JUST 12 days ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Education was saying that it was unlikely our schools would return to normal within a year and even suggested that next year’s exams could be postponed.

On Tuesday this week, he made a startling and remarkable U-turn, declaring schools should prepare to return to normal in just seven weeks.

It has been a tumultuous week for parents, teachers and children.

Enormous stress that turned into relief for parents is welcome. This is their victory. Perhaps when schools return, modern studies classes will use this moment as the example for the power of campaigns.

Last week, I started by remembering the days when I taught in schools in the East End of Glasgow.

From those days, I can assure you that there is nothing more formidable than a parent fighting for their child and their education. It is, perhaps peculiarly, comforting to know that despite the huge changes and sacrifices we’ve seen over the past three months, that this fundamental truth remains.

Whilst there are a very large number of people who were involved in this particular debate, there are just a handful whose contribution I particularly noticed. The interventions made by former First Minister, and my former colleague, Jack McConnell were instrumental.

And from the local government side, councillor Michael Marra, in Dundee, played a significant role in the formation of the ‘Better than this for Scotland’s children’ campaign.

Their contributions particularly spoke to me because they focused on the impact for our young people who start off school at a disadvantage. It was plainly obvious to anyone involved in drawing up plans that restricting our children’s time at school would cement, or worse exacerbate, the attainment gap between those from the wealthiest and the poorest backgrounds.

Returning to normality on August 11, however, still needs an incredible amount of work to fulfill; work by government. There are still unanswered questions: provision and requirements of PPE, implications for school transport, and, most pressingly, do we have the test and trace capacity needed to contain any further outbreaks? Saying that the government has made a U-turn is the easy bit: delivering it and resourcing it are the metrics on which John Swinney will be judged.

Scotland’s figures have demonstrated that we’ve succeeded in “flattening the curve”, and the progress that has been made is very welcome.

However, we have to guard against unchecked optimism for the future. The virus is still with us. It still poses a threat and that is likely to be the case for quite a long time.

We will still have to monitor our own behaviour and look out for others in our everyday lives.

But I am now cautiously hopeful we will strike a much better balance between the need to minimise the risk from the virus and ensuring that our young people are still given the skills they need to thrive.