The school holidays started in Scotland two weeks ago, but many children and young people ended a tough year in isolation at home rather than in school with their friends.

The numbers of children and young people required to self-isolate through being identified as a close contact steadily rose towards the end of term. Many children will be anticipating a similar experience when school returns.

Last week, (9th July 2021) we wrote to the Minister for Children and Young People to raise concerns and ask the Scottish Government to consider its approach towards restrictions, prior to schools returning after the summer holiday.

Infection control measures are taking a heavy toll

Infection control measures are taking a heavy toll on children and young people. The long-term impact of mass self-isolation requirements for children and young people is not yet well understood; it may be compounding existing disadvantage for many.

For now, it is clear these periods place significant restrictions on children’s rights to education, to mental health, to family life and to socialisation.  

Children and young people in Scotland have already missed whole terms of face-to-face education; self-isolation exacerbates that disruption.

We are particularly concerned about clinically vulnerable children, some of whom are still unable to access in-person services.

Interference with rights and freedoms must be necessary, proportionate and in place for the shortest time required.

The Scottish Government must consider a more targeted and limited approach to self-isolation in schools, or present clear evidence as to why that is not possible.

Restrictions in schools are becoming disproportionate

With restrictions across the general population gradually loosening, those still in place for children and young people in schools are becoming disproportionate to the relative freedoms being granted to adults.

While adults in Scotland (depending on the Covid-19 levels system) can gather in public venues with small groups of friends from other households without wearing a face covering, there is no indication yet that the current requirements for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings all day whilst seated in class are set to change when they return to school after the summer.

We know that face coverings impact on young people’s learning and educational experience including their ability to socialise, communicate and access supports which are essential for their development.

Young people have consistently shown willingness to take all of the actions necessary to protect life and health. They want to feel safe and ensure that others are kept safe.

However, the rules for the use of face coverings in schools, as they stand, are not consistent with requirements for groups of adults in social settings. There is still limited evidence of the effectiveness of face coverings in schools as a control measure.

What does the World Health Organisation say about face coverings in schools?

On the use of face coverings, the WHO Regional Office for Europe’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic recommends that:

“Over the age of 12 years, the same principles should apply as those implemented for adults in any indoor space where people are together for long periods of time in the context of ongoing community transmission.”

Children and young people need to know what their experience will be in their new term

The Scottish Government is rightly focussed on the future of the education system in Scotland and reform of qualifications in the senior phase; we must also stay focussed on the experience children and young people will have immediately on return to the new term.

To ensure that children and young people are able to enjoy their summer break, it is important that they are given as much reassurance as possible on what their experience of next year will be. This is particularly necessary for children transitioning into primary schools, or between primary and secondary; these periods can be stressful enough already. 

Children and young people have consistently told us that there has been a lack of clear, consistent, and age appropriate communication to them. This uncertainty and inconsistency can lead to increased anxiety and impact on mental health. 

What have we asked the Scottish Government to do?

A fresh approach after the summer holidays is required. We have asked the Scottish Government to provide details of this during the summer break to provide reassurance and clarity for children, young people and school staff.

We have asked the Scottish Government to:

  • Update the Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) on restrictions in place for children and young people;
  • Clarify the link between levels of community transmission and the requirement for face coverings to be worn in classrooms and ensure equity between children and adults;
  • Consider a more targeted and limited approach to self-isolation in schools, or present clear evidence as to why that is not possible;
  • Ensure revised guidance is published as a matter of urgency, and certainly prior to schools returning in August; and
  • Ensure that all decisions are explained to children and young people in an accessible and straightforward way.