Labour disagrees with unions on face masks in schools

Elliot Chappell

Labour has contradicted trade unions on face coverings in schools and said that its position is that children and staff do not need to wear them in schools settings.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, Kate Green told viewers that the party will “follow the advice of the chief medical officer, the scientists, who have said that masks are not necessary in school settings”.

She argued that schools are doing a “great deal of work to make their premises safe for children to return in September”, including undertaking additional cleaning and reconfiguring school layouts to minimise contact between people.

The comments from the Shadow Education Secretary follow a call from the unions this week for teachers and support staff to be allowed to wear face masks in schools in England, in order to protect them and help limit the spread of Covid-19.

Green said: “The Labour Party says that the advice that is given by the scientists, by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, is the advice – that we would not second guess it, we would accept that advice.”

The call from the unions comes after the government changed its coronavirus rules to make face coverings mandatory in most enclosed public spaces earlier this month. The unions have argued this leaves schools out of step with other settings.

Deputy general secretary of the NEU Avis Gilmore said: “While the Department for Education and Public Health England have reaffirmed their position that coverings are not necessary, this is an issue that must be subject to regular review in light of developments in scientific opinion, experience and practice elsewhere.

“Therefore we will continue to question this in advance of the anticipated full return in September. It remains our view that no member of staff or pupil should be prevented from wearing a face mask if they wish to do so and we anticipate that the majority of schools and colleges will respect this.”

The change in the rules applies to children over the age of 11, and NASUWT has said that the there is consequently a strong case for the wearing of masks to be made compulsory for older children when they return to school in September.

General secretary Patrick Roach said: “The government’s wider public health advice confirms that whilst children aged under 11 are not required to wear face masks, they are mandatory for children aged over 11 when they visit a range of other facilities.”

He added: “So there is a strong argument that face masks should also be made compulsory for children when they return to secondary schools in September.”

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors in the UK, has stated that wherever two-metre social distancing cannot be complied with – including in schools – masks should be worn as a way of reducing transmission.

Dr David Strain of the BMA said: “The idea of them wearing masks to stop spread around the school – enabling them to potentially take it home to older relatives and also risking teachers – is a sensible precaution.”

A report published last week by a group convened by the Royal Society said that “the risks of transmission within schools can be reduced through enhanced cleaning and distancing and wearing face coverings”.

The group called on government to “provide realistic guidance and substantial extra resources to ensure schools can minimise chains of transmission”, including face coverings for “teachers, older children and those with underlying heath issues”.

The report concluded that “older children, all adults in schools, as well as parents bringing their children into schools, should wear masks. Masks should also be worn on public transport on the way to school in line with national guidance”.

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