Will pupils have to wear face masks?

Will pupils have to wear face masks? No10 faces union pressure to introduce coverings in English secondary schools, as Scotland prepare to make them compulsory

  • Downing Street forced to insist that teachers and pupils in England would not have to wear masks at school 
  • Nicola Sturgeon indicated they would probably have to be worn in areas such as ‘corridors and communal areas’
  • The Scottish rethink could be followed by a similar move in England 

Downing Street was today forced to insist that teachers and pupils in England would not have to wear masks at school – after Scotland said it was preparing to make them compulsory in some situations.

Nicola Sturgeon indicated that they would probably have to be worn in areas such as ‘corridors and communal areas’.

And her government said it was close to announcing that staff and children should wear masks when moving around school premises. Miss Sturgeon said: ‘We’re consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas – increasing the potential for transmission.

‘Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission. Finally, there’s also less scope for ventilation in these areas.’

Covering up: Girls from Bloomfield Collegiate School in Belfast back at school yesterday. Masks are being encouraged at some schools in the province

The Scottish rethink, coming after a clutch of cases in the country’s schools since they reopened, could be followed by a similar move in England – despite Westminster’s insistence that it had no plans to review its stance.

It would be the second time a U-turn north of the border has been followed by one in England. Earlier this month, Westminster followed a dramatic change of heart over the marking of exam grades in Edinburgh with one of its own.

Kevin Courtney, leader of teachers’ body the National Education Union, said: ‘School leaders in England need detailed guidance from Government about what should happen if there is transmission within a school or in the case of a local spike.

21 staff test positive in school outbreak 

By Josh White 

A school in Dundee has closed its doors after 21 members of staff tested positive for coronavirus.

NHS Tayside yesterday said the number of cases in the outbreak had reached 27 after two pupils and four community contacts also contracted the virus.

Kingspark School, which has 185 pupils aged between five and 18 who have additional support needs, has been shut since Wednesday evening. Staff and pupils have begun 14 days of self-isolation.

A single positive case was also linked to a primary class at St Peter and Paul’s School in the city, with an additional positive case connected to a club at nearby Downfield Primary School. Despite the news, Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney said there had been only a ‘very limited prevalence’ of coronavirus cases since schools reopened.

Asked about the Kingspark School outbreak, Mr Swinney said: ‘I think it’s important to indicate that this issue is being taken very, very seriously by our incident management team on the ground.

‘There has been extensive testing undertaken and contact tracing, as there should be in any example of a positive case emerging. I think it’s also important to recognise that this is one of 2,500 schools that are open across Scotland.

‘And over the course of the last couple of weeks in which schools have been opened, we’ve had some limited examples of the presence of Covid within schools and that’s to be welcomed, the fact that it’s been a very limited prevalence of Covid in our schools in these early days.’

Patrick Roach, head of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, commented: ‘It is important that more detailed investigations take place at this school and any other setting where an outbreak occurs, in order to understand how the outbreak has occurred.’

÷ Parents will face £120 fines if they fail to send their children back to school without good reason, the Government has said.

Minister Nick Gibb yesterday admitted some parents will have worries but stressed that education was compulsory.

‘Fines for non-attendance have always been a last resort for headteachers and schools,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘What matters is that young people are attending school.’ Prosecution can be threatened if the fine goes unpaid.

 

‘Many staff, parents and students will be anxious, and face masks will help to alleviate that anxiety. It will go some way towards ensuring there is confidence among parents that schools are safe places.’

At the weekend, Unison’s head of education Jon Richards said: ‘It’s still unclear why government guidance won’t allow masks, when they’re recommended for other workplaces.

‘No one wants to see schools shut down again after a few days because we haven’t done enough to put necessary measures in place.’

The Department for Education maintains that even though children over 11 will be expected to cover their faces on school buses, they will not be necessary after arriving.

And the Government yesterday underscored its message.

On widening the use of masks in English schools, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘We are not in a position where we are suggesting that, because we believe there is a system of controls that are there in place for all schools for children to be able to return safely and for staff to be able to operate safely within those schools.’

Boris Johnson and the Government are launching a huge push this week to ensure all school children get back to school next week when the autumn term starts.

The Prime Minister has insisted that it is safe for schools to return and the risks of the virus to children are low, but education unions are still concerned about the lack of safety precautions – suggesting that pupils and staff should wear masks outside the classroom.

