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
- Professor Marion Bain, (Senior Public Health Adviser, Scottish Government)
- Professor Linda Bauld, (Interim Chief Social Policy Advisor, Chair, Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues)
- Chelsey Clay, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Sheena Devlin, Executive Director, Perth & Kinross Council (ADES)
- Greg Dempster Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS)
- Andy Drought, Deputy Director, Workforce & Infrastructure
- Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
- Eddie Follan, CoSLA
- 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
- Graeme Logan, Director for Learning, Scottish Government
- Carrie Lindsay, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
- Ben McKendrick, Scottish Youth Parliament
- Gillian Middleton, Early Years Scotland
- Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority
- 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 of Scotland (NPFS)
- apologies were received from Jane Brumpton, (Chief Executive, Early Years Scotland; Gillian Middleton attending), Janie McManus (Education Scotland)
Items and actions
The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting, and welcomed Professor Linda Bauld to her first CERG meeting as the new Chair of the Advisory Subgroup. CERG's thanks to Professor Carol Tannahill were noted for all her valuable work as the previous Chair of the Advisory Subgroup, and it was reiterated how important and informative it was to receive direct updates from the subgroup.
Minutes of previous meeting
Minutes of the last meeting were agreed.
Standing items: data and feedback
The meeting received a presentation from PHS colleagues.
As of 6 October, the vaccination uptake for 12 to 15 year olds was 27.9%, which was viewed as a very encouraging start to the programme. The uptake for 15 to16 year olds was now at 72.4%.
There had been a slight rise in coronavirus (COVID-19)-related deaths across the population. These were mainly in the 80+ age group. However, overall, there was a significant difference in the rate of deaths since the beginning of the vaccination programme.
Hospitalisations were declining across every age cohort, with 34% of hospitalisations currently in people who were unvaccinated. Hospitalisation for children and young people was declining in all relevant age groups.
The rate of reported cases was declining in all age groups, with strong declines noted in the 15 to 16 and 12 to 15 age groups. The data indicated that cases recorded in schools were still spread across the country. In addition, school absence rates, as related to COVID-19, were also now declining week by week. PHS are still looking at publishing further data on cases in schools on the dashboard, but there were still concerns over the completeness of the data.
The drop in recorded cases was welcomed. Although the levels of infection in pupils was still higher than in the summer term, the vaccination status of both young people and school staff was different from pre-summer and this is likely to have a disrupting effect on transmission.
Feedback from CERG
Feedback paper was noted.
Update from the advisory subgroup
The Advisory Subgroup had met on Tuesday 5 October to look at what recommendations could be made for the return of schools after the October break. A first draft of updated guidance had been circulated to CERG members and this would be discussed further at the Workforce Issues Group later that day. Written comments were invited from members, to send to Scottish Government officials as soon as possible.
Professor Bauld and Professor Bain described the context for the subgroup's discussions at the time of the meeting. There were decreasing case rates, the R number had fallen below 1.0, and the numbers of vaccinated pupils and staff in schools had risen substantially. It was felt that the prudence that had been followed at the start of this school year had been justified, and the delay in reducing the easing of restrictions had contributed to the decline in cases.
The subgroup had considered the evidence and the balance between harms in health terms, and wider harms relating to education, including from a social and wellbeing perspective. The subgroup felt that, at this point in time, it was in a position to recommend that some mitigations could be relaxed for the post-autumn break period. However, the importance of retaining a mix of mitigation measures was noted. Their recommendations, in light of data at the time, were:
- face coverings for secondary school pupils would no longer be required in classrooms, but still required in communal areas of schools
- assemblies and religious observance could take place if considered necessary and were risk assessed
- face coverings would be required to be worn as per wider society
- in the event of a local outbreak, local public health teams would discuss and agree appropriate steps to manage this with schools, which could involve the reinstatement of some measures
In parallel with this, there would need to be more emphasis on infrastructure mitigations, especially ventilation and asymptomatic testing.
Some concerns were raised around the proposed timing of the implementation of the updated guidance given that the number of cases in children were still high and the vaccination of younger secondary school pupils had only recently begun. Schools were still experiencing disruption in terms of staff absences which impacted on school operational management.
There was a view expressed that activities such as school assemblies and face-to-face parents’ evenings were not absolutely critical to the teaching and learning process. It was recognised that in many cases virtual parent interaction had enhanced parent participation as it removed many of the barriers to attendance e.g. finding childminding or travel arrangements. It was noted that local authorities had been working with schools to plan for the easing of restrictions, so many schools were expecting changes and would be able to implement them as soon as was practical.
Scottish Government officials confirmed that they had been working closely with local authorities with regards to ventilation, and progress was good with many having already carried out remedial work. A small number of local authorities were experiencing supply issues with CO2 monitors.
It was noted that some schools may find it difficult to put any changes in place for the return to school after the autumn break, as schools in some areas were due back as early as 18 October. The condensed guidance review period, and the short notice between publication and implementation, could be quite problematic for members to be able to submit full views and for schools to discuss and implement the changes. It was agreed that these changes did not have to be in place for day one of the return to school and could be applied as ‘soon as practicable’ which would allow schools to adopt an approach to suit local circumstances. This would be made clearer in the guidance.
The Cabinet Secretary noted the concerns raised and indicated that the final decision had not yet been made and she would take all views, comments and advice into consideration.
Update on the testing programme
This item would be deferred to the next meeting.
Any other business
No matters were raised.
The Cabinet Secretary and Cllr McCabe recommended that the CERG meeting moved to fortnightly from the next meeting.
The Cabinet Secretary noted that this was Eddie Follan's last meeting as CoSLA representative and thanked him for all his work and support.
The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone for their contributions and closed the meeting. Next meeting 21 October (09.00am).
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