Scotland's education secretary has revealed that children in early primary could be among the first to return to school, given that the analysis from clinical advisers is that the youngest pupils are "very unlikely to be transmitting the virus".
John Swinney said the government was also looking at getting pupils with additional support needs back at the earliest opportunity, as well as older secondary school students, because "they have certification processes coming up, and we want to ensure they have all the access to learning and teaching that they require".
Speaking on BBC radio's Good Morning Scotland this morning, Mr Swinney explained why all classes would be unlikely to return at once.
Background: Full reopening of school buildings delayed again
Nicola Sturgeon: Phased return of schools possible
Vaccination: Prioritise teachers, union says
"It's unlikely to be a binary choice of everybody in or everybody out," he said. "It's much more likely to be a phased return, where we will look at particular cohorts of pupils.
Coronavirus: Phased return of school pupils is possible
"The groups we are looking at are the very youngest pupils – in early learning and in early primary. The analysis from our clinical advisers is that these groups are very unlikely to be transmitting the virus.
"We're also looking at the senior phase pupils, because they have certification processes coming up, and we want to ensure they have all the access to learning and teaching that they require.
"And additional supports needs pupils, whose situation is really quite challenging in many circumstances and we have to make sure those needs are met."
Asked if that meant other age groups would stay home and carry on with remote learning, Mr Swinney continued: "It really depends on the prevalence of the virus, and the degree to which what I would describe as headroom in the numbers to see a resumption of some parts of the education system.
"We know that when the schools are in full, they contribute about 0.2 to the R level [Covid-19 reproduction rate] that we have. If we have part of the school infrastructure operating, that contributes a smaller amount.
"And we have to be making judgements based on the prevalence of the virus and the degree to which we have the headroom that can cope with the circulation and activity that comes with schools operating."
Speaking last night on The Nine, on the BBC Scotland television channel, Mr Swinney also said there needed to be a “sustained and emphatic” fall in community transmission of the coronavirus before schools could reopen.
Mr Swinney said that schools were able to remain open during the autumn term because community transmission of the virus was at a lower level but that position had now changed.
He said: “I think the crucial element which supported us in managing to keep schools open from August until December, which we managed right across the country with limited exceptions of self-isolation periods, we managed that because community transmission of the virus was at a comparatively lower level.
“Now it’s been much higher and we’re working with the lockdown arrangements in place and with the participation of members of the public to reduce those prevalence levels of the virus.”
Yesterday, announcing that current restrictions will remain in place until mid-February, Ms Sturgeon said: “If it is at all possible, as I very much hope it will be, to begin even a phased return to in-school learning in mid-February, we will.
“But I also have to be straight with families and say that it is simply too early to be sure about whether and to what extent this will be possible.”
It was suggested last week that senior secondary students could be among the first to return to school buildings.