SNP ministers have denied ever planning to spend £300,000 cutting the bottom off classroom doors to improve ventilation for pupils after the idea was widely ridiculed.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville today blamed a “wilful misunderstanding”  of the situation by opposition parties, and said that trimming doors had merely been one element of an “example scenario”.

The Scottish Tories accused her of an "astonishing rewriting of history".

Nicola Sturgeon was laughed at by MSPs last week after defending the door idea, saying it was “basic common sense” to help maximise “the natural flow of air in a room”.

It led the Fire Brigades Union to seek a meeting with the Government amid concerns that shrinking doors to help protect pupils from Covid-19 could breach fire regulations.

Last month Ms Somerville wrote to Holyrood’s education committee saying £5m had been allocated to a council ventilation fund, £300,000 of which was based on the potential need to “undercut” 2000 doors “to increase airflow” at a cost of £150 each. 

At Holyrood today, Tory MSP Tess White asked Ms Somerville what talks the Government had had with the FBU “on its plan to remove the bottom of classroom doors”.

Despite Ms Sturgeon answering multiple direct questions about chopping doors, and Ms Somerville’s own letter, the education secretary denied there was any such plan.

She told MSPs it had merely been an “example” of work that councils might carry out. 

She said: “The Scottish Government meets regularly with the Fire Brigades Union and will continue to have constructive dialogue on any matter of concern.

“However, as the member will be aware, the Scottish Government has no such plans.

“Contributions in this chamber last week were based on a wilful misunderstanding of examples of mitigations that local authorities may implement under certain circumstances to improve ventilation in problematic spaces in schools.

“These examples, which included uses of air-cleaning devices, installation of small mechanical vents and adjustment of doors, were used as a means to generate the overall costs of the up to £5m top-up fund made available to local authorities to improve ventilation in schools.

“This was set out in the letter to the education, children and young people’s committee which stated the precise remedial measures used in each problematic space should be informed by local circumstances and expert assessment by local authority teams.

“Local authorities must consider legal health and safety obligations including fire safety.

“Officials have spoken with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service regarding this matter.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed they understand the Scottish Government’s approach in seeking to improve ventilation in schools.

“In line with usual practice they are happy to provide advice and support to local authorities regarding any changes to structures which may have an impact on fire risk assessments.”

Ms White mocked Ms Somerville’s reference to a “wilful misunderstanding” and asked if the proposals were “definitely misunderstandings”.

Ms Somerville said: “The absolute interpretation that’s been given by the opposition parties is an absolute, deliberate misunderstanding of events.

“The absolute truth of this matter is that these are misleading reports that have been given.

"When the Covid-19 shortlife working group were asked to look at the media reporting following on from this interpretation in the chamber, they have confirmed that adjusting the undercut of a non-fire door can be necessary, if for example the installation of a small mechanical vent system changes the air pressure in a room, making a door difficult to open, which could itself present a hazard.

“That’s exactly why this specific measure was included as an element of the example scenario.

"Ventilation must be viewed systematically, and introducing changes such as mechanical ventilation can have knock-on impacts on other aspects of ventilation and of health and safety. 

“That’s exactly why the examples were given as they were, as a specific scenario.”

Ms White said parents were looking at the plans with “consternation and concern” and said the Scottish Government had had two years to come up with ventilation improvements.

She said: “Does the cabinet secretary confirm that spending £300,000 on chopping off the bottom of doors is not going to happen?”

Ms Somerville accepted it might happen in specific scenarios involving other measures if changes to air pressure in a room led to doors being harder to open.

She also accused Ms White of “adding to the deliberate misunderstanding on this” and said ministers and councils would listen to experts on the issue.

SNP MSP Stephanie Callaghan accused the opposition of “nonsense scaremongering”

Labour’s Michael Marra said the Government’s handling of the issue had descended into “ridicule” across the country, and called for two air filters in every classroom.

Ms Somerville said Labour’s plan was at odds with the expert advice to ministers.

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said he had read Ms Somwerville’s letter and “it wasn’t an example, it was costed… for 2000 [doors] at £150 a time, costing £300,000.”

He said: “The cabinet secretary is now being laughed at across the country for her proposals. She should ditch them and invest in the air filters and stop this nonsense of cutting the bottom off doors.”

Ms Somerville replied: “There is no such plan within the Scottish Government guidance. 

“The letter gave an example scenario that I’ve went [sic] into in detail.

“The discussion around the need for remedial work within schools has been something that we’ve of course moved very very quickly on working with local authorities. 

“They did identify some problematic spaces. 

“We did still ensure as a government that there was additional £5m funding [so that] if other mitigation measures were required there was no barrier to that.”

Ms White said later: “This is an astonishing rewriting of history by the SNP’s Education Secretary. She clearly can’t accept her bonkers plan was rightly met with derision from parents and experts alike.

“She cannot seriously try and claim there was a wilful misunderstanding of the proposals when Nicola Sturgeon defended them in Parliament last week.

“Shirley Anne-Somerville is now desperately trying to row back on a plan that should never have seen the light of day. It once again highlighted how woefully out of touch the SNP Government are in tackling ventilation issues in our schools.

“Instead of ridiculous ideas like chopping the bottom of doors off, it is time for the SNP’s Education Secretary to guarantee she will finally invest in proper and effective ventilation systems for our schools.”