Children and Young People in Scotland have experienced significant disruption to almost every aspect of their lives as a result of Covid-19. The restrictions which were put in place to respond to and manage the prevalence and impact of Covid-19 were primarily concerned with protecting the right to life, but evidence suggests that these decisions have also had detrimental physical and mental health effects for children and young people, particularly in terms of social connection and education.
It was the unanimous view of the cross-agency Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG) that a focus on wellbeing, play and reconnection during the summer, rather than a 'generic' learning catch up programme was the best approach. Improved wellbeing and mental health will ultimately support children and young people to be successful learners; confident individuals; responsible citizens and effective contributors in the autumn and beyond. The Summer Offer is therefore a component of the overall Education Recovery work. In addition, the Summer Offer has been developed to ensure that a rights-based, stigma-free approach is at the centre.
Addressing Inequalities and Improving Outcomes
Existing evidence suggest that access to social interaction, play and activity, particularly outdoors, delivers benefits for children and young people and improves their mental and physical health. A range of interventions, pilot projects, and evaluation over the past three years have provided a body of evidence of good practice and learning on the potential for holiday programmes to help deliver a range of improved outcomes for children and families using a broad range of partners.
As noted, evidence shows that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate adverse impact on certain groups such as children and young people experiencing poverty, disabled children, shielding or clinically vulnerable children and care experienced children and young people. A comprehensive evidence base regarding such impacts is included in the Equity Audit Report published by the Scottish Government in January 2021 and reports published by the Scottish Youth Parliament, Youthlink Scotland and Young Scot in April and May 2020 provide further specific evidence of these impacts on demographics of young people including by age, gender, education/ employment status, ethnicity, those living in rural and urban areas, and in areas of multiple deprivation.
For many children and young people inequalities mean that access to food, activities and the support they need beyond formal education from early years, school or tertiary education or training depending on their age and stage which may help them rebuild, remain out of reach.
Children, young people, their parents, carers, teachers and those who work within communities to support them report that what children and young people want, above all, is to reconnect with their peers and rebuild their 'offline' life through socialising and engaging in activities and hobbies. For most, online learning has continued to mean their education has progressed, albeit in a different way than it would have done in their formal learning environment. The ongoing public discourse on 'lost learning' and a 'lost generation' has further compounded the impact of Covid-19 amongst children and young people, therefore contributing to anxiety levels and potentially causing some to disengage further from education and learning.
The Scottish Government has worked with local authorities and the education sector to mitigate the worst of the impacts – for example through ensuring free school meals continued during the period of school closures and over the holidays (supported by over £50m funding) and through provision of around 70,000 devices and 14,000 connectivity packages to learners across Scotland.
In total, Scotland's Education recovery programme to date has included over £400m investment over 2020/21 and 2021/22. Reports by the Nuffield daFoundation in February 2021 found that, at that time, this was the highest such investment per pupil within the UK.
Scotland's Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG)  unanimously advised that in order to reduce inequalities for children and young people the Scottish Government's funding for Summer 2021 should focus on wellbeing, play and reconnection in the summer rather than focus on universal provision which focused on 'catch up' programmes for literacy and numeracy. CERG also advised on the need for a focus on supporting and trusting teachers to get it right for every child and young person so that they are able to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors, assessing each individual's needs on their return to on-site learning and plan next steps, rather than focus on the deficit model of 'catch up'.
Summer Offer for Children and Young People – 'Get Into Summer'
On 24 March 2021 Scotland's First Minister and Deputy First Minister announced the £20 million Summer Offer for Children and Young People which would focus on the wellbeing of children and young people during the 2021 summer holidays which would support existing provision of activities for children and young people and their families over the summer, ensuring they are provided with opportunities to socialise, play and reconnect within their local communities and environments.
The Summer Offer has sought to specifically target those children and young people most impacted by Covid-19, including:
- children from low income households;
- children from those priority family groups identified in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan: larger families; families with a disabled child or adult; young mothers; families with children under one; and minority ethnic families;
- children from families who have been shielding during the pandemic and whose ability to engage in activities and socialise will have been very limited;
- children with a disability or additional support need;
- care experienced children and young people;
- young carers;
- children in need of protection;
- children supported by a child's plan and
- children who have undergone significant transitions during lockdown or will experience them this year, including starting in ELC, starting primary school, moving to secondary school and leaving school.
