The youngest children returned to the classroom across Scotland as schools reopen to more pupils.

Pupils in primaries one to three, some senior secondary pupils who need to do practical work for qualifications and all children under school age in early learning and childcare returned to school today.

Education Secretary John Swinney has said it is "critical" that parents follow mask-wearing and physical distancing rules at the school gates when younger pupils return to class.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that any further phases will not be introduced before March 15, which will allow time for the Scottish Government to assess the return of phase one. 

She said: "I want to be clear, though, that the need to properly assess the impact of this limited reopening means we think it unlikely, at this stage, that there will be any further return to school before March 15.

"As we consider these issues, we are of course doing everything we can to ensure that schools are as safe as possible for children, and for the education workforce."

While the majority of school pupils will continue to learn from home, Ms Sturgeon announced an array of changes that youths and staff can expect on their return. 

Here, we outline the key changes:

Who will go back to school?

From February 22:

  • Primary: Children in primary one, two and three should provisionally return to class
  • Secondary school: Senior pupils who have practical assignments to complete will be allowed to return on a "part-time" basis
  • Nursery: Pre-school nurseries will open
  • Additional needs: Some children and young people with significant additional support needs will also be prioritised for a return
  • Key workers: Children of key workers will remain at school

Who will be going back first?

Children who are in early learning, child care and pupils in primaries 1-3 are scheduled to make a return to full-time learning to schools and nurseries from February 22. 

This would see a return to pre-school nurseries at the same time as the gradual reopening of the wider schools system.

What about P4 and upwards?

All other primary and secondary pupils will continue to use remote learning until at least the beginning of March.

This excludes vulnerable children and those of key workers.

Senior pupils in S4-S6 who have practical assignments to complete will be allowed to return on a "part-time" basis, with no more than 8 per cent of the school roll attending "at any one time".

Testing

Senior pupils, teachers and workers in childcare settings will be given facilities to self-test themselves for coronavirus twice a week. 

The twice-weekly tests will be introduced in a bid to prevent the transmission of the virus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This testing offer will be in place for schools as soon as possible to support their return, and we will extend it to the wider childcare sector in the weeks after that."

Covid safety restrictions in schools

Secondary school pupils and teachers will be obliged to observe a two-metre distance with the use of face coverings on all campuses. 

Social distancing requirements for primary school pupils will remain unchanged, however, staff in early-year schools and nurseries should maintain the two-metre rule. 

What about school meals?

All children who are eligible for free school meals will continue to receive them during this period.

Exams

Although education Secretary John Swinney has confirmed that the marking system used last year will not be repeated, the Scottish Government confirmed the exam system will change. 

Higher exams and Scottish National 5 exams will be cancelled this year for all pupils.

Instead, final grades will be decided by teacher estimates and a "quality assurance" procedure overseen by the SQA.

In order to reach these estimates, pupils will give teachers three or four pieces of work to use as evidence of a final grade.

Final estimates will be submitted to the SQA by Friday 25 June - a month later than originally planned, following the Scottish government's latest extension of lockdown to mid-February.

Central Fife Times:

What counts as practical work?

The Scottish Government has yet to release guidance on what counts as practical work.

Will children who need additional support return?

Children and pupils with significant additional support needs will also be prioritised for a return to in-person provision.

What are the latest figures?

New figures from the Scottish Government show that there have been 827 confirmed cases of the virus since Saturday.  

A total of five new deaths were registered during that time, while 1,132 people are being treated in hospital for the disease - 99 of them in intensive care.

Overall, the death toll now stands at 6,950.

In that time, 19,882 new tests for Covid-19 reported results – 5.5% of these were positive.

The 5.5% test positivity figure is important as is above the 5% level considered by the World Health Organisation to indicate the epidemic is under control. 

As of this morning, 1,431,942 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and 35,479 have received their second dose.