The government must provide a clear explanation of the science behind its school face-masks U-turn to quell confusion before children in England and Wales return to the classroom next week, the chair of the House of Commons’ influential education committee has said.
Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon warned on Tuesday that Boris Johnson had just 24 hours to deliver clarity on whether English pupils should wear masks, and told The Independent today he was satisfied with the outcome announced last night, under which face coverings will be mandatory in communal areas of schools in local lockdown regions, but headteachers will have discretion over their use elsewhere in the country.
But he said it was vital for the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty to now provide a clear explanation to parents, pupils and teachers about the science behind the new face-mask rules, which ministers had been resisting until late last night.
“I think the problem so far has been confusion about the position,” he said.
As recently as Monday, Prof Whitty’s deputy CMO Jenny Harries said the evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was “not strong”.
Dr Harries said then that in children under 15 “compliance is very poor” and warned that the use of masks could have “psycho-social effects” on pupils.
Mr Halfon said: “I’m perfectly happy with the policy but what I think needs to happen is that the chief medical officer needs to write a letter explaining the mask policy and why masks need to be worn in certain circumstances.
“He needs to explain the science in a way that parents and pupils can understand, just as he did with his letter last Sunday explaining the low risk of a return to school.
“We need a strong letter, very simple to understand, which explains what needs to happen and where. It should be guidance, and except in times of severe lockdown, it should be for headteachers to decide how to implement it.”
Mr Halfon added: “We just have to concentrate on getting our kids learning again. Whatever has gone, on the priority must be to get our kids learning and deal with issues of attainment.
“The department and schools need to get data on how much the left-behind pupils during the coronavirus need to catch up and what the effect of the loss of learning has been.”