Part-time schooling and four-day week the way ahead for Scotland, says Nicola Sturgeon

Part-time schooling and a four-day working week may become the new norm in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she unveiled a four-phase “route map” out of Coronavirus lockdown.

She urged Scots to “grasp the opportunity for change” as the country gets restarted in the months ahead.

Restrictions are likely be eased next week which will see people allowed to meet outside, sunbathe in the park and with some sports returning as part of “phase one” of the strategy published by the Scottish Government.

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Read more: The Scottish Government’s lockdown easing explained
Nicola Sturgeon says Scots must grasp "opportunity for change"

The second phase, which may be a few weeks down the line, could see Scots visit family members in their homes, as well as smaller shops reopening and a return of outdoor markets.

But all the measures are dependent on the virus continuing to be suppressed in Scotland. And Ms Sturgeon warned it may be months before route map out of the current lockdown is fully implemented.

The plan set out yesterday will see schools return from August 11, although local councils will finalise the date in their own area. A new a “blended” approach to teaching which will see a “different model of learning” implemented in classrooms across the country.

“This new model, which will ensure adherence to safeguarding protocols such as appropriate physical distancing, will include part-time in-school learning and part-time in-home learning for almost all children,” a strategy document published by the Scottish Government yesterday states.

Teachers will return to schools next month to start preparing for the new year ahead, with pupils who scheduled to transition from Primary to secondary given additional support.

The absence of youngsters from school for long periods is likely to have major ramifications for parents trying to arrange childcare and subsequent knock-on for their return to work and business activity. It is likely to mean a major overhaul in the way society operates, with flexible working patterns set to become increasingly prevalent.

“While we want to repair things and get things back to normal, we’ve got to also take care not to simply slip back into old and bad ways of doing things,” Ms Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday.

“There are opportunities for change here and I think all of us want to grasp that.

“What I’ve just announced on schools will, potentially for a considerable period of time, give parents a very difficult balancing act between the need to work and the need to care for children when children are at home rather than in school.

“That is one reason, not the only reason, why we have to look at different working patterns. Things like a four-day week now are no longer things we should just be talking about, these are things we should be encouraging employers to look at embracing.”

The First Minister unveiled her plan, which is based on World Health Organisation advice and the experience of other nations easing lockdown, in a statement to MSPs.

She told Holyrood the first phase could begin on May 28, but “not every phase one measure will necessarily be introduced immediately”.

The initial changes, outlined in a Scottish Government document, include:

The gradual reopening of drive-through food outlets as well as garden centres and plant nurseries People being allowed to use public outdoor spaces for recreational purposes, for example to sit in a public space People from one household will be allowed to meet up with another household outdoors, including in gardens. Non-contact outdoor activities in the local area – such as golf, hiking, canoeing, outdoor swimming and angling The safe restart of NHS services, covering primary, and community services including mental health.

The second phase could see Scots allowed to meet larger groups of family and friends outside, and also meet people from another household indoors with physical distancing and hygiene measures in place.

At that point pubs and restaurants can also open outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, again with physical distancing and increased hygiene routines.

By phase three, things will “begin to feel closer to normal”.

That will see pubs and restaurants open indoor spaces and “personal retail services” including hairdressers begin to trade again - but all with appropriate distancing and hygiene measures in place.

Phase four will be reached when “the virus remains suppressed to very low levels and is no longer considered a significant threat to public health” - but the document warns the public will have to remain “safety conscious”.

This final phase will see mass gatherings resume, schools and childcare provision “operating with any necessary precautions”, and while working from home and flexible working will still be encouraged “all types of workplaces would be open in line with public health advice”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This route-map sketches out how, and in what stages, we might move back to some normality as we continue to live with this virus.”

But she added the plan does “not yet set definite dates for all phases, because the virus is unpredictable”.

While the R number - or infection rate - was estimated to have been as high as four in March, Ms Sturgeon said this currently remains at between 0.7 and one.

The First Minister also revealed the latest figures show 2,221 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 37 from Wednesday.

Ms Sturgeon conceded there “is no completely risk-free way of lifting lockdown” - saying those risks must be mitigated as much as possible.

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