The Education Secretary said that the government’s Education Recovery Group was now “exploring in detail” how a phased return of pupils to schools would operate, although the “scientific and clinical advice” that schools were safe was not yet available.
Mr Swinney was leading the Scottish Government’s daily Covid briefing as the First Minister was attending the funeral of former SNP MSP Kay Ulrich.
Asked about the notice period parents and teachers could be given for schools restarting, he praised the remote teaching and learning being currently done, and said a return would be “more phased than the approach we took in August when all pupils returned in one go”.
He added: “It's more likely we'll bring back different cohorts of pupils, and we are exploring that within the scientific and clinical advice available to us. But that scientific and clinical justification doesn't yet exist, neither does the wider context of the suppression of the virus exist to enable a resumption of face-to-face schooling, but I want to get to that at the earliest opportunity.
“Ideally I’d like to give two weeks notice to everyone involved about a return to face-to-face learning, but obviously we may need shorter notice than that if we believe the opportunity exits for such an approach to be taken. When you’re opening up the system frankly it’s easier to give shorter notice than when you’re shutting it down. But we will give as much notice and clarity as possible."
England's education minister Gavin Williamson had said he hoped schools there would return before Easter and schools and parents would have "absolutely proper notice" of when children would return, which he said would be a "clear two weeks".
Asked about Easter, Mr Swinney said that a judgement had to be made on the “general prevalence of coronavirus in society" and that the move to remote learning was to “reduce human interaction in society in general”.
He added: “If a child goes to early learning and childcare they will be accompanied by adults, there will be interaction to make that possible, there may be a need to use public transport – the measures we’ve had to take are to reduce human interaction, to minimise contact.”
For to schools reopen the virus caseload would have to be much reduced, he said, as it would allow “more human interaction, giving rise to the possibility the virus could spread and that could potentially increase caseload in hospitals”.
Mr Swinney said that he was aware that it was more difficult for the youngest of children - those in early learning or from primary one to three – to engage in remote learning, and so they would be considered first for a return to school, but there were also questions about the impact of the new variant of the virus on children.