There is a change to the Scottish Government’s overarching strategic intent, from:
‘to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible’.
to one where we work:
‘to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future’.
The strategic framework also sets out a projected date of 9 August for Scotland to move beyond Level 0, with the consequent lifting of domestic legal restrictions being informed by conditions and based on clinical advice. This means that by the time schools begin to return in August, further easing of restrictions in wider society is expected (subject to the data and evidence supporting this nearer the time). This advice is predicated on a move beyond Level 0 in order to ensure that the requirements for schools and ELC settings remain in line with the restrictions in wider society, while continuing to support appropriate risk reduction in schools.
In line with previous sub-group advice, schools have been advised to plan to begin the new term in August with the current mitigations in place, until advised to remove them. We do not, however, want the mitigations to remain in place for any longer than is necessary to ensure safety. It is important to balance ongoing mitigations in schools with other harms, for example to children and young people’s education and wellbeing. In particular, the current policy of self-isolation for children and young people causes significant and sustained educational harms, as well as having a negative mental health impact as a result of being isolated from peers.
There is also ongoing concern that periods of absence from school and ELC settings have led to a “hidden harm” where there are children and young people not previously involved with social services who are experiencing harm, ill-health or exposure to risks and who, outwith school, might not be able to actively reach out for support. It is important to recognise the wider relationship between home and school and consider how local services can work in partnership with schools to provide support to vulnerable families as children and young people return to school and ELC settings after the summer.
It is also essential to balance what we know about the low risk of transmission of the virus in the context of the vaccination programme, with the potential long-term educational impact on senior phase pupils, particularly those living in less stable households where parents or guardians are less likely to be able to support them to continue their education whilst self-isolating.
The sub-group considers that the safety and wellbeing of the whole school community is enhanced by the application of appropriate mitigations which are commensurate with the level of risk within the school environment. In order to ensure that only those mitigations that are necessary and proportionate to the risk are retained on an ongoing basis, the sub-group has taken into account the state of the epidemic, continuing rapid roll-out of vaccination, and the ongoing evidence that children and adolescents (in particular those under the age of 14) transmit the virus at lower rates than adults, are more likely to transmit among themselves than to adults, and that cases in education settings mirror and follow transmission rates in the community where adult to adult transmission is more common. The sub-group has also looked at the fact that children and young people as a group have relatively low risk of direct COVID-19 harm, but are at relatively high risk of wider – and long-term – social, educational, economic and wellbeing harms, some of which will be difficult to reverse.