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WATCH: Phased returns, blended learning and testing – Back to school plans confirmed for February 22

Pupils are likely to return to school on a phased basis after the half term February break, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

A full time return to education is expected for pupils in P1 to P3 on February 22, with childcare and nursery facilities also set for reopening.

Senior pupils, however, will only re-enter the classroom on a part time basis to complete practical coursework for their national qualifications.

The Scottish Government will offer final confirmation of the phased return in a fortnight, on February 16, where further plans to get all other pupils back to school could be outlined.

Nicola Sturgeon.

Phased return

Ms Sturgeon said only approximately 5% to 8% of a secondary school roll will be present at any one time.

She said: “It is a statement of the obvious that all of us want to see children and young people back in full-time face-to-face education as soon as possible.

“Evidence of the wider health, developmental and social harms being experienced by children and young people concern all of us.

“And I have to say the concern is more with every single day that passes. I am also acutely aware of the pressure school closures are having on parents and family life more generally.

It is our intention that those who work in schools and those who work in early learning and childcare settings attached to schools, will be offered ‘at-home’ testing twice a week.”

Nicola Sturgeon

“In short, the judgment the cabinet arrived at this morning – and this is a judgment based on and taking full account of evidence from our expert advisers – is that if we all do agree to abide with the lockdown restrictions a bit longer, so that our progress in supressing the virus continues, then we can begin a phased albeit gradual return to school from February 22 following the February mid-term break.

“From the week beginning February 22 there will be firstly a full-time return of early learning and childcare for all children below school age.

“Secondly, a full time return for all pupils in primaries one to three.

“And thirdly a part-time return, albeit on a limited basis, for senior phase pupils to allow in-school practical work that is necessary for the completion of national qualification courses.

“Initially, though, it is intended that there will be no more than around 5%-8% of a secondary school roll physically present at any one time for these purposes.”

Blended learning – where pupils will split their time between in-school and remote learning – will also remain a possibility as a ‘contingency plan’ because of the uncertain nature of the virus.


At the coronavirus update, Ms Sturgeon also confirmed school staff, including those working in early years facilities, and senior pupils will be offered at-home testing on a regular basis.

She said:  “It is our intention that those who work in schools and those who work in early learning and childcare settings attached to schools, will be offered ‘at-home’ testing twice a week. All senior phase secondary school pupils will be offered this as well.

“This testing offer will be in place for schools as soon as possible to support their return on the basis I have set out, and we will extend it to the wider childcare sector in the weeks after that.

“I think I speak for everyone across the country when I say this – we are determined to get our children back to normal schooling, and by extension back to much greater normality in their lives, just as quickly as it is safe to do so. That is our overriding priority and I think it is right that is the overriding priority of all of us.”

Digital inclusivity

North East Labour MSP Jenny Marra asked Ms Sturgeon which measures would be in place to support pupils who were continuing with remote learning without the option of face-to-face teaching.

“Online learning is very patchy across the country. Some pupils have the opportunity to speak to their teacher on a daily basis, others haven’t spoken to their teacher for weeks,” she said.

Jenny Marra.

In response, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the detrimental effects remote learning had on pupils.

She said: “My anecdotal feedback across the country is the experience of online learning is much better in this period out of school than it was in the first.

“But I recognise that there will be variations in different parts of the country. The education secretary continues to work with local authorities to make sure that provision is of a uniformly high standard.”

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