Children forced to keep wearing masks in school as councils defy government Covid guidance

·4 min read
Students are still being made to wear masks in some schools - Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock
Students are still being made to wear masks in some schools - Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock

Over 200,000 children are still being told to wear face masks at school, despite official government guidance stating that it is no longer necessary.

More than a dozen councils around the country have instructed schools to continue with masks in communal areas, a survey by The Telegraph has found.

The 13 councils - most of which are Labour-run - have written to parents explaining that pupils should continue wearing face coverings in corridors either until the end of January, until February half-term, or until further notice.

Some cite high rates of Covid case numbers in the local area, while others say it is a precautionary measure aimed at protecting the school community.

A further six councils, who are responsible for another 380,000 children, have said they support headteachers to make their own decision about face masks.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, insisted last week that “all schools” should banish face masks so that children could “enjoy a normal experience” in the classroom.

The Government updated its official advice last week to say that face masks in the classrooms would no longer be required from January 20.

And from January 27, masks are not required for teachers or pupils in communal areas such as corridors.

The Department for Education (DfE) has written to every headteacher in England to reiterate that masks were only introduced as a “temporary measure” and that they were “no longer recommended in classrooms”.

Mr Zahawi said local directors of public health could reintroduce face masks in the event of an “extraordinary” outbreak with his express permission.

'Masks until half-term'

Seven councils - including Central Bedfordshire, Tameside and Rotherham - are recommending that masks continue until February half-term.

Another five councils - Barking and Dagenham, Blackpool, Salford, Wigan and Derby - say masks should continue until further notice, while Bradford says they should continue until the end of the month.

Officials at the DfE declined to say whether any of the councils which have reimposed masks have sought or obtained permission from ministers.

Council chiefs have been accused of imposing “draconian” rules on school children which go further than what is asked of adults.

Arabella Skinner, director of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said parents were “furious” that face masks still being insisted upon in schools

“As we have seen throughout the pandemic, local public health directors - who are unelected - have taken it on themselves to issue their own more draconian rules for schools,” she said.

“It is notable that they only ever appear to issue these to school children and not to wider society. Parents who live in these areas are furious that their children are subject to this postcode lottery"

'Masks harming social skills and mental health'

The SNP’s “despised” mask mandate in schools must be ditched immediately due to growing evidence it is harming children’s social skills and mental health, headteachers have warned.

Dorothy MacGinty, head teacher at Kilgraston School in Perthshire, and Rod Grant, headmaster at Clifton Hall in Edinburgh, said lessons were becoming increasingly difficult to deliver and that normal interactions were being lost.

It was claimed that children were coming “bottom of the government’s priority list” and that their civil liberties were being unfairly curtailed.

However, Nicola Sturgeon has so far refused to agree to any change, with the mask rules backed by the powerful EIS teaching union which SNP ministers are reluctant to defy.

In a letter to The Telegraph, Ms MacGinty called on the Scottish Government to “be bold enough” to finally scrap the rule and warned “learning is being critically, perhaps irreversibly, hampered by their use.”

Face-to-face education still 'priority'

Earlier this week The Telegraph revealed that schools are continuing with their own Plan B measures such as keeping libraries closed, banning hot lunches and insisting on face masks.

A DfE spokesman said that face-to-face education for all students “continues to be our top priority”.

They added: “We kept our promise and removed the requirement for face coverings to be worn in the classroom as quickly as possible, and have now also removed the requirement for them to be worn in communal areas, in line with the national move out of Plan B.

“Our guidance applies to all schools - and if required local teams from the department work with individual schools to support them in implementing the guidance.”

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