News briefing: Masks in schools

With schools opening this week, here is the latest on wearing masks - from 'threatening' letters to a warning on staffroom safety

Coronavirus: Secondary school students must wear face masks in class when they go back to school from 8 March after the coronavirus lockdown

Schools have opened to all pupils after lockdown, with mask-wearing in class being one of the key areas of debate and concern.

Here are the latest updates on masks in schools, as reported by Tes.

1. Majority of students wearing face masks, say heads

A snap poll of headteachers today suggested that a majority of secondary school students are wearing face masks – but that, of course, means a minority are not.  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which carried out the poll, said some students and parents were not supporting schools over the “thorny issue” of face coverings.

2. Masks 'not mandatory due to student anxiety'

However, children’s minister Vicky Ford this morning explained the reason why face masks are not being made mandatory in secondary school classrooms – because some students will be “very anxious and nervous" about wearing them.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Ford said mask-wearing was “strongly encouraged” rather than mandatory.

3. Teachers 'should be supported' over masks in the classroom

The NEU teaching union accused ministers of a lack of commitment in not ensuring that face masks are worn in secondary classrooms

Joint general secretary Mary Bousted said all pupils should wear masks unless there was a medical reason, and that ministers shouldn’t be “equivocating” about the matter, especially as government guidelines say mask-wearing in secondary schools will reduce virus transmission.

4. ‘Wear masks in staffroom,' teachers told

And teachers themselves have been reminded of the importance of wearing masks, including in the staffroom - where fellow teachers apparently present a greater risk of spreading Covid than pupils.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said advice for teachers “is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children".

5. Teachers ‘threatened’ by parents over facemasks

MPs on the House of Commons' Education Select Committee heard how headteachers were being put in a ‘difficult position’ in imposing rules on facemasks which are only guidance and not the law.

Committee member David Johnston OBE, MP for Wantage & Didcot, in Oxfordshire said: "Some parents are issuing what they’re calling a 'notice liability' about face masks and asking teachers not to have children wear those face masks.

“The point was made by the heads that - because it’s guidance rather than statutory - when a headteacher decides that actually they do need them [face masks] based on the DfE’s guidance, they’re getting quite challenging and, some might say, threatening letters from some parents who disagree with the stance [and are] ordering them to desist.”

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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