IT is crucial that parents wear masks and abide by physical distancing rules at the school gates when younger pupils return to school, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.

Children in primaries one to three are due back in Scottish schools on Monday, as well as some senior secondary pupils who are undertaking practical qualifications.

Swinney said the return of young pupils must not prompt parents/guardians to relax their grasp on restrictions, as the Government has little “headroom” with regards to the R number: the rate at which the virus grows.

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He told the BBC’s Sunday Show programme: “I know this can be quite controversial at times but adults making sure they follow all of the physical distancing requirements at the school gate, or the mask-wearing requirements, is critical to make sure that the return of young children – who are much less susceptible to transmitting the virus – is not in some way undermined by the fact that there is essentially parental transmission.”

He argued that everyone has “got to play a part”, not only in the school environment but in society as a whole, to ensure the virus is suppressed.

“Because we don’t actually have an awful lot of headroom between where the R level is just now – somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 – and 1, where obviously the virus begins to spread exponentially,” he continued.

Swinney said that ministers will be monitoring data carefully when the initial wave of pupils return to school, to assess whether others can also go back.

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The UK Government hopes to open all schools in England on March 8, however this is dependant on falling infection rates.

Addressing this Swinney said: “What we will do in Scotland is work to get all pupils back to face-to-face learning at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Safety is absolutely paramount in doing that. That’s why we’ve taken the careful decisions we’ve taken for tomorrow.”