COVID-19 Education Recovery Group minutes: 27 January 2022
- Learning Directorate
Minutes from the meeting of the COVID-19 Education Recovery group, held on 27 January 2022.
Attendees and apologies
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)
- Sophie Reid MSYP, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Clare Hicks, Director for Education Reform, SG
- Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, Scottish Government
- Janie McManus, Education Scotland
- Jane Moffat, Strategy, GIRFEC & The Promise Division, SG
- Eleanor Passmore, Deputy Director, Early Learning & 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
- Liam Fowley
- Douglas Hutchison
Items and actions
Welcome and introduction
The Cabinet Secretary and Councillor McCabe welcomed members to the meeting and noted the potential for the upcoming relaxations of mitigations in schools. They also noted that the data showed some lower age groups in which the infection figures were rising. They again commended the education workforce again for their support for children and young people in a continuing challenging time for all involved in education.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
There are still relatively high levels of cases for children in the two to five year old and five to eleven age groups. Data is showing that the overall 7 day rate of positive cases increased for 2 to 17 year olds; however, there are notable differences within that.
The hospitalisation rates for children under the age of 14 are moving in line with the changes in case rates (as would be expected). It was emphasised that many of these are hospitalisations with Covid rather than because of it. The hospitalisation rate for the whole population is declining.
It was queried as to whether the differences in case rates between younger / older children was linked to vaccine eligibility. The public health view was that the higher proportions of 16 to 17 year olds having been vaccinated would be helping to reduce transmission amongst those groups.
Pupil attendance on Tuesday 25 January was reported as being 87.8%. The school absence rate for pupils was 4.6% of pupils off with Covid related absences, and 7.6% for non-Covid reasons.
It was again noted that a breakdown of staff absence rates between the primary and secondary sectors would be helpful, although CoSLA reiterated that there was already significant activity relating to data collection / reporting and were wary of adding to that burden.
No written feedback.
Feedback from Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues
Linda Bauld (as Chair of the sub-group) thanked specific members for having written separately to her with their views. These had been extremely helpful for her and the group’s understanding and consideration.
Based upon the assessment of the current situation, the sub-group advised a precautionary, staged approach to the removal of mitigations. They recommended that this should start with a return to the pre-Omicron mitigations as soon as practicable, and maintain a particular focus on wellbeing, learning and teaching.
This would, in effect, entail a return to the position in November / December 2021, and would still retain the requirement for face coverings to be worn in secondary schools. Changes would be to be more permissive around school visitors (professional and parental), school visits / trips, and to ease requirements around groupings / bubbles.
It was also commented that, although we are nearing the point when the removal of face coverings in classrooms might be appropriate, we’re not there yet. Given what we know about the balance of harms there is a hope that, subject to the latest evidence and data, that may be possible in the near future.
The next Advisory Sub-Group meeting on 8 February will have a particular focus on examining the latest evidence on face coverings and the other remaining mitigations and will consider whether, at that point, the data suggests that it would be appropriate to recommend the removal of face coverings in classrooms and/or elsewhere across the school estate.
It was indicated that the February half-term break might be an appropriate milestone for any future adjustment, and that we would want to provide the system with sufficient time to adjust to any changes (especially those that require additional planning).
Change in guidance
The guidance will be updated based upon the advice as outlined above, with the intention of publishing this as soon as possible following ministerial approval.
A question was asked about whether a differential approach may be needed in primary schools, due to comparatively higher infection rates among younger pupils. In response it was highlighted that the sub-group had reviewed all evidence on relative harms (including severe illness and hospitalisations) and remained of the view that a consistent approach across all school settings was the right approach to continue with.
The unions are united in support on a phased approach and welcome that. It was agreed a timeline is important for schools to work towards.
Any other business
SG officials will be engaging around the Covid recovery Bill with stakeholders on a bilateral basis.
10 February 10:00 to 11:00.
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