Education Secretary John Swinney warned a second wave of coronavirus could be more dangerous than the first, amid calls for a return to full-time schooling in August.
He told parents and teachers he was committed to getting all pupils back into full school weeks as soon as possible but that current scientific advice required adherence to the two-metre social distancing rule.
More than 4,000 parents watched an online question and answer session with the deputy first minister and the National Parent Forum of Scotland in which he was asked why many children will only attend school for a day or two days a week in August, at a time when football was likely to have resumed and non-essential shops reopened.
He said: “We will return to full-time, formal schooling at the earliest possible opportunity, that’s the commitment I give tonight.”
But he said current scientific advice required physical distancing measures be observed, which meant fewer pupils in schools.
If we have a second wave of coronavirus in the autumn I think the dangers for our society will be even greater than what we have gone through this spring.”
He said: “In August when schools go back we are still not going to have a vaccine for the virus so there will be a certain number of rules we have to follow as a society to deal with the fact that coronavirus is still going to be out there, it’s not going to disappear and in its entirety.
“If we have a second wave of coronavirus in the autumn I think the dangers for our society will be even greater than what we have gone through this spring.”
Mr Swinney said the situation would be reviewed every three weeks and parents informed of any changes to the blended learning approach, which will see a combination of learning in school and at home.
In polls during the session more than half of respondents said they would struggle to balance their own work with children’s school work and almost two-thirds thought there would be inadequate face-to-face time with teachers when pupils return. Just under a third were worried children would not progress enough to sit exams next year.
Mr Swinney also said the Scottish Government encouraged local authorities to make use of other public buildings to accommodate pupils and that Education Scotland inspectors would review their proposals for blended learning.
The General Teaching Council has also, he said, been asked to bring registered but non-working teachers, including the recently retired, back into the classroom.
To tackle the issue of a lack of IT devices for online learning for some families, he also said 25,000 Chromebooks had been purchased by the government which would be delivered shortly for distribution.
Joanna Murphy, forum chairwoman, asked Mr Swinney for reassurance that next year’s exams would not be cancelled.
Families have got to work with schools, with hub providers, all of the other arrangements to find a way to navigate what I recognise are difficult circumstances.”
He replied: “We plan that the 2021 exams will go ahead, that’s the plan.”
Ms Murphy also said many parents returning to work would struggle with childcare, including non-key workers and those who normally rely on grandparents.
Mr Swinney said: “Parents have got to work effectively on how they can put arrangements in place to support themselves, their families. I accept that this is not an ideal arrangement but I can’t ignore the scientific advice I have in front of me.
“Families have got to work with schools, with hub providers, all of the other arrangements to find a way to navigate what I recognise are difficult circumstances.”