The Government Advises Secondary Pupils Should Wear Masks In Class On Their Return To English Schools On 8 March
Pupils between Years 7 and 13 in England are being advised to wear masks in the classroom when they go back to school on 8 March, as part of the government's road map out of lockdown.
Previously pupils and teachers at secondary schools and colleges only had to wear masks when in corridors or moving around the school site, if the headteacher thought it was necessary.
The move has been met with anger by the National Deaf Children's Society, whose leaders said the goalposts on mask wearing had been moved, and that the guidance could see deaf childen suffer immeasurably.
Ian Noon, head of policy at the organisation, said: “With England’s 35,000 deaf pupils close to a return to education, the goalposts on face masks have moved yet again. Public health must take priority, but bringing face masks into classrooms will have a devastating effect on deaf children’s studies, mental health and ability to take part in lessons.
“The government cannot make an announcement and expect this to be enough. It must move quickly to show exactly how it will guarantee deaf children can still access their lessons.
“We cannot have a situation where thousands of deaf children and young people are unable to understand their teacher, leaving many with little point in even attending class."
Staff and visitors to primary schools and early years settings will also now have to wear masks under the new rules.
It is understood the measures are for a limited time period only.
In January the government's own guidance stated that "face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in the classroom should be avoided."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his roadmap out of lockdown in the Commons this afternoon. He said classrooms were the "best place" for young people to be.
"Two weeks from today pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face to face teaching, supported by twice weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils," said Johnson.
The government's 60-page roadmap said: "The government also recommends that the use of face coverings in higher education, further education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments - including classrooms - unless 2m social distancing can be maintained.
"Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas."
Earlier this year the Prime Minister said schools were vectors of transmission of coronavirus, but that they were also safe to return to for staff and pupils.
Primary school pupils are not going to be asked to wear masks which is thought to be because of the lower transmission rates among younger pupils. There will also be exemptions for children in secondary schools who do not need to wear them.
A secondary school teacher in Gateshead said the information about masks now being required in classrooms was only just filtering through to staff, who hadn't expected them to be introduced.
She said: "I think that it's better to have face coverings than not. However I work in a school with pretty bad behaviour so I imagine many students might take advantage of the masks to act out.
"Also it's not ideal for students who lip read."
The World Health Organisation has said that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
So far the UK government has not recommended face coverings in education settings because schools have been able to provide other mitigating measures like social distancing.
On the 8 March return to school, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “Safety measures will continue to be a feature of school life for many months, so the government must meet the costs of these extra measures in full and not expect them to be paid from existing budgets.
“The government must prioritise all school staff for vaccination. Not only would vaccination help protect staff, but it should also reduce the need for further disruption to pupils’ education.”
Labour had called for all teachers to be vaccinated over the February half term, which the government chose not to do.
Other MPs have called for a phased return to school for pupils, rather than them all returning in one go.
This morning, Labour's former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told Sky News: "There is some concern about all school children going back on March 8. There's a view that it should be more gradual. Obviously everyone wants children back in school. But Boris himself having said they were safe, turned around and said they were vectors of infection.
"I just think we could be more gradual about that."
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Why has the English Government not taken the same route as Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland whose cautious, phased approach to school opening will enable their governments to assess the impact a return to the classroom will have on the R rate and to make necessary adjustments to their plans."
She said the government must publish the science and the modelling which informs their school return plan.
In Scotland, age groups in primary 1 to 3 returned to the classroom today.