Make face masks mandatory in secondary schools, teachers’ union urges

Reopening rules now ‘out of step’ with wider public health guidance, NASUWT argues

Liam James
Monday 27 July 2020 15:40 BST
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There has been further criticism of the government’s policy on reopening schools as a leading teachers’ union urged ministers to consider making face masks compulsory for children in all secondary schools.

The call came as at least 10 schools broke with official guidance in order to make face coverings either mandatory or “strongly encouraged” for pupils returning in September.

The NASUWT teachers’ union highlighted recent changes in government guidelines on face masks to make the case that similar changes should apply in secondary schools.

“The government’s recent announcements requiring the wearing of face masks on public transport and in shops has understandably highlighted the need for similar protections to be in place in schools and colleges,” said Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT.

“Guidance for schools is now out of step with wider public health guidance and guidance to other employers where it is recognised that where physical distancing cannot be assured, face masks should be worn.”

Masks were made mandatory in shops, takeaways and banks last week and have been required on public transport since June.

“The government’s wider public health advice confirms that whilst children aged under 11 are not required to wear face masks, they are mandatory for children aged over 11 when they visit a range of other facilities, so there is a strong argument that face masks should also be made compulsory for children when they return to secondary schools in September,” Mr Roach continued.

“Teachers and other staff working in schools also want to be assured that when they return to the workplace in September, they will be afforded the same level of protection as other workers, and that the guidance for schools will be brought into line with guidance for other workplaces.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have set out the controls schools should use, including cleaning and hygiene measures, to substantially reduce the risk of transmission of the virus when they open to all children from September.

”This does not include the wearing of face coverings as we believe the system of controls laid out adequately reduced the risk of transmission to both staff and students.“

At least 10 schools so far have broken with government guidance, including Holmes Chapel comprehensive in Cheshire, where parents have been told that masks will be part of the school’s required uniform.

Mr Roach’s plea follows a letter from the GMB union to Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, challenging him over “double standards” in the government’s face covering guidance.

“Our members working in schools, particularly with a full complement of pupils in September, are asking why they are expected to wear masks on public transport to get to work, in shops if they pop out at lunch time, but are actively discouraged from wearing them in schools,” the letter read.

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