The objectives of the Summer Offer are to:
- address the negative impacts on children and young people associated with extended periods of isolation and lack of participation in normal activities;
- have children and young people's rights, voice and needs at its heart;
- to seek to provide opportunities to connect and socialise while accessing a range of activities combined with broader supports where needed;
- a focus on improving children's health and mental wellbeing;
- to improve outcomes for children who have been disproportionately affected by providing targeted support to children from low income households and those priority groups as identified in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan;
- offer additional opportunities for all children (across all ages) to engage in a range of play opportunities and activities within their local communities, based on what they tell us is important to them and
- involve a coalition of national partner organisations and local authorities.
The intended outcomes of the Summer Offer are to:
- help restore the wellbeing of all children and young people through opportunities to reconnect; play; be active; have fun and an opportunity to engage;
- ensure that all activity provided by partners support the overarching aims;
- ensure that the Summer Offer be effectively monitored and evaluated;
- that the views of children and young people directly inform and be evident in delivery and
- ensure that the Summer Offer is accessible to all children, young people and their families, particularly the target groups.
Who will it affect?
The Summer Offer for Children and Young People, 'Get into Summer', intends to offer opportunities to all Scotland's children and young people, with a specific focus on supporting children and young people most likely to be experiencing continued disadvantage and who will therefore have been particularly adversely affected by the pandemic as detailed above. The age range this support is intended to reach is 0 – 25, recognising that support for care leavers extends beyond 18. Several groups of children and young people have particular wellbeing needs which require targeted support.
Whilst the Programme has a specific focus on improved outcomes for children and young people, including their mental health and wellbeing, it is anticipated that this will have a positive impact on those supporting the children and young people for example families, parents, carers or youth workers.
The Scottish Government published guidance on 7 May 2021 to support local authorities to deliver the Summer Offer and to enhance activities for children, young people and families in the 2021 school summer holidays.
The key areas for specific focus are:
- reaching children and young people most likely to be experiencing continued disadvantage and who will therefore have been particularly adversely affected by the pandemic;
- reaching children and young people in the age range 0 – 25, recognising that support for care leavers extends beyond 18;
- reaching groups of children and young people who have particular wellbeing needs which require targeted support as set out on pages 3 and 4 of this EQIA and
- reaching children and young people in remote / rural areas, where the range of existing provision could be more limited and geographic barriers to access services may be considerable.
Approach and desired outcomes
The guidance published for local authorities and issued to national partners specified that delivery should have a strong focus on equity, to ensure activities should be accessible to those children and young people targeted by the programme and that barriers to participation such as transport should be mitigated as far as possible.
The guidance also specified that consideration be given to how to meet wider needs including through the integration of food, childcare, financial inclusion, family support and referral on to wider services where needed. Principles of dignity and human rights should be applied, promoting non-stigmatising provision of services and supports. Links to resources were made available to help integrate dignified food provision.
In developing this programme the Scottish Government is mindful of the three needs of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) - eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not and to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. We are also mindful that the equality duty is not just about negating or mitigating negative impacts, as we also have a positive duty to promote equality.
What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?
The Covid-19 pandemic mitigations
The prevalence of Covid-19 have remained an ongoing challenge leading up to, and during the school holiday 2021 period with potential impacts on the provision of the activities within the period for which funding is available. Local Authorities and national partners were provided with accompanying advice and guidance to support the Programme's delivery in this context and more generally. This included:
- public health advice and resources;
- guidance for organised unregulated activities for children and young people under 18;
- guidance for regulated childcare settings;
- physical distancing and protection level advice;
- guidance on supporting communities safely;
- food standards and safety advice and
- a range of case studies and reports on how to best support children's emotional recovery from the pandemic and how to promote wellbeing this summer.
Equity of access
The principles on which the funding was provided included:
- co-creation with children, young people, and families with their rights and welling at its heart as set out in the UNCRC and Getting it Right for Every Child;
- building on, and enhancing, existing services, assets and knowledge of what works and
- partnership working and coordination across existing partnerships through the Children's Services Partnerships.
The funding for local authorities was to provide them with a route to enhance the provision that was already in place and each local authority was asked to route this through their local Children's Services Strategic Partnerships. How this was achieved was up to local authorities to consider, based on their knowledge and expertise of their local areas, recognising the extent of funding available and to complement a range of activity already underway across local authorities to support education recovery. However we have worked with partners to ensure that opportunities are accessible, specifically for targeted groups.
Ongoing monitoring and engagement with local authorities and national partners is taking place regularly to ensure that, where possible, any challenges that may emerge are identified and mitigated collectively as appropriate.