John Swinney has signalled Scotland’s classrooms may shut beyond February 1 with new data indicating that Covid-19 ripped through the school-age population as a new, more transmissible variant took hold.
Ministers are due to review current arrangements on January 18.
Schools are currently closed amid fears over the new coronavirus strain, with children coming to the end of their first week of remote learning.
Data also shows a jump in pupil absences from mid-December.
How schools were rocked by the pandemic in 2020
Commenting on the likelihood of pupils returning at the start of next month, the Education Secretary told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “I think that’s a tall order, to be honest.
Pupils have been home learning for a week as schools stay shut.
“The government will look at these questions at the cabinet on Tuesday, and the first minister will give an update to parliament on Tuesday.
“But the virus is still at a very high level in general in society, and we took the view that we had to have the level of community transmission suppressed to enable us to protect the National Health Service.”
School closures – P1 and P2 pupils among worst affected
His comments come as new Scottish Government data shows the Covid infection rate surged across the school-age population during the final week of December and into the start of January.
It was highest among those in the 14-15 and 16-17 age groups.