Speaking to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, he said that just 0.1 per cent of high school students have returned positive results in widespread asymptomatic coronavirus tests as older students and teachers return to school, as he reiterated plans that all school children would return to full-time in-school learning after the Easter break.
Updated ventilation and outdoor learning guidance will be published to enable school staff to prepare accordingly, following a meeting of the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group.
Mr Swinney said: “A return to full time face to face schooling in the secondary sector would require for all pupils a removal of the 2 metre physical distancing requirement in a classroom setting and that is the assumption on which a full time return to school is based.”
He said physical distancing between adults would remain and added that the full return would be confirmed on 6 April.
Mr Swinney said: “At present, we know that the proportion of primary school and early learning childcare settings with incidents remains low.”
He said more than 56,000 staff and 12,000 pupils took a test in the week ending 7 March and added that since the programme began five weeks ago, just 0.1 per cent of cases have been positive.
Mr Swinney said there would be an “enhanced range” of summer activities for children, but said he did not believe that extending the school day or term would be supported, adding that he believed that doing so would be “counter productive to the educational journey of young people”.
This is in stark contrast to the plan by the Westminster government, which has pledged £700 million of funding for a catch-up programme for children in England who have faced disruption due to Covid-19 – including a programme of summer schools for secondary pupils.
.Mr Swinney said he was “nervous” about the concept of school catch up, adding that teachers had told him that young people had “learned a great deal” as a result of lockdown.
Mr Swinney said that covid measures would be likely to continue into the new school year in August, with asymptomatic testing set to continue and a continued need for social distancing between teachers. He said his that “plan B” if new variants of coronavirus arose, sparking a rise in cases, would be to return to remote learning, but insisted his plan was to get children in school as early as possible.
The deputy first minister said that tech devices need to be rolled out more widely in schools in the future.
The Scottish Government bought 25,000 devices and delivered them to local authorities at the beginning of he pandemic, while 70,000 students in total have been supported with devices and connectivity packages while learning at home.
Mr Swinney said: “I think the pandemic has exposed that we need to have a more comprehensive solution in place for learning purposes. For me, digital devices and connectivity are the jotters of the 21st century.”The government’s Covid-19 Education Recovery Group will continue to meet weekly through the election period.