I KNOW there’s been a lockdown on, but ministers and their officials really need to get out more.

This week’s row over the patchwork return of schools has been a classic example of what appears to work on paper colliding with the reality of people’s lives.

How education secretary John Swinney thought up to a year of blended learning starting with 50 per cent class time - if councils obliged - was ever going to fly is beyond me.

Some local authorities, like mine, simply took the proverbial.

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It didn’t even try to hit the 50% mark and offered parents 33%.

In fact, it was actually less than that. They rigged the calculation by lopping half a day off the school week, so that the usual 4.5 days became 4, then offered parents 4 days out of 12 instead of 4 out of 13.5 and hoped they wouldn’t mind. They did. Very much.

Nicola Sturgeon has tried to get the show back on the road by effectively making 50% the new minimum and warning councils she’d rewrite their plans to maximise class time.

But despite it being the central planning assumption among councils for the return of pupils in August, she has downplayed blended learning as a mere contingency measure.

As Cosla’s education chief Stephen McCabe told MSPs yesterday, it remains the central plan and with the school holidays [sic] almost upon us, it’s going to stay the plan that teachers expect to implement unless it’s changed very soon indeed.

He said the Government’s 2m desk-distancing rule made any return to normal schooling “impossible”.

The SNP MSP Alex Neil demanded better from councils, but to little avail.

It’s been a precarious week for the FM and Mr Swinney because few things are worse for politicians than looking grossly out of touch with the voters to whom they owe their jobs.

Boris Johnson rightly faced that charge when he appeared oblivious to Marcus Rashford’s wall-to-wall campaign to extend free school meals over the summer in England.

Why could the PM not see the merit in the idea like everyone else?

The schools situation in Scotland is something akin to that.

Anyone who has been to their local park in the recent good weather will have seen children playing pretty much as children always do, physical distancing rules or no.

Their parents, with a mixture of relief at the children enjoying themselves, weary realism about controlling them, and their own anxieties over work, see it too.

Tell those parents that eight weeks from now, after a summer of mixing with their peers, that the same children must sit 2m apart in class or else and watch their reaction.

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It seems wholly disconnected from the world as it is.

Schools would be like those Pacific atolls after World War II where the soldiers hadn’t heard about the truce, the last hold-outs of another era.

I fear Ms Sturgeon’s Phase 2 plans have the same air of unreality.

It wasn’t so very long ago that she stressed “simplicity of messaging”.

Now her four-phase route map out of lockdown is growing like Topsy.

On Thursday, she sub-divided Phase 2 into four smaller phases, one starting June 18, another the 19th, a third the 22nd and the fourth the 29th. She also said there might be a fifth - for outdoor eating and drinking - announced on or after July 2. Or she might not announce it. It would depend on more research, as would a possible change to the 2m rule.

Phase 3, due to start on July 9, could be similarly salami-sliced.

It is ponderously complicated. For example, the new rule on ‘extended households’, or social bubbles, say households may hook up with one other ‘qualifying household’, but only if that household is one person or a lone parent. No person in either household can then enter another bubble, and they can only meet other households outdoors - now up to two others not one - with physical distancing.

If you have to read it several times, or if its sounds like a riddle, it’s not a good message.

Many people will just assume they can knock around in other people’s houses.

As the complexity increases, inconsistencies multiply.

Despite the strictures on schools, from June 29 Scotland’s zoos, gardens and playgrounds can open, all places children will gather and gleefully disregard social distancing. Any volunteers to wipe down the climbing frame after each use? Hardly.

The rules on face coverings on public transport are also full of mixed messages. For example, school transport is exempt, making 2m between desks seem even odder.

You must cover up indoors on ferries in Scottish waters, but not, despite their record, on cruise ships.

And you can take off a covering to “eat or drink where reasonably necessary”, raising the prospect of people enjoying a beer on the train but not in a beer garden.

Adding to the confusion is the thoroughly disjointed approach across the four nations.

There is now a hodgepodge of rules around the UK about socialising, travel, schools, and shopping, with Northern Ireland moving to 1m distance in schools in August.

Ms Sturgeon is pushing a new acronym, FACTS, to help people through the maze: Face coverings, Avoid crowded places, Clean hands, Two metres and Self-isolating.

It’s not a bad acronym, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it will have the same traction as Stay Home.

The country is, worryingly, sliding back to its pre-Covid ways before it is effectively post-Covid.

Ministers may reckon there is still some utility in having all these rules.

Even if they are not fully observed, they are at least a reminder that we are not back to normality. True.

But by making them so fussy, paradoxical and removed from daily life, the danger is people’s dwindling patience runs out even faster and the lockdown is ignored altogether.