A phased return of pupils to Scotland’s schools will begin on Monday, February 22.
Schools and nurseries have been closed to all except the children of key workers and those from vulnerable families since the start of the year. All other youngsters have been learning from home.
A final confirmation on plans for a phased return of Scotland’s pupils was delayed until Tuesday, February 16.
At the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the “phased and gradual” return of pupils “will go ahead as planned from Monday”.
Pre-school children and those in primaries one to three will return to classes from next week.
A “limited number” of senior students who need to access schools for “essential practical work” will also be allowed back, Ms Sturgeon said.
However further school returns are unlikely until mid-March while the impact of the move is assessed in the coming weeks.
‘Education the top priority’
The First Minister added: “In terms of the order in which we do exit lockdown, the government has always made it clear that education should be the top priority.
“I announced two weeks ago our preliminary decision that pre-school children; pupils in primaries one, two and three; and a limited number of senior phase students who need access to school for essential practical work would return from Monday, February 22.
“I also said that from the same date we hope to enable a limited increase in provision for vulnerable children – specifically those with the most significant additional support needs where schools believe that that is essential.
“So I am pleased to confirm today that, in keeping with the advice of our expert group, this first phase of the reopening of schools will go ahead as planned on Monday.
“We will need to monitor the impact of this change very carefully before taking any further decisions; however I hope we will be able to set out the second phase of school reopenings in two weeks time.”
Ms Sturgeon added that further schools returns are “unlikely” before March 15.
Strict lockdown to continue into March
Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon also revealed there will be no changes to Scotland’s current lockdown rules.
She said there will be no changes to the “stay at home” guidance across the country until “at least the beginning of March and possibly longer”.
However she added it won’t be in place for “any longer than is absolutely necessary”.
She said moving out of lockdown, the country will be driven by “data than by dates”.
Government ‘using limited headroom’ to reopen schools
She added: “In a world where we can’t do everything immediately we will need to decide what matters most to us.
“We are very deliberately choosing to use the very limited headroom we have right now to get at least some children back to school because children’s education and well-being is such an overriding priority.
“But being able to get children back to education may mean the rest of us living with some other restrictions for longer.
“And that is a trade-off we need to be willing to make at this stage.
“And also if we want to return as much normality as we can to life within Scotland we need to live for a longer period with significant restrictions on our ability to travel overseas is likely to be inescapable.
“What matters most is a question we will have to ask ourselves in the weeks ahead.”
New framework could recommend against Easter Holidays
She said the Scottish Government is preparing a revised strategic framework setting out “when and how we might emerge from this lockdown”. It is due to be published next Tuesday.
Ms Sturgeon said the publication is likely to advise that Easter Holidays will be off the cards – as well as summer overseas travel, although staycations may be possible.
The government had initially hoped to reopen sites on February 1, however a safe return was not deemed possible.
Scotland entered a second lockdown on January 4 in response to the rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus.
Case number and Covid-19 deaths in Scotland surged to their highest-ever levels in January.
The measures put in place in early 2021 were the strictest since the first lockdown in spring 2020.
Schools were closed to all but a handful of pupils, with strict travel measures and a legally enforceable “stay at home” rule put in place.