A major teaching union leader has said teachers should be allowed to choose whether masks are worn in their class – despite new government guidance that they won’t be required from next week.
The NEU teaching union's joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said it would be “entirely reasonable and responsible” for teachers to be allowed to carry on wearing masks where, for example, there is a high local Covid-19 infection rate.
Last night, prime minister Boris Johnson said masks would no longer be required from Monday 17 May – neither in secondary school and college classrooms nor for students in communal areas – in a move that the Department for Education said would "improve interaction between teachers and students, ensuring the clearest possible communication to support learning".
But Mr Courtney said it was “disappointing” that the prime minister was “ignoring scientific advice”.
He said: “The NEU, along with everyone else, looks forward to the time when they [masks] are no longer necessary, but we are not out of the woods yet.
“Face masks help with suppressing transmission of the virus and therefore help to minimise the disruption caused when pupils or staff have to self-isolate.
“Schools and colleges are doing a very good job of keeping students and staff safe and they should be permitted to retain mask wearing in the classroom if they think it necessary for reasons such as a rise in local infection rates. This would be an entirely reasonable and responsible decision.”
The NEU was among the unions and scientists who wrote to the government, calling for masks to be retained until next month and warning that more than 110,000 school staff could already be living with long Covid.
Today's DfE attendance figures show that the number of pupils off school with a suspected case of Covid has gone up from 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent in a week – an increase of 5,000 pupils.
The DfE has been contacted for comment.