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Former Education Minister Says Schools Are In Danger Of “Mask Anarchy” Next Week Because Face Covering Guidance Is Advisory

When schools re-open next week some secondary pupils will be asked to wear face coverings inside the classroom (PA)

3 min read

A former education minister is warning the government is in “danger of creating mask anarchy” in schools because its guidance on face coverings is only advisory.

Robert Halfon said because pupils and parents can choose to ignore what headteachers are suggesting students should do, it is creating confusion ahead of classrooms re-opening on 8 March.

The senior Tory backbencher suggested in the Commons it would be better to have "definitive regulations" on when and where face coverings should be worn.

Halfon, who served in the David Cameron government and now chairs the education select committee, asked: "Given that the schools minister (Nick Gibb) said that the wearing of masks by pupils on the school estate is advisory guidance.

"If a pupil - or a parent on behalf of a pupil - objects to comply with the wishes of a head teacher to wear a mask, are we not in danger of creating mask anarchy?”

He said “enormous pressure is being put on head teachers,” citing one in his Harlow constituency, adding: “Is it not better to come down firmly on one side or another and provide clearly definitive regulations to help teaching staff?”

Gibb did not address the issue of the guidance being advisory in his reply during education questions in Parliament this afternoon.

He replied: “We said very clearly that we strongly recommend students in secondary schools to wear face masks, or face coverings, in classrooms where it's not possible to keep socially distanced between pupils.

“And we've also said for quite a number of months that where in communal areas of a school it's not possible to maintain social distance, then staff and adults, and students in secondary schools, should also wear face masks.

“Face coverings are largely intended to protect others against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus.”

In a break with their previous position last month the government announced that some secondary pupils in England will have to wear face coverings or masks in the classroom for an initial period when they return to school.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the plan will be reviewed at the Easter holidays to see if it had a positive impact in preventing Covid-19 cases from occurring in school and colleges.

There are fears re-opening all educational settings and returning all pupils the same time could lead to a spike in infections, potentially delaying the unlocking of other elements of society.

Williamson said the review will decide “if it's going to continue to be necessary” to ask pupils to wear them in class, and would not rule out the guidance being in place until 21 June, the earliest date for the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions.

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