PLANS for a full-time return to school for county pupils on August 12 were both welcomed and criticised by politicians after being announced by Depute First Minister John Swinney.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray (Lab) accused Mr Swinney of making the “mother and father of monumental climbdowns” after he changed course from plans for a blended model of learning, with pupils in school part-time and social distancing, to promote a full-time return to the classrooms.

Mr Swinney told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that “if we stay on track, if we all continue to do what is right, and if we can further suppress this terrible virus, the Government believes that we should prepare for children to be able to return to school full time in August”.

The announcement from Mr Swinney was welcomed by East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill (SNP) who said: “Lockdown has been hard for all young people not just the vulnerable or those with special needs. Schooling and socialising is important for the educational and personal development. It’s also critical for parents and their ability to return to work.”

However Mr Gray responded in the Holyrood chamber by telling Mr Swinney that he had made the “mother and father of monumental climbdowns” in changing his policy.

He later told the Courier: “Many county parents will be relieved to know that their children will probably be back to school full time in August. I know that many of them were worried about they could return to work if their children were at home for part of the week. Hopefully, those worries should have eased.

“However they must be bewildered by the mishandling of this by John Swinney. Only days ago he was telling us that a part-time return to school, with social distancing, was the only safe possibility. Suddenly that has all changed. Teachers and other school staff have been working hard to plan for social distancing in school and consulting with parents to try and get all that right.

“They have done so with no help from government, who refused to provide the additional funding needed. Now, at the last minute, as school holidays start, those plans have been torn up. Our children’s education and family life is too important for these decisions to be made up as we go along.”

Gael Gillan, local association secretary for East Lothian for teaching union EIS, said that while uncertainty over national guidelines had concerned her members, everyone was working hard to support children’s education.

She said: “I have had many concerns raised by members over the past several weeks around the lack of national guidance and Tuesday’s statement only raised these concerns.

“Members will be finishing school tomorrow (Friday) for their summer holidays not knowing what they are coming back to in August.

“East Lothian Council has been working with unions on all aspects of the impact of Covid-19 and all staff, including teachers, have put in a tremendous amount of work over the last three months, and still are, to make sure that learning has and will be available to all children in East Lothian.

“I appreciate the difficulty that parents have with childcare and the concerns they have over their children’s education.

“Please remember that teachers have been working in unknown and often difficult circumstances since the lockdown to maintain some form of education for children.

“They do what they can, as does East Lothian Council, with what little definitive guidance there is available. Let’s support our teachers to move forward and do what they do best -– educate the children of East Lothian.”

Musselburgh MSP Colin Beattie added: ““This is an important step not only in ensuring our young people get the education they deserve, but it’s also positive news for working families.”

“I want to send my gratitude to our amazing teachers and school staff in East Lothian who have helped us get to this stage.”