Coronavirus: Headteachers call for review of rules on mask-wearing in schools

Coronavirus: Headteachers call for review of rules on mask-wearing in schools

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Headteachers are calling for the government to review its policy of mask-wearing in schools, ahead of pupils’ return to the classroom next week.

Students in England and Wales are set to resume lessons on Tuesday but the government’s advice does not include the use of face masks, despite their being mandatory in other settings.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that evidence continues to emerge, the government in Westminster should review its guidance on the matter.

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“We would expect the Government in Westminster to review its guidance on the use of face coverings in schools – which currently says they are not required – in light of the WHO guidance and the consultation taking place in Scotland,” general secretary Geoff Barton told the Telegraph.

“The evidence is clearly evolving on this issue and it is important that it is kept under review and that clear direction is provided to schools.”

On Monday, a Number 10 spokesman said there were “no plans” to review the guidance on face coverings in schools, telling reporters: “We are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.”

Ministers dug in further on Tuesday morning, with business minister Alok Sharma telling Sky News: “PHE do not recommend the wearing of face masks in schools … there is no current plan to review that particular guidance.”

Teachers’ unions have been arguing that face masks should be recommended in schools since at least July. The National Education Union this week accused ministers of being “negligent in the extreme” over the issue.

Unison, Britain’s largest trade union which represents a number of non-teaching staff in schools, also today reiterated its call for adults working in schools to be allowed to wear masks.

In Scottish secretary schools, face coverings are to be used in corridors and shared areas. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was acting to change the rules in response to new WHO guidance.

But in England and Wales number of schools are known to have broken with guidance and recommended the wearing on face masks on their own accord.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has said the evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was “not strong”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has meanwhile argued that other measures being adopted by schools to limit the spread of coronavirus meant coverings were not necessary.

Schools have been advised to keep students in year-group “bubbles” where they do not interact with other children, and reorganise classrooms for social distancing. Local health teams are expected to intervene in schools where outbreaks are detected, including potentially with mass testings or localised closures.

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