A full-time return to the classroom for all pupils is a “huge challenge” which will come with a “heavy price tag”, MSPs have been warned.
Stephen McCabe, children’s spokesman on local government body Cosla, insisted councils across the country are “confident” schools could fully reopen from August 11, if the Scottish Government decides it is safe.
The Scottish cabinet is due to make a decision on school reopenings when it meets on Wednesday, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing what will happen the following day.
The Scottish Government has made clear its aim is for all youngsters to return to school five days a week when the new term starts.
But before that ministers instructed councils to draw up plans for “blended learning”, which could see some children spend as little as one day a week in school, with the rest of their education at home.
Mr McCabe said: “On the basis I have received from directors of education, they are confident they will be in a position to get schools back into full-time learning during August.”
Speaking to MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee he said council education chiefs are “confident that whatever decision the Government makes on Wednesday/Thursday they can implement”.
He insisted there is a “huge commitment within local authorities and across the education community to try to return our children to full-time education in August”, adding: “If the Government makes that decision, we will be ready for it.”
But he also told the committee: “It’s a huge challenge, returning to full-time education after five months of no education, essentially.”
Education secretary John Swinney told MSPs last week that secondary schools will have to take “practical” steps to ensure distancing between pupils if they reopen full-time on August 11, but Mr McCabe said this would not always be possible.
He said: “I think the reality is there will be limited opportunities for social distancing in secondary schools.”
He also spoke about the cleaning requirements needed, saying East Dunbartonshire Council was looking to recruit 72 new cleaners to work during the school day.
“Cleaning on its own is going to be a huge additional cost,” he said.
“There will be other costs, around school transport and PPE, the type of logistical costs that will require to be met to safely return children to school.”
While councils are to receive an additional £20m funding to help with this, Mr McCabe said talks were taking place with ministers about additional resources.
The guidance “will come with a heavy price tag” that will be “significantly more” than the money already being provided, he warned.
Swinney, who was also giving evidence to the committee, stressed his commitment to “continue to engage with local government about the identification of costs”.
He told MSPs that when schools open again, sample testing for coronavirus will be carried out.
This will cover “a very wide cross-section of schools within Scotland”, Swinney said, “to ensure we are properly and fully monitoring any changes in patterns that may emerge as a consequence of the reopening of schools”.
But Green education spokesman Ross Greer said he was “really, really concerned that not only will it not be regular testing but the ‘enhanced surveillance testing’ may not even be ready for schools reopening”.
Mr McCabe said: “The stark reality is we know there are going to be incidents of Covid-19 in our schools, and we are going to have to manage them effectively.”
Swinney conceded: “I have some anxiety about the reopening of schools, because of the degree of change this represents in the arrangements we have within our society.
“We have been in a situation for four months of really very limited contact between individuals and very limited gatherings, and the openings of schools will be a very significant next step in the move out of lockdown.”