In a speech on Monday launching Scottish Labour’s campaign for the Holyrood elections, Mr Sarwar, who took the top job last month, insisted that Labour under his leadership was “back on your side, not on the sidelines”.
He also unveiled a “national recovery plan” for Scotland, which included details of an ambitious attempt to boost support for teachers and pupils.
Speaking on the day thousands more pupils returned to classrooms across Scotland, the father-of-three said he shared a “deep sense of relief” with parents and outlined his five-part “education comeback” proposal.
Mr Sarwar promised a needs-based “personal plan” for every pupil in Scotland, combined with a mental health assessment.
He said the plan was needed “to restore Scottish education and to make sure every child has the right to a decent start in life”.
Under the proposals, pupils would also be offered tutoring, as well as a “re-sit guarantee” for students whose exam results were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Each pupil would be offered a fully-funded college place to retake national qualifications.
“This gives a clear signal to our young people that they will not suffer as a result of their age and stage at the time of Covid-19,” he said.
Mr Sarwar further pledged ring-fenced funding to give young people free access to sport, transport, outdoor activities and culture.
Promising guaranteed school places for probationary teachers, the Labour leader also argued for priority vaccination places for education staff.
“We must support our teachers,” he said.
“The demands of the last year on the workforce may have changed, but they have never reduced … they deserve not just our thanks, but our commitment to support them in the future.”
Mr Sarwar warned another SNP majority would risk stirring up up “old arguments” and would “divert” the country “by what divides us again”.
Mr Sarwar also took aim at the Scottish Conservatives, claiming the party would “talk up that division” because they are “devoid of ideas” and “only know what they are against”.
“They promised to be a strong opposition, but where is it?” he said.
Mr Sarwar said responsibility for “so many of the divisions and inequalities in our society” lay with the Conservatives.
“Boris Johnson’s Tories can’t credibly claim to care about recovery when they want to take us back to the old arguments,” he said.
“Instead, at this election, you can vote for what our Parliament should be for – a Covid Recovery Parliament where we work in the national interest.
He added: “As we come out of this pandemic, we must focus on solutions – solutions which ensure that Scotland comes back a better, stronger, fairer nation than the one that went into lockdown last year.
“The Scottish Labour Party promises at these elections to offer those solutions. We are the only party that can deliver this.
“That’s why voting Labour matters.”
The 38-year-old insisted his focus on “unity, not division” was clear in his “national recovery plan”, which he said would be the centrepiece of the party’s election campaign.