Vaccination progress 'needed before mask rule change'

Student vaccinations must be ‘virtually complete’ before rule on masks in schools changes, says biggest teaching union

Emma Seith

Covid vaccination progress 'needed before mask rule change in schools'

There must be a “significant increase” in the vaccination of secondary students before the requirement for masks to be worn in class is removed in Scotland, the EIS teaching union has warned.

According to the union, vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds and 16- and 17-year-olds is progressing but is “still in the early stages”. It says masks can only be removed when it is “virtually complete, which won’t be after the October break”.

Yesterday Tes Scotland revealed that the Scottish government is proposing removing the requirement for masks to be worn in secondary classrooms when school return following the school holidays, which got underway this week.

Background: Scottish heads welcome plan to remove masks in class

Covid safety: Scottish Tories call for no more masks in schools

Vaccination: Covid vaccine approved for 12- to 15-year-olds

Related: What it's like having to teach with a face covering

Watch: Why deaf students struggle with face coverings

In response, an EIS spokeswoman said: “Whilst infection levels in relation to schools are falling, they are still high. So continued caution is required before any mitigations are lifted. Face coverings in public areas of school continue to be required, therefore.

Removal of masks in schools 'should be linked to Covid vaccination'

“Any proposal to remove pupil face coverings whilst they are seated should be linked to a significant increase in the vaccination uptake amongst secondary pupils, which is progressing but still in the early stages.

“Somewhat ironically, parts of England are looking to introduce face coverings, in the face of spiraling increases in pupil infection levels.

 “The EIS has a strong view that a significant change such as this should not be announced by the Scottish government during a school break.”

The spokeswoman added: “Removal of face coverings should not be considered until pupil vaccinations are virtually complete, which won’t be after the October break.”

Public Health Scotland figures updated today show that 40.6 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds have had one dose of vaccine, and 73.2 per cent of 16- to 17-year-olds.

The draft government guidance on mitigations in schools was shared with stakeholders on Friday, with the final version expected to be published this week.

The draft guidance says masks will still be required in communal areas in secondary and for any member of staff unable to socially distance – for instance, those working with children with additional support needs.

Under the new rules, students and staff members who wish to continue to wear masks will be able to do so.

It is also being proposed that in-person parents' evenings be permitted next term and assemblies be allowed to return.

The secondary headteachers' organisation School Leaders Scotland has said it supports the removal of the requirement for masks in classrooms, but the teaching unions are opposed, with the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association arguing that masks should remain in place until at least Christmas.  

However, the government says in the draft guidance that the Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues has advised that “given decreasing case rates across all age groups, current evidence on the state of the epidemic and the efficacy of the vaccination programme, it would be appropriate at this time to move to baseline mitigations in schools”.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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