England's biggest teaching union is calling on the government to supply medical-grade masks to older and vulnerable staff.
Responding to the government’s U-turn on its guidance regarding face coverings in schools, the joint secretary of the NEU teaching union, Kevin Courtney, said the government should consider World Health Organisation guidance on staff aged over-60 or vulnerable.
He said: "We are also pressing the government to look at another part of the WHO statement.
“At the same time they talked about over-12s, the WHO called for staff aged over-60 or otherwise vulnerable and who work closely with children, to wear medical-grade masks.
“Our many affected members will expect the government to deliver robust plans to meet, fund and co-ordinate a response to this new scientific advice."
Mr Courtney said that, while it was important for the government to look at WHO guidance in the context of keeping transmissions low and schools safe, policy U-turns are weakening public confidence.
He also lamented a lack of precise guidance on where masks may be most necessary.
He said: "It does matter, however, that there is a lack of confidence when ministers and senior medical advisers say different things for four days. This is no sort of assurance for the profession, parents or the public.
“The government should have been looking at that WHO advice, coming to a considered position and then presenting it to the public. The alternative has been slow, incoherent, and a failure of leadership.
He added: "We welcome the steps now being taken, but it is a halfway house to pass the decision to headteachers. There has to be a science-led approach from the top. It might be that face masks in communal areas are a good thing in parts of the country with high transmission, it might be that they are not as necessary in areas of low transmission.
“The government needs to decide on that and give clear guidance to school leaders.”
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.