Headteachers have hit out at Nicola Sturgeon after she announced all secondary school pupils would return to the classroom later this month.

They said there was "frustration and anger" over the move, adding that the challenge of delivering in-person teaching while also managing remote learning and maintaining provision for key worker children would be "completely disproportionate" to any perceived gain.  

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The First Minister said earlier this week that campuses would be reopened on a part-time basis from March 15 for those in S1-6, with full-time teaching due to resume after the Easter holidays.

She told MSPs that the plan was based on good progress in driving down Covid-19 infection rates, test positivity and hospitalisations, as well as the strength of Scotland's vaccination programme.

"The phased approach to school return can be frustrating, I know," Ms Sturgeon said.

"But it is necessary and it is firmly based on the expert advice that we have received.

"It is the best, and also the most sustainable and enduring, way to get as many children back to school as possible, as safely as possible."

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon updated MSPs on the phased reopening of schools earlier this week.Nicola Sturgeon updated MSPs on the phased reopening of schools earlier this week.

Schools were reopened for P1-3 children and those in pre-school last month, with P4-7 pupils set to go back full-time from March 15.

However, headteachers have criticised the plan. 

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A spokesman for the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, said: "A meeting of the EIS HT network... expressed frustration and anger at the announcement by the FM on the return of all secondary pupils for blended learning in the pre-Easter period.

"Given the introduction of physical distancing for pupils, headteachers felt strongly  that the workload and logistical challenge of seeking to deliver some in-face learning whilst maintaining remote learning and also keeping provision going for children of key workers, was completely disproportionate to any perceived gain.

"Indeed there was a strong feeling that the approach taken by the Scottish Government would actually weaken the educational offer currently available."

A Government spokeswoman said: “It remains our ambition to return all children to in-school learning as soon as it is safe to do so.

“The phased approach to school return is firmly based on the expert advice that we have received.

“It is the best and also the most sustainable and enduring way to get as many children back to school as possible, as safely as possible.

“Councils will decide how to safely balance in-school learning based on local circumstances.”

In a separate development, the EIS has launched a manifesto calling for a progressive expansion of the teaching workforce and an end to zero-hours supply lists.

Ahead of the Holyrood election in May, it wants all political parties to commit to delivering the investment required to make education recovery possible in the wake of Covid-19.

The manifesto, entitled For an Education Led Recovery, outlines EIS policy in key areas including early years education, primary and secondary schools, additional support needs (ASN), instrumental music, the impact of poverty and tackling inequality.

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General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: "Education has been at the centre of political discourse in Scotland for some time, with most political parties expressing commitment to improving the life chances of Scotland's pupils and students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Unfortunately, unanimity has spread little beyond that broad objective and Scotland's teachers and lecturers have felt that education has more often been a political football than the subject of a shared national ambition.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare some of the deep inequalities in our society, but also the absolutely essential role that schools and educational establishments play in the nurturing and development of our children; in supporting the well-being and resilience of young people and students; and in the provision of pathways for achievement and attainment for all.

"In calling for an education-led recovery from the impact of the pandemic, the EIS demands from all political parties commitments to concrete policies and the necessary investment which will restore and build upon the solid foundations of Scotland's education system and support progress to a fairer, more equitable and more just Scotland."

Mr Flanagan also said more than one in 10 teachers were on temporary contracts or zero hours supply staff lists.

Expanding the workforce is one of the key demands in the manifesto, with an ultimate target of reducing class sizes to a maximum of 20 pupils.

"The challenge around education recovery is immense and if we are to meet the needs of young people, Scotland needs more teachers," Mr Flanagan added.

"This would help to reduce class sizes, ensuring that students receive tailored support that meets their needs; it would enable an increase in the specialist provision required for young people with additional support needs; it would support our pupils and students who have suffered a traumatic experience during the pandemic, with the impact often being felt most acutely by young people already facing disadvantage caused by poverty."

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

The EIS is also calling for statutory public sector provision of nursery education and guaranteed minimum access to qualified teachers for all three to five-year-olds within early years provision, as well as free instrumental music tuition for all school pupils who wish to learn an instrument.

It wants to see increased specialist staffing in ASN and mainstream settings to better meet the needs of pupils with ASN and the universal provision of free school meals, including over holiday periods, for all nursery and school-aged children.