COUNCILS have said they are confident they can reopen Scotland’s schools full-time next month, but have warned the move will come with a “heavy price tag”.

Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet will decide on Wednesday whether to proceed with plans to fully open schools from August 11, with the decision announced on Thursday.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s education committee, Stephen McCabe, the children’s spokesman for the council umbrella body Cosla, said local authorities were ready.

He said: “On the basis [of information] I have received from directors of education, they are confident they will be in a position to get schools back into full-time learning during August.”

He told MSPs councils were also ready to switch to the contingency option of blended learning if the risk from coronavirus was judged too high for full-time classes.

However he stressed that school would not simply pick up where pupils left off in March, and that a “recovery curriculum” would be needed, with individual plans put in place for children whose education had suffered most.

He said: “It’s a huge challenge, returning to full-time education after five months of no education, essentially.”

Earlier this month, education secretary John Swinney said schools would not need any form of physical distancing among pupils.

However last week he told MSPs secondaries would be asked to keep 2m between pupils “where possible” though controlling flows of students in corridors and new class layouts.

But Mr McCabe said: “The reality is there will be limited opportunities to maintain social distancing in secondary schools.”

Mr Swinney said safe distancing was a “precautionary principle” that shouldn’t be prioritised over full-time education.

Mr McCabe, Labour leader of Inverclyde Council, also warned of faced vastly increased costs.

Noting East Dunbartonshire alone was looking to recruit 72 new cleaners to work through the school day, he said: “Cleaning on its own is going to be a huge additional cost.

“There will be other costs, around school transport and PPE, the type of logistical costs that will require to be met to safely return children to school.”

Although councils are due to receive an additional £20million in Government funding, Mr McCabe said talks were taking place with ministers about yet more cash.

The guidance being developed for a safe return of schools “will come with a heavy price tag” that will be “significantly more” than the money already being provided, he warned.

Mr Swinney said sample testing for coronavirus would be carried out to track the impact of opening schools on the disease, but it would not be ready on day one.

He said: “I have some anxiety about the reopening of schools, because of the degree of change this represents in the arrangements we have within our society.

“We have been in a situation for four months of really very limited contact between individuals and very limited gatherings, and the openings of schools will be a very significant next step in the move out of lockdown.”

Mr McCabe said: “The stark reality is we know there are going to be incidents of Covid-19 in our schools, and we are going to have to manage them effectively.”

Green MSP Ross Greer said: “The guidance around social distancing for secondary pupils and staff is as clear as mud. Most schools just don’t have the space or capacity to do this if every pupil returns full time next month, as they have been instructed to do. Schools have been issued two recommendations which are impossible to deliver at the same time.”