The World Health Organisation says children aged 12 and over ‘should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular where they cannot guarantee at least a one metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area’.

But the Department for Education says heads must not force pupils or staff to wear them.

Its guidance says the benefits from wearing masks on public transport or in shops do not apply to the school environment, and misuse could increase the risk of transmissions. And there are also worries about the impact of masks on teaching and communication, especially for children with learning difficulties.

Instead, ‘changing habits, cleaning and hygiene are effective measure for controlling the spread of the virus’, it says.

Exceptions are where children require intimate care, or if they become unwell with coronavirus symptoms and teachers are unable to maintain a two-metre distance.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: ‘If a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July… then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils.’

Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Schools are working very hard to put in place an extensive series of safety controls to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission and protect staff and pupils.

‘This does not and cannot mean that there is no risk, and this outbreak shows that stark reality very clearly.

‘However, the risk posed by coronavirus has to be set against the educational risk to pupils of missing school, and we agree with the Chief Medical Officer that the balance is very strongly in favour of children returning to the classroom.

‘What we do need, as a matter of urgency, is for the Government to provide a robust back-up plan over what happens in the event of local closures or a second national shutdown which goes beyond simply returning to a situation where most pupils are learning from home.’

Travelling to school ‘is more risky than Covid’

Children are at more risk of being knocked down on their way to school than they are of catching Covid-19 in the classroom, the deputy chief medical officer said on Monday.

Urging all parents to send their offspring back to school next week, Jenny Harries said the risk posed by the virus was minimal.

‘Every time a parent sends their child off to school, pre-Covid, they may have been involved in a road traffic accident – there are all sorts of things,’ she said.

Back at work: Boris Johnson delivers Monday’s video message

‘That risk, or the risk of seasonal flu, we think is probably higher than the current risk of Covid.’

Dr Harries also suggested teachers were not at great risk from the return to school, saying staff were more likely to catch the virus from colleagues during their coffee break than they were from their pupils.

Her comments came as Boris Johnson led a concerted push to get all schoolchildren back to the classroom next week.

The Prime Minister said it was ‘vitally important’ for children to return to school, adding that missing more time in the classroom would be far more damaging than any risks posed to them by the virus.

In a video clip released on his return to work yesterday, he acknowledged that some parents were ‘genuinely still a bit worried’ about their children contracting coronavirus.

But he added: ‘All I can say is the risks are very, very, very small that they’ll even get it, but then the risk that they’ll suffer from it badly are very, very, very, very small indeed.

‘It’s vital that parents understand that schools are safe and that teachers have gone to great lengths to get schools ready.’

Downing Street said there was a moral duty to get children back to school next week, with many having been off for six months.

The power for headmasters to fine parents who fail to send their children to school will be restored, but No 10 said this should be used only as a ‘last resort’.

Local authorities can fine parents £120 – cut to £60 if paid within 21 days – over a child’s absence from school, with the threat of prosecution if they fail to pay.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘In terms of fining, we would ask all schools to work with those parents, encourage them to bring their children back, deal with concerns that they have and fining would be very much the last resort.’

A No 10 spokesman told reporters that schools could face temporary closure in the event of local lockdowns. But he said they would be expected to provide remote learning for children stuck at home.

He said the PM expected to see all children back full time and being taught the full curriculum. 

Williamson… MP of the year 

By Lizzie Deane 

He’s probably not the first choice of many A-level students, but Gavin Williamson could be shortlisted for MP of the Year.

The Education Secretary has been nominated in the People’s Choice category of the awards run by non-partisan organisation the Patchwork Foundation, sparking ridicule.

The respected group asked the public to nominate MPs who ‘they think have gone above and beyond in their role over the past year, especially in championing underrepresented voices’.

Mr Williamson (right) has faced calls to resign over his handling of this year’s A-level and GCSE exam results. While nominations closed before the exam shambles, Mr Williamson has also presided over the failure to get all pupils back in to classrooms before the summer holidays.

Social media users mocked the nomination. One wrote: ‘In other news, King Herod has been nominated for the post of Children’s Commissioner.’

The Patchwork Foundation works to get young people from ‘disadvantaged and minority communities’ more involved in civil society. Voting for the winner closes at the end of the month.

 

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