ANAS Sarwar has set out his proposals for a “national recovery plan” including a bid to boost education with comeback tutoring and an exams re-sit and college place guarantee.

Making his first major speech since becoming Scottish Labour leader, Mr Sarwar revealed his party’s vision for an education recovery plan - which he admitted will cost “hundreds of millions of pounds”.

He also insisted that arguments over independence “undermine” re-building Scotland as the country emerges from the pandemic.

The Labour leader stressed his proposals will “restore Scottish education” and “make sure every child has the right to a decent start in life”.

Mr Sarwar pointed to a tutoring programme which he said “must be led nationally” and funded by the Scottish Government.

He said: “We believe there should be a personal comeback plan for every pupil, based on a needs-based assessment, and combined with a mental health assessment.

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“For those young people who have missed out on examinations this year, we believe there should be a re-sit guarantee with a free place at college to take national qualifications should this be the chosen path of any pupil from the affected cohort.

“This gives a clear signal to our young people that they will not suffer as a result of their age and stage in the time of Covid-19.”

Mr Sarwar also highlighted that more support is needed for teachers.

He said: “The demands of the last year placed on the workforce may have changed, but they have never reduced in scale.

“They deserve not just our thanks but our commitment to support them in the future. That starts with priority vaccinations for teachers.

“And then concerns over workload must be addressed urgently in the new parliamentary term, with a guaranteed completion opportunity for probationary teachers and enhanced digital training for staff.”

He also set out his blueprint for a summer comeback programme for young people, who Mr Sarwar stressed “must be the beneficiaries of the opening up of the country”.

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“They should see old friends, make new ones and begin to live a full life again,” he added.

“Rather than focusing on academic catch-up over the summer holidays, there should be a resourced programme including resources for national youth organisations to engage young people with outdoor activities, ring-fenced resources for school trips to outdoor activity centres for all young people, and free access to sport, outdoor activities and culture.

“This is a plan to restore Scottish education and to make sure every child has the right to a decent start in life.”

When pressed about the cost of the education recovery plan, Mr Sarwar admitted that “it is going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds”.

He added: “We have almost £1 billion of non-recurring spend coming to the Scottish Government.

“If we aren’t going to use that money on our young people and making sure we don’t have a mental health crisis in our country, then what are we going to be using it for?”

Mr Sarwar stressed that he wants his party to “play a major role in our country’s comeback” as he suggested a “national recovery plan” will be drawn up ahead of May’s election.

As well as the education proposals, the strategy will include kickstarting a jobs recovery, re-building the NHS, a climate recovery and a communities recovery.

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He warned that even when the lockdown ends, “we will still have to pick up the pieces”, insisting that “the last year has torn through the very fabric of our society”.

The Labour leader has suggested that Scots face two choices at May’s election - “whether to return to the old divisions” of the independence debate or to “pull our country together and focus on recovery”.

Mr Sarwar said that “some politicians would rather we went back and focused on those divisions”, insisting that “holding a different view on the constitution doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to focus on what unites us”.

He added: “An argument about a referendum right now won’t take one more person back to work, it won’t lift a single family out of poverty, it won’t restart our NHS, and it would undermine the effort – a national effort – to recover from the pandemic.

“I am going to be a leader who focuses on what unites us as a country, not what divides us.”