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No 10 urged to review guidance on masks in schools amid Scotland announcement

By PA News

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Pupils in Scotland will be required to wear a face covering when moving around schools, Holyrood’s Education Secretary has confirmed, amid pressure on the UK Government to undergo a similar review in England.

Secondary schools will be given “obligatory guidance” that pupils should wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas in schools in Scotland from August 31, John Swinney said.

It comes after a Number 10 spokesman said on Monday that there were “no plans” to review the guidance on face coverings in schools.

But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said Westminster should review its guidance as evidence continues to emerge, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask.

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
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton told the Daily Telegraph: “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.

“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.”

With parents and staff asking headteachers if schoolchildren should wear masks, Mr Barton urged “absolute clarity” ahead of England’s schools reopening.

“My members are in a position where parents are going to say, ‘well, I want my child to wear a face mask’, or staff are going to say that,” he told BBC News.

A school pupil wearing a face mask (PA)
A school pupil wearing a face mask (PA)

“So, should they be saying, ‘that’s fine, it’s purely a matter for you’?

“Or if we’re going to having a screeching U-turn from the Government, could we have that now so we at least can plan for the start of term?”

The National Education Union (NEU) said that while it wants schools to reopen, staff and students must be protected from coronavirus.

“We have to stay abreast of the science, so when the World Health Organisation says that children over 12 should wear masks in communal areas at school, that ought to be listened to,” Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, said.

“As things currently stand in England, the NEU believes it should be permissible for staff members and students to wear face masks if they wish to do so.”

It comes as the founder of Oasis Community Learning, which has a chain of 52 academies across England, said pupils would be given visors and masks for moving around the school.

“Oasis has booked face visors & masks for all our school staff & masks (colour coded for year groups) for our secondary students for transition in corridors etc,” Steve Chalke said on Twitter.

Mr Swinney said that, from August 31, pupils in Scotland should be wearing masks in areas where physical distancing is not possible.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, he said the Scottish Government was going further than the WHO guidance by recommending masks on school buses.

The guidance will apply to all secondary schools, he said, but pupils will not be excluded from school if they do not wear a face covering.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Government guidance for schools in England says that, based on the current evidence, the wearing of face coverings in schools is not recommended, because pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups.

It adds that misuse may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission, while it could also have a negative effect on communication.

The director of public health for Gateshead said she will discuss with headteachers what works “best for them” when it comes to face coverings.

Alice Wiseman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment we’re following the guidance, predominantly from Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and the chief medical officer, regarding compulsory face coverings.

“But it is my intention to have a broad discussion with the headteachers in Gateshead to actually see what would work best for them, and also for their parents.”

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