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Education, Children and Young People Committee

Covid 19 Guidance for schools October 2021

Letter from the Cabinet secretary for education and Skills

Dear Convener

Further to both the First Minister’s recent commitment to Parliament and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care’s offer to the Covid Recovery Committee, I am writing to keep you informed of the position regarding guidance on reducing the risks associated with COVID-19 in schools.

The Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues (‘the subgroup’) considers the data and evidence regarding mitigations within schools on an ongoing basis. Its overall advice remains that, in order to balance ongoing COVID-19 mitigations in schools and ELC settings with other harms - for example, to children and young people’s education and wellbeing - mitigations should remain in place for no longer than is necessary based on the state of the epidemic and evidence about risk.

At their meeting on 5th October, the subgroup took the view that the sharp decline in case rates observed at that point, and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme in reducing the clinical harms of the virus meant that, on balance, some further changes could be made to the guidance. In particular, they suggested that face coverings may no longer be required in secondary school classrooms, and that greater local flexibility and discretion could be enabled around assemblies and in-person parents’ evening. I will be looking to publish this advice this week.

Ministers have reflected upon that advice in the intervening period, including through engagement with the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group and other stakeholders. We also asked subgroup representatives to discuss further with the Chief Medical Officer, recognising that, in the period since the subgroup developed their advice, the reduction in case rates had been slower across some key age cohorts.

Following those discussions, the Chief Medical Officer noted that there are encouraging signs across most indicators and that we are getting closer to a time when further restrictions in schools could be lifted. However, he advised a more cautious approach would be to pause any implementation until there is a further decrease in case rates and to allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to take up the vaccination.

On that basis, I have decided that the guidance on reducing risks in will remain unchanged at the moment. Instead, I have asked clinicians to monitor these indicators closely going forward with a view to lifting restrictions at the earliest possible time.

As always, I will continue to keep you updated as these decisions progress.

Yours sincerely