Schools which have been shut in an effort to contain Covid-19 may be re-opened to senior secondary pupils without home internet access so they can finish essential coursework.

John Swinney has indicated he will consider the possibility even as nationwide coronavirus restrictions continue.

The Education Secretary’s suggestion comes after Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans to begin a phased return to campuses from February 22, with some S4-6 students set to go back on a parttime basis for the completion of essential practical tasks.

Mr Swinney has since clarified that the First Minister was referring to activities such as woodwork.

It is hoped P1-3 youngsters, as well as those in early learning and childcare, will be able to return full-time from the same date.

Final decisions are to be confirmed in two weeks’ time and will depend on continued progress in suppressing Covid-19.

Most learning and teaching is taking place remotely, with schools closed to all except key worker and vulnerable children.

On Wednesday, in a sign of potential flexibility around the new measures, Mr Swinney did not rule out re-opening classrooms to senior phase pupils with no home internet so they can complete vital coursework.

Asked for his views on the possibility by Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell, Mr Swinney said: “I think it’s a reasonable proposition.”

Amid fears over unequal access to digital technology and broadband connectivity, the Education Secretary also praised the resourcefulness displayed by schools in reaching out to pupils during lockdown.

The Perthshire North MSP highlighted the example of youngsters in his own constituency who have been able to obtain learning resources in local convenience stores.

“I think we have to have scope in our consideration to address some of these legitimate practical challenges that might exist for young people to engage in their learning,” he said during a meeting of Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee.

“If a young person was struggling in relation to digital access, perhaps through connectivity challenges in a particular locality, schools have been resourced and supported to enable them to address that in other ways.

“So while it is desirable to have that digital connectivity, it’s not the only means by which learning can be undertaken.

“I see a lot of other examples around the country where schools are making available access to materials and to educational resources through the school, by collection, or by access to local shops in different villages.

“In my constituency, educational materials for secondary schools that cover a number of different towns and villages are available in convenience stores in different parts of the community.

“So schools are really thinking through: how do they reach young people? How do they engage them in their learning?”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary John Swinney.Education Secretary John Swinney.

His remarks come amid ongoing concern over variation in access to online teaching across Scotland.

The Herald told at the end of last month how there had been calls for remote learning to be subject to set standards after it was revealed only one in three local authorities indicated that lessons were being provided at all their schools on a daily basis.

And in East Dunbartonshire alone, investigations were launched after angry parents lodged complaints that the online teaching time which does exist varies between over 50 minutes and a structured four-and-a-half hours per day.

Guidance on remote learning from standards watchdog Education Scotland states children and young people are “entitled” to “a balance of live learning and independent activity”.

Of 27 Scottish councils which responded to questions about the extent of daily live online lessons, just nine indicated that all schools were providing them.

Parent representatives have indicated the availability of in-school classes during lockdown should be determined in part by a pupil’s ability to learn remotely.

Eileen Prior, executive director of parents’ organisation Connect, said: “We have been asking for children and young people who are unable to be do schoolwork at home, for whatever reason, including those unable to access digital learning for whatever reason, to be recognised as ‘vulnerable’.

“There is an acute education deficit for young people in this situation, which in many cases will be the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”