NICOLA Sturgeon has denied her school plans are “half-baked” after unions warned they hadn’t been agreed and John Swinney admitted parents won’t know what to expect until July 30.

The First Minister also said that, despite her education secretary saying pupils could return full-time without physical distancing, teachers might be protected by perspex screens.

She said it was vital for the Government to remain “flexible” in its approach, given it was dealing with an unpredictable virus.

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The parent campaign group 50/50 said it was concerned about the continued uncertainty.

Earlier this month, Mr Swinney said he expected blended learning, a mix of face-to-face teaching and home-schooling, to last up to a year because of the need to distance pupils.

However after a furious backlash from parents, and some children offered just one day a week in class, Mr Swinney U-turned and made full-time teaching the aim on August 11.

He said on Tuesday that blended learning would remain as a contingency, but progress against Covid should mean pupils going back to class without physical distancing, provided the risk from the virus was low.

However in radio interviews today, Mr Swinney admitted that the Government may not make its final decision on what system to use until July 30.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan was also scathing about the way the Government had gone about its U-turn, and hinted at potential obstacles ahead. 

In a letter to his 55,000 members, he said the full-time plan wa a “political announcement”, not an “agreed outcome” from the official Covid Education Recovery stakeholder group.

He said: “It would be a fundamental error on the part of the Scottish Government, our employers, parents, or anyone, to believe that Covid-19 will have gone away in August and it will be business as usual for schools. It will not be. 

“If that is a politically inconvenient truth for anyone, it nonetheless remains a truth.”

Mr Swinney also said he didn’t want anxious parents punished if they refused to let their children go back to school in the autumn.

The Scottish Tories said parents and pupils would not forgive ministers if negotiations with unions delayed the school plans, or cancelled them altogether.

As the Government’s daily briefing, the First Minister was pressed on the EIS comments and asked if her plans were half-baked, a description she called “completely unfair”.

She said: “We’re dealing with an un predictable virus. You can characterise it as ‘we don’t have our ducks in a row’ and ‘it’s half-baked’.

“Actually what it means is we don’t know exactly what we’ll be dealing with in terms of the levels of infections and transmission of a virus.

“We don’t have 100 per cent guarantees that we will be able to keep it at a low level.
“So we have to be flexible, and we have to consider all options, and we have to keep considering.

“If I was to come right now to a fixed and settled plan for what we were doing seven weeks away, if I was to say to you ‘Here is the fully backed plan right now and that will not change’’, then I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities.

“Because we’re not dealing with a situation that is fixed and unchangeable.

“So I’m afraid all of these plans - whether it’s in schools, in hospitals or care homes or any other aspect of life - if this virus starts to behave in a way we don’t want it to, and we all take our eye off the ball, and it starts to get out of control again, then frankly all of that will have to be reconsidered.”

Asked about the EIS suggestion of protective perspex shields for teachers, Ms Sturgeon said that should not be assumed, but add: “All of these ideas and suggestions that legitimately being made about how we make sure our schools are safe will be properly and thoroughly considered. We want children back in school full-time in August.

“But everybody recognises that has to be done in a way that is safe. That is partly about ensuring the virus is at low enough levels, but it’s partly about enuring that we have the right mitigations in place to reduce the risk of the virus spreading within school settings.”

She said all ideas would be assessed for effectiveness and practicality in the coming weeks.

Scottish Tory education secretary Jamie Greene said: “Rowing between governments and unions about education is nothing new. But this is simply too big, too important and too wide-ranging for game-playing by either side.

“Parents and pupils will not forgive the SNP government or the unions if hurdles are thrown up ahead of a return to full-time schooling.

“This return on August 11 is necessary for the education and mental wellbeing of our children, and also for the sake of the economy.

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“All these children have parents who desperately need to get back to work, you cannot simply pull the rug from under their feet at the last minute in this way.

“The education secretary needs to finally show that desperately needed leadership on this, and give the green light much earlier than July 30.

“That’s the only way parents and councils stand any chance of delivering full-time education and working.

“If there are localised health issues to deal with, then plan B can be enacted where needed, but plan A must be just that - and councils must be given the go ahead as soon as possible.”

Sarah Chisnall of the 50/50 campaign group added: “We are worried that what we heard from Mr Swinney and Larry Flannagan.

“This will only increase the concerns that parents, carers, teachers, and support staff will have about what will happen on August 11 or 12.”