NICOLA Sturgeon has been told to “pull out all of the stops” to allow schools to fully re-open in August – amid speculation the Scottish Government’s controversial blended learning plans could be scrapped.

The First Minister has softened her stance on the blended learning model being introduced by schools when they welcome students again in less than two months' time – now labelling the idea a “contingency”.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Call on schools reopening planCamley's Cartoon: Call on schools reopening plan

Teaching unions have called on the Scottish Government and councils to resolve the situation “in the interests of Scotland’s pupils” - while opposition politicians have accused the First Minister of “months of dithering on education”.

The Scottish Government has come under fire from parents and opposition MSPs for pupils to spend only part of the week in the classroom.

When Ms Sturgeon set out her routemap for easing the lockdown in Scotland on May 21, she announced that “all schools will re-open" from August 11".

She added: “However, to allow appropriate physical distancing, children will return to a blended model of part-time in-school and part-time at-home learning.”

Guidance issued to schools and councils by the Scottish Government a week later stated that the blended learning model is what “we expect to see for a period of time”.

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On Tuesday, Mr Swinney told MSPs that the the blended learning model “is the product of an agreement between the Scottish Government, local authorities, the teaching professional associations and parents”.

He added: “It has been worked on for some weeks since the lockdown began, to ensure that we had an agreed framework that could be deployed locally to maximise the impact and effect of education on young people.”

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “The approach that we have decided that we must have in place as a contingency, with blended learning, is exactly what the United Kingdom Government is doing for England and what the Welsh Government is doing for Wales.”

Later, the First Minister’s official spokesperson said that the blended model "has to be devised as a contingency", and stressed that “it’s not where we want to end up” but said “these things are kept under constant review”.

The spokesperson added: “If we keep making progress in terms of the headline figures and numbers, we will get to a place where we are getting back, moving through the stages of coming out of lockdown as quickly as possible and we’ll get back to a stage where we can hopefully get pupils and teachers back to full-time face to face school learning as soon as possible.”

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Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw pressed the First Minister on whether the Scottish Government “will support local councils with the additional funding they require” to adapt to the blended learning model.

He added: "There have been soft words, matched by a record of non-delivery, with months of dithering on education.

“So far, we have seen half-measures and buck passing, and parents are rightly furious.

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary John SwinneyNicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary John Swinney

“I ask the First Minister for a commitment - will she promise to commit the funds that are required, whatever it takes, to underpin a national endeavour to help councils get schools back in place and to give this generation of children the start in life that they deserve?”

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Ms Sturgeon stressed that local authorities should be using "creative" ways to restart face-to-face teaching but added that she “absolutely gives the commitment that, if that involves additional resources to maximise school time, the Government will step in.”

She added: “If we have to have a model of education that is less than full time for safety reasons, for any period of time, we absolutely maximise that, and that we take steps to provide additional support to parents and young people for the periods that they spend out of school.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader. Willie Rennie, poked holes in Ms Sturgeon’s plans to partially re-open schools, pointing to concerns parents have over childcare when they are required to return to work under the Scottish Government’s routemap to easing the lockdown.

He said: “People will be going back to work next week and they will need the support next week.

“The Government has put parents in an impossible position because they cannot choose between their job and their children. The Scottish Government ramped up national health service capacity and pumped billions of pounds into businesses to keep them alive, but on education, our children and their parents are being left behind.

“Why does the First Minister not accept that, if she is asking parents to return to work, she has an obligation to work out who is going to care for their children?”

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The First Minister stressed that “it is a global health pandemic that is putting people in an impossible position”.

She added: “I will not say to any parent or teacher or anybody else across the country anything other than that this is incredibly difficult for them each and every day.

"This is not about an unwillingness to make resources available, it is about using resources properly to get the country, including schools, back to normal in a way that is sensible and does not put the health of children or others at risk, and that is what we will continue to prioritise.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard highlighted comments made by Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, who warned that governments have “an obligation to ensure that children can access their human right to education”.

Mr Leonard told the First Minister that “we are in an education emergency”.

He added: “Children have a right to education, so we need to pull out all the stops to make sure that our children return to school safely and full time as soon as possible.

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“Scotland’s teachers, parents and young people also want clarity, and this week they have had nothing but mixed messages. Anxious parents are writing to me about the impact that schools being closed is having on their children and the impact that the Government’s mixed messages are having as well.”

Teaching unions, who have called for more cash for councils to adapt classrooms, want clarity to be given to staff and parents, and are planning for the blended learning model to be adopted when schools begin to re-open.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “Teachers are planning now for an August return of pupils and that planning is based on a blended learning approach, as advised by the Government-led education recovery group.

“With the health guidelines that are currently in place, including the two-metre social distancing requirement, it is simply not possible to have all pupils in school, safely at the same time.

“More could be achieved if the Scottish Government funded councils to create more classrooms and to employ more teachers. The EIS would urge both layers of government to work together to deliver this, in the interests of Scotland’s pupils."

He added: “Clearly, the preference for teachers and parents alike would be for schools to be able to operate normally as soon as possible but that does not look likely for August 11.

“Blended learning, therefore, as a practical solution to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis, is the operational plan for schools to restart.”