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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Boris Johnson facing calls to bring in face masks in schools as Scotland gives green light

Boris Johnson facing calls to bring in face masks in schools as Scotland gives green light

Children in secondary schools in Scotland will soon be required to wear face masks in corridors and shared areas (PA)

3 min read

The Government is facing calls from school leaders to clarify on whether they can mandate pupils wearing face masks in schools.

It comes after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday that face coverings would be required in the country’s secondary school when in corridors and shared areas.

The move followed fresh advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) which stated that children over 12 should wear face coverings under the same circumstances as adults, such as when social distancing was not possible.

But the Government has ruled out any review on the current advice, which states that face coverings are not required in schools. 

A leading teaching union is now calling for clarity from the Government over whether staff and pupils and England can be allowed to wear masks if they choose.

Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “The guidance is silent on what schools should do if staff or pupils want to wear face coverings.”

And he added that schools in England were unclear over whether they had the flexibility to require or allow face masks in certain circumstances. 

“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 that is taking place in Scotland,” Mr Barton said.

“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.”

But, speaking on Tuesday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the Today programme that ministers had “followed the scientific and medical advice of experts” when deciding that face masks were not necessary in schools in England.

He said: “The reason is pupils and staff mix in consistent groups.

"And we’ve provided guidance, working with Public Health England, in terms of how schools can be kept safe, how they can be Covid-secure.

“We’re always considering the latest advice and evidence, but Public Health England’s current advice is that it’s not recommended to wear facemasks in schools.”

But he dismissed suggestions that schools could be punished if students or staff wore face coverings, adding: “I don’t think we want to go down the road of penalising people.

“This is about what makes sense. And as I’ve said to you, you’ll see in the recent surveys that have come out from the ONS, that there’s a high level of confidence in terms of the pupils returning to safe settings in schools.”

He added: “I think the key thing is that we get all our pupils back in September and that’s what we’re working very hard to ensure is happening.“

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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