The next phase of pupils’ return to schools in North Lanarkshire will go ahead as planned on March 15, Scotland’s First Minister has confirmed.

Last week’s strategic framework said that all primary school pupils would return full time, if data supported the return.

A phased return of pupils will now take place between March 15 and the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.

However, when secondary schools return, face coverings are to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines will still have to be followed.

Nicola Sturgeon also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.

She said: “I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.”

The First Minister told MSPs today there was “good evidence” the national vaccination programme was already reducing the number of covid deaths across the country.

The SNP leader revealed the average daily number of virus cases being reported was 657, and that was the lowest rate since October.

As a result all primary school pupils will be able to return to class as of March 15 – with high schools reopening full-time after the Easter break.

She also announced that a further review of easing level four lockdown restrictions would be carried out next week.

MSPs were told: “When I update Parliament next week, I hope to be able to confirm some changes to Scotland’s level four restrictions.

“Between now and then – and in light of the positive data that I will report on today – we will be considering if it might be possible to accelerate the exit from lockdown in any way, consistent of course with the care and caution we know is necessary.”