Working Paper: Covid-19 Mitigation Measures Among Children and Young People

Summary of Scottish evidence on the COVID-19 mitigation measures aimed at children and young people

3. Guidance and understanding of measures

3.1 Introduction

Guidance around mitigation measures, and the use of face coverings in particular, has been regularly updated by the Scottish Government over the course of the pandemic in light of emerging evidence. The introduction of the levels system has also led to different rules for young people in schools in different areas. A timeline of key decisions relating to face coverings is provided in Figure 1.

Figure 2 Timeline of key events and changes in guidance related to face coverings. Decisions relating to schools are highlighted
6 April WHO release interim guidance which advises that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of face masks and coverings by the general public
28 April Scottish Government guidance to advise that members of the public are recommended to wear face coverings where physical distancing is difficult.
5 June WHO publishes new advice that to prevent Covid-19 transmission effectively in areas of community transmission, governments should encourage the general public to wear face coverings in specific situations and settings
22 June Scottish Government guidance advising that face coverings are mandatory on public transport and strongly recommended in other settings. This includes all children and young people over five.
10 July Face Coverings become mandatory in retail settings including hair dressers and shopping centres. This includes all children and young people over five
7 August Face Coverings are made mandatory in a list of other settings and Face Visors removed from the regulations
30 July Decision taken that face coverings are not a mandatory requirement for children in schools and are only necessary for staff in certain circumstances. Guidance on preparing for reopening schools is published.
20 August Announcements made by First Minister that face coverings are to be worn in a larger number of settings, e.g. cafes
25 August

First Minister announces face coverings to be worn in secondary schools in communal areas and on school transport for children age 5 plus to bring them into line with public use. Updated schools guidance is published.

16 October Face coverings become mandatory in workplace canteens
19 October Face coverings become mandatory in communal areas in workplaces
29 October Exemption card launched
30 October Scottish Government guidance on reducing risks in schools updated to reflect that in level 3 and 4 areas all staff and pupils should wear a face covering in classrooms during lessons in the senior phase

In such a fluid and complex context, data collection is challenging. Any research with young people has a substantial lead-in time, during which relevant guidance and/or level of given areas can change. This means that questions have to be limited to questions around self-assessed understanding of guidance, rather than objective assessments of knowledge of rules at a given time and in a given area.

More generally, there are few representative surveys of young people, due to a lack of sampling frame for young people outwith a school setting, and the very limited opportunities to carry out surveys within school time. As a result, the majority of evidence presented in this paper is based on open sample online surveys which cannot be treated as representative of the population of young people in Scotland, or on qualitative research, which highlights the range of views held and issues faced, but not their prevalence. While these sources of evidence individually do not provide the highest level of robustness, in combination they provide an overall indication of young people's experiences of Covid-19 mitigation measures, and provide context for the forthcoming representative survey of young people.

3.2 Young people

In terms of understanding of measures, the Lockdown Lowdown 2 survey[4] is an online survey which ran between 28th September and 2nd November 2020 and received 6,043 responses from young people aged 11-25 across Scotland. As this was an open survey, it is not representative of young people in Scotland. In particular, most survey respondents were aged under 18 and around six in ten were female. The survey ran alongside focus groups with particular groups of vulnerable young people, which are introduced in Section 4.1 below.

The survey asked respondents to rate their knowledge of current Covid-19 restrictions, such as how many households you can meet, social distancing rules and requirements to wear face coverings. 54% of young people said that they knew what the rules were in general, but were not sure on all the details; 43% said they knew what all the current rules were; and only 3% said they did not know what the rules were.

More robust quantitative data from young people will be available from the Young People in Scotland Survey of secondary school pupils carried out by Ipsos Mori running in January 2021, and reporting in April 2021. This survey will provide findings that are representative of secondary school pupils in Scotland. Scottish Government have commissioned questions on face coverings, which will include the following questions on understanding of face coverings guidance (4 point very unclear – very clear):

  • How clear or unclear are you about when and where you are expected to wear face coverings?
  • And how clear or unclear are you about the reasons why you have to wear face coverings in some situations?

There is a range of information on the related issue of communications and guidance aimed at young people. The Lockdown Lowdown 2 survey asked young people if they knew how to access information about various topics related to Covid-19. The topics that young people felt most confident in accessing information about were information and updates about Covid-19 restrictions (87%) and advice about Covid-19 restrictions (83%). The topic that young people felt least confident accessing information about was financial support that may be available to them (34%).

