AN SNP MSP has blasted the co-chairman of the Scottish Government’s education recovery group – insisting that controversial blended learning proposals are “absolutely unacceptable”.

Alex Neil, a former SNP health secretary, accused councils of refusing to try and overcome a lack of teaching space as a barrier for pupils returning to school full time.

The Scottish Government has told councils to draw up plans to allow children to return to classrooms part-time from August 11, with social distancing rules, with the rest of the time learning remotely at home.

But in recent days, Nicola Sturgeon has appeared to soften her stance on whether the blended learning models will in fact be rolled out when schools re-open their doors amid speculation the two-metre rule could be relaxed if the virus continues to be suppressed.

Mr Neil criticised Stephen McCabe, the children and young people spokesperson for the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, Cosla – accusing local authorities of failing to do all they can to increase the time pupils physically spend in schools.

Speaking at Holyrood’s education committee, Mr Neil said: “I’m a grandfather and my grandchildren have just been told they’re going to get, from August 11, one and half days a week in school for the indefinite future.

“I personally and their parents regard that as absolutely unacceptable – that is not good quality education, it’s not blending education, it’s bleeding education. Surely we can do far better than that for our children.”

READ MORE: Jason Leitch: 'Virus prevalence' could inform future decision on reducing two-metre rule

Mr McCabe, who is also the co-chairman of the Scottish Government’s education recovery group, admitted that the blended learning model “is second best”.

He added: “The reality is that we are being advised by the government, by the scientists that at this point in time, children can only return to school in August on the basis of a two-metre social distancing. It’s impossible for us to provide full time education in that constraint.”

But Mr Neil questioned why councils cannot “take a leaf out of the NHS’s book” after the health service took on more staff and saw an emergency facility set up in case it was needed.

He said: “What they did was they requisitioned the buildings they needed, they recruited the additional staff they needed.

“I agree that has to be paid for by the Scottish Government but if you listen to what the paediatricians are saying – the cost of getting your children back to school five days a week in terms of their mental health, their physical health, their education, our future economic prospects – all of that is dependent on that happening.”

He added: “Do you not think the attitude should be, let us not take capacity as a constraint but actually address the capacity issues to make sure we give our children as full time.

“We are looking at the moment as if Scotland is potentially going to be the only one of the four nations in the UK not planning for or at least trying to get a full time return to school in August. That’s not good enough.

“Can we not apply a bit of imagination and create homework hubs for example – with the IT equipment to make sure every child has access to what they need to do. This is not getting it right for most children.

“I think you’ve just taken the capacity constraints and decided to work to those and not actually try to overcome them.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon told to stop 'dithering' on schools plan as blended learning could be scrapped

But Mr McCabe disputed the claims, insisting councils and schools are doing all they can to make the proposals work.

He said: “There are around 2,500 schools in Scotland. To imagine that we could replicate 2,500 schools is just fantasy.

“Money is not the only issue. If the Scottish Government offered councils a blank cheque and said, it doesn’t matter what it costs, go out there and double the school estate, get every child back to school full time with face-to-face learning in August, based on two-metre social distancing, we couldn’t do it.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson, Jamie Greene, said: “This is a serious intervention from a former SNP cabinet secretary, who is now saying publicly what many SNP MSPs are thinking privately.

“Current plans for part-time learning are unworkable and potentially a disaster for children.”

He added: “At least Alex Neil has the guts to tell Nicola Sturgeon and his front bench ministers some difficult truths about their lack of ambition and incompetence, adding his name to a growing list of SNP advisers and politicians expressing anger at this shambolic handling of schools.

“The Holyrood committee also learned today of more confusion, with councils admitting that their one and only plan is to only offer a maximum of 50 per cent attendance in class, in direct contradiction to the First Minister who said that was the contingency plan. Councils are saying one thing, ministers are saying another.

“All the while parents are getting angrier at John Swinney and the SNP’s intransigent attitude and complete lack of leadership over such an important issue.”