The UK government has been under pressure to review its advice on masks in schools after the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its guidelines over the weekend to say that face covers were helpful in curbing the spread of Covid-19 where physical distance between adults and students aged 12 and over was impossible or in areas of high transmission.
Scotland confirmed on Tuesday that secondary schools will receive ‘mandatory’ advice on pupils wearing masks, while Wales are reviewing their advice.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said Tuesday morning there was “no plan” to revise directions for England, but Johnson told reporters hours later he would “review developments. medical evidence as it occurs ”. Speaking on a visit to the South West of England, the Prime Minister added: “If we have to change our minds, of course we will. ”
Hundreds of English schools had said on Tuesday they were preparing to allow or encourage pupils to wear face masks in common areas in defiance of existing advice.
Huw Merriman, Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle and chair of the transportation selection committee, said masks in schools “would further degrade the learning environment. Like all other risks in our daily life, we must integrate Covid and live with it proportionately. ”
Conservative backbench MP Marcus Fysh said: “Masks should be banned in schools. The country should return to normal and not bow to this scientifically illiterate rumor, ”he said. “It’s time to end the fear. And keep him away from our children, thank you very much.
A government source insisted that schools were safe for students regardless of the U-turn, pointing to the preparations the government had made and the lack of transmission when some students returned before the summer.
However, according to the source, WHO’s advice must be taken seriously and therefore, face masks would be mandatory for students in containment areas and “permissive” for all other schools.
One of England’s largest multi-academy chains, Oasis, which represents more than 28,000 students in 52 schools, said earlier on Tuesday it would challenge UK councils and ask older students to wear masks in common places.
Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust, said schools have a “moral responsibility” to make their environment as safe as possible and that following the same guidelines as Scotland is “the common sense place” for the British government.
The Academies Enterprise Trust, which represents more than 33,000 students in 58 schools, said staff and students can wear masks if they choose and educational charity Ark, which has 27,000 children enrolled in 37 schools, said said she would let the teachers do it.
Laura Berman, an education lawyer and partner at the Stone King law firm, said she has been contacted by schools wanting to include the wearing of face masks in their policy.
“Schools are trying, as always, to do what is right for their students. They want to keep their school community as safe as possible and at the same time continue to provide effective teaching and learning.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had hinted before the government’s change of heart that he could unilaterally advise schools in the capital to adopt the wearing of masks.
The change in WHO’s opinion led the Association of School and College Leaders, a union representing more than 19,000 senior executives, to ask the government to review its direction.
The previous Education Ministry notice, first published in July, said it did not recommend the use of face masks in schools because students and staff mingled in cohesive groups and because ‘misuse’ may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission ‘. Wearing face masks in schools could have “negative effects on communication and therefore education,” he added.
Kevin Courtney, deputy secretary general of the National Education Union, said: “We have to keep abreast of science, so when the World Health Organization says children over 12 should wearing masks in the common areas of the school, this should be listened to. at. ”
Labor and Liberal Democrats had urged the government to change its advice as quickly as possible to give schools time to prepare.
This follows an exam fiasco in which tens of thousands of A-level scores recommended by teachers in England were demoted, only to be reinstated days after the same reversal in Scotland.
Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson said it was a “damaging model” that the government consistently seemed behind the science. “On almost all of the measures to stop the spread of the virus, the government fell behind and turned back later,” she said.