The survey also provided young people with an opportunity to make any comments around access to information around Covid-19. Just over 1000 open text responses were received. The most commonly raised issue (by 110 responses) was that information on Covid-19 and related restrictions was confusing. Within this, some respondents raised a concern that there is not enough clear information on restrictions affecting them in Scotland, or their local community. As well as the need for clearer information, there were also some concerns about the information being inaccessible. An identified issue was poor internet connection and lack of access to computers. However, some young people (24 responses) felt information relating to the pandemic was clear and easy to find.

Small scale qualitative research with young people aged 11 to 25 carried out by the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP)[5] (Unpublished preliminary findings, December, 2020) found that while young people agreed messaging on social distancing was clear, they felt messaging around the indirect impacts of Covid-19 for their age groups was unclear, particularly with regard to issues such as education. Older young people (16+) felt that government information and messaging was not relevant to them, on the whole, and that they would like to be addressed more directly. This age group also expressed a loss of trust in the UK Government over the course of the pandemic, which was primarily related to the belief that lockdown measures were introduced too late. Many of the young people participating perceived that other age groups were not adhering to the restrictions, and that their age group was being unfairly judged by the media.

Overall, in the above research, young people demonstrated a strong level of understanding about the pandemic and the need for restrictions. They also expressed feelings of responsibility to protect others even if they perceived risk to be low to themselves. Young people also felt a strong sense of responsibility to help others during the crisis but felt there were few opportunities to do so.

The forthcoming TeenCovidLife 2 survey is an online survey of 12-17 year olds on the impacts of Covid-19 on their lives run by the University of Edinburgh. It is based on an open sample and is not representative of young people in Scotland. The survey ran during September and reporting is expected in early 2021. It includes the following questions on trust in information and guidance:

  • In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice from the Scottish Government?
  • In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice from the UK Government?
  • In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice from medical workers, such as doctors and nurses?

3.3 Parents

Weekly YouGov polling conducted by the Scottish Government (unpublished) contains a number of questions asked of a small sample of around 200 parents of children aged 18 or under, as part of a wider online poll of around 1000 adults aged 18+ across Scotland[6]. While the overall sample of the survey is representative of adults in Scotland, the representativeness of the parent sample is not known. Combined with the relatively small sample size, findings should be interpreted with caution and provide an indication of the prevalence of views and behaviours only.

In terms of understanding of measures, polling from 20-21 October, 27-28 October and 3-4 November shows an increased clarity among parents of children under 18 around what the current guidance means for children. During the 3-4 November polling 75% of parents of children under 18 agreed that they felt clear what the current guidance/restrictions meant for their children, an increase from just 50% during the 20-21 October polling. See Figure 3 below.

Figure 3 Agreement with 'I feel clear what the current guidance/restrictions mean for my children'

Bar graph showing percentage agreeing they feel clear what current restrictions mean for children

Sample sizes: 20-21 October 221; 27-28 October 190; 3-4 November 215

Polling between 29-30 September and 24-25 November asked parents of children under 18 to identify the correct restrictions for their children indoors in private homes; indoors in public spaces like a café; and outdoors in private gardens or public spaces, from a list of five options. This suggests low levels of awareness and no evidence of consistently increasing awareness over time.

During the 24-25 November polling, among parents of under 12s, 19% were able to identify from a list of possible options the guidance for children indoors in private households[7], 31% for indoors in public spaces[8] and 19% for outdoors[9]. See Figure 4 below.

Figure 4 Awareness of restrictions for under 12s, among parents of under 12s

Bar graph showing awareness of restrictions for under 12s, among parents of under 12s

Sample sizes: 29-30 Sep 153; 6-7 Oct 142; 13-14 Oct 149; 20-21 Oct 149; 10-11 Nov 149; 24-25 Nov 136

Among parents of children ages 12-17, awareness from a list of possible options of the correct guidance was slightly higher for indoors - 32% identified the correct guidance for young people in private homes[10], and 35% indoors in public spaces[11], but awareness was very low for outdoors[12] – just 8% of parents identified the correct guidance. See Figure 5 below.

Figure 5 Awareness of restrictions for 12 – 17 year olds, among parents of 12 – 17 year olds

Bar graph showing awareness of restrictions for 12–17 year olds, among parents of 12–17 year olds

Sample sizes: 29-30 Sep 92; 6-7 Oct 80; 13-14 Oct 102; 20-21 Oct 107; 10-11 Nov 84; 24-25 Nov 81



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