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Primary school pupils will not be required to maintain physical distancing, but secondaries will be asked to do so “where possible”

The Scottish government has ring-fenced funding for 850 new teachers and 200 support staff to help schools build towards reopening schools on 11 August.

Education Secretary John Swinney said pupils would need extra support when they return to classes after lockdown.

And he said ministers would decide whether it was safe to go ahead with the plans on 29 July.

Guidance is being drawn up on “extra precautions” to be put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Opposition parties said ministers seemed to be “making this up at the last minute” and should act more quickly to provide certainty to schools and parents.

The Scottish government had previously set a target of reopening schools in full on 11 August, and announced £100m of funding for local authorities to help make this happen.

Mr Swinney told MSPs on Thursday that half of this money would be put aside specifically for staff, which he said “will enable schools to intensify support for children and young people as they return to full time face-to-face education and help to mitigate for learning loss”.

The final numbers will depend on the mix of staff recruited by councils, but Mr Swinney said the funding would be enough for 850 extra teachers and 200 support staff.

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John Swinney said ministers wanted to see the effect of relaxing lockdown before deciding whether to reopen schools

The education secretary also said guidance was being drawn up on how schools can safely operate despite the threat of Covid-19, with extra cleaning and hand hygiene procedures working alongside “quick access to testing” for anyone who develops symptoms.

He cited “detailed scientific advice” that young people are less at risk from the virus, saying there had been no deaths of people aged under 16 in Scotland and only 42 cases where patients of that age had to go to hospital.

Ministers have been advised that physical distancing should not be needed between children, but Mr Swinney said secondary schools should “take a practical approach in maintaining distancing between pupils where possible”, including by adjusting the layout of classrooms and the flow in corridors.

Teachers will be required to stay 2m away from other people “wherever possible”, but the wearing of face coverings will not be enforced. Mr Swinney said this should be “left to the judgement of individuals”.

The Scottish Conservatives questioned the government’s “refusal to commit” to reopening schools in August given pubs and restaurants are already back in business, with education spokesman Jamie Greene calling on Mr Swinney to clear up “uncertainty” for parents.

The education secretary said it was “important we make the judgement at the correct moment, when we can see some of the effect of the relaxation of lockdown”.

Labour’s Iain Gray said the government had never drawn up a detailed “route map” for a return to schooling, saying it “looks as though they’re making this up at the last minute”.

He said the influx of new staff amounted to “less than half a staff member per school” and left little time for councils to actually hire them before August 11.

Mr Swinney said he was speaking to councils about recruitment and financial support, adding that he was “very keen to ensure newly qualified teachers are able to be utilised within the education recovery work that is being taken forward”.

The education secretary is also to give evidence to Holyrood’s education committee in a virtual meeting on Monday, 27 July.

Ministers will make a final decision about whether it is safe to go ahead with the reopening of schools in a cabinet meeting on 29 July, with their decision to be announced in parliament the following day.