black represented Scottish Qualifications Authority )

Items and actions

1. Introduction  

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting and highlighted that the main topics of the meeting would be the usual review of the data followed by an update on the vaccination programme for 16 -17-year-olds.  

Cllr McCabe noted that the rise in cases, particularly in young people, was of concern and that he felt that the previous decision to take a cautious approach on mitigations had been shown to be prudent.  

The Cabinet Secretary confirmed that there are concerns amongst her and her Cabinet colleagues regarding the current rise in cases. She reported that the First Minister has asked all Cabinet Secretaries to identify opportunities to reinforce the importance of adhering to baseline measures and guidance. Acting early in this manner to supress transmission will help to reduce any risk of more severe restrictions being required later in the year. 

2. Minutes of previous meeting  

Minutes of the previous meeting were signed off with no amendments. 

3. Standing items, data and feedback 

3a. Data  

Public Health Scotland (PHS) colleagues confirmed that the uptake of the first dose of vaccine amongst 16 - 17-year-olds was 42%, and amongst 18 - 24-year-olds was 74%. As already noted, there is currently a high rate of cases recorded in Scotland, with the greatest increase being within the 18 - 21-year-old age group.  

The proportion of cases in children and young people within the overall population has remained broadly the same. The rise in cases in children and young people, therefore, appears to reflect the overall rise in wider society rather than in the school environment, although we will want to continue to monitor this closely. 

It was confirmed that the highest number of cases in the population are in those who are unvaccinated, demonstrating the relative efficacy of the vaccination and the need to maintain efforts to maximise uptake. Equally, it was also highlighted that, despite case rates being high at present, more significant harms such as hospitalisation and death rates still remained low. This partially reflected the demographic profile of those who have / haven’t been fully vaccinated, and the relative risk attributed to different age groups. 

3b & 3c. Feedback from CERG and the return to school

The feedback was noted.  

The Cabinet Secretary invited specific comments on the updated contact tracing procedures.  

It was suggested by some members that there was a degree of confusion amongst staff, parents and pupils over the new self-isolation regime in schools. In turn, that this confusion was undermining confidence and some parents were keeping children back from school as a precautionary measure once they had received a Warn and Inform letter.   

The group were reminded of the rationale for the change, including: 

  • we now have a better understanding of the transmission patterns in schools - symptomatic infection in children does not create the same level of transmissibility as it does in adults.  
  • the vaccination programme has reduced the potency of the link between exposure/ illness and transmission; and  
  • data from the last school year showed that 90% of tests taken by self-isolating children were negative. 

Members felt that it would helpful if the messaging in the guidelines on Self-isolation and Contact Tracing (published 16 August) could be revised, with a clear explanation of the reasoning behind the changes. Members were asked to pass their feedback to officials in the COVID Testing and Contact Tracing Policy Team. It was noted that more time should be made available to ensure that all staff had received training in the new procedures/policy. 

It was suggested that the numbers of teachers and pupils self-isolating may be higher than the current weekly data is showing, due to the natural lag in reporting. If this does prove to be the case, the increase in the need for dual delivery (remote and in-class) could become more problematic in the future if more staff are required to isolate. 

Action: The Cabinet Secretary would convene a meeting with PHS and officials to discuss the matters raised and to look at what needs to be done to address these concerns. 

4. Vaccination of 16-17 year old age group  

The initial uptake of the vaccination had been good. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations were approved for 12 – 17 year olds, and the Pfizer vaccination was being administered in Scotland for 16 – 17 year olds. This was a one dose vaccination programme at the moment until the JCVI consider the position around two vaccination jabs. The JCVI has also extended the definition of 'high risk' categories for children leading to an increase in younger children being eligible for vaccination. 

It was known that uptake in younger groups tended to be lower than in older groups. Therefore, measures were being taken to ensure a good uptake of the vaccination in the 16–17 year old age group and to make it as easy as possible for them to access a vaccination centre, either as drop in or mobile units etc. It would be useful to extend capacity, and work with health boards, local authorities and schools was continuing at pace.  

Action: An updated report would be presented to CERG at the meeting on 9 September  

5. Any other business  

There was no other business raised  

Next meeting    

The next meeting will be 2 September 2021.

The Cabinet Secretary closed the meeting and thanked members for their contributions.

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