Scottish school pupils could go back part-time in blocks, under proposals to ease the lockdown in the future being considered by Scottish ministers.
A new Scottish Government paper says a “phased” approach could be taken to reopening schools, with children potentially attending “in blocks of a few days or even a week at a time”.
But ministers have stressed they expect schools to stay closed until at least after the summer holidays.
Speaking on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said the number of infections in Scotland (estimated to be around 26,000) remains too high to lift any of the lockdown measures.
The First Minister highlighted a new Danish study which used the full reopening of schools and nurseries as an example of what could happen if restrictions are eased to early.
It found pupils’ return to schools could cause a new spike in Covid-19 cases that would potentially overwhelm the NHS “in a matter of weeks”, Sturgeon said.
But she said an “education recovery group” was “considering different options for how pupils might gradually return to school”.
They will look at if certain pupils could be prioritised, such as the most vulnerable, or those in transition from P7 to S1.
Pupils attending in blocks would enable “deep cleaning” of school facilities between groups, the government paper added.
Part-time school attendance would be supplemented by home learning “supported by consistent, high quality online materials which will be developed to support the curriculum”.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, the First Minister said: “I need to be clear – a return to school might not be possible at all this side of the summer holidays.
“But we are considering whether some groups of students, such as vulnerable children, children who are making the transition from primary to secondary school, or who are studying for national qualifications could return to school ahead of others.”
She continued: “It is possible different groups could attend school part-time, in blocks of a few days, or a week at a time, to enable physical distancing and deep cleaning of schools between sessions.”
But the First Minister promised parents: “We will not compromise the safety of your children.”
Sturgeon added: “The most important task for all of us in the here and now is to get the virus under more control than it is right now.
“I cannot stress that enough, we really are at a critical stage.”
She urged Scots to “stick rigorously” to the current restrictions, telling people: “You should ask yourself, if for example, going for a drive-through coffee is really an essential journey.”