School pupils should wear face masks when they return to school

Secondary school pupils in England should still wear face masks when they return to classrooms, teaching union boss says

  • Dr Mary Bousted told ministers they needed to take urgent action in schools
  • National Education Union secretary said schools needed to use face masks
  • Millions of youngsters will return to England’s classrooms this week and next
  • It is feared that this will spark an uptick in Covid cases across the country

Joint National Education Union secretary Dr Mary Bousted

Secondary school pupils should still wear face masks when they return to the classroom this week, a teaching union boss has said.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, told ministers they needed to take urgent action to avoid disruption to the new academic year.

She said: ‘It would be much better if schools had not been told to abandon measures which they adopted last term.

‘At a time when infection levels are 26 times what they were this time last year, it makes no sense to go back into school with so few safety measures.’ 

Yesterday Dr Bousted predicted that schools would be forced to adopt face masks and other Covid measures ‘very shortly’. 

Millions of youngsters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to go back to classrooms between now and the end of next week, sparking fears of an inevitable spike in cases.

Pupils in England will only be required to test themselves twice a week for the virus, with all other measures including face masks and social distancing abandoned.

But in Scotland where schools returned in mid-August, pupils and staff are still required to wear face masks and keep a one-metre distance. Despite these measures the country has seen a record surge in Covid cases.

The above graph shows how Covid cases in Scotland have begun to more than double week-on-week since schools returned on August 17. The country has recorded a record level of infections for four of the past seven days. Experts warn England could face an even worse situation when its schools return

The graph above shows England’s Covid cases. It is feared that these will start to spiral this week and next after children return to the classroom

Teaching unions have told ministers to bring back face masks in schools. Some secondary schools and colleges in the South West have already brought back the measures (stock)

Dr Bousted told the Daily Mirror that English schools were heading for disaster, that was likely to spark disruption to the new academic year.

‘We’re going to see thousands of pupils and hundreds of teachers having to isolate,’ she said. ‘You only have to look at Scotland to see where we’re heading.’

More than 1,000 Covid patients were admitted to hospital in a single day in the UK last week for the first time since February, official data showed yesterday as the country’s daily cases grew again and deaths fell.

In its usual daily update, the Department of Health and Social Care revealed that 1,019 people were hospitalised with the virus across the UK on August 25.

It marks the first time there have been four-figure Covid admissions since February 24 when the second wave was being brought under control and the jab rollout was just gaining momentum.

The DoH update — which often includes backlogged hospital data due to the way it’s recorded — showed there were a further 943 Covid admissions on August 26 and 901 on August 27, which were both week-on-week rises.

There was a mixed picture as UK-wide infections yesterday increased by 4 per cent in a week to 32,181 but England’s case numbers fell again, this time by 10 per cent.

Infection spikes in Scotland — attributed to schools going back in mid-August — and Northern Ireland, where vaccine uptake has been slightly lower than the rest of the UK, will be playing a role.

But there are fears England and Wales could see cases trend upwards again when classes go back this week and next, which has reignited the debate about jabbing children.

The Government’s Covid dashboard also shows that there were 50 deaths registered yesterday, a drop of more than 70 per cent. The unusually low toll is believed to be due to a recording lag over the bank holiday weekend.

Yesterday Dr Bousted said: ‘We have a much higher prevalence now in the community than it was. 

‘We’re going in with much higher rates of prevalence into schools where we are relying on one mitigation, which is lateral flow testing.

‘In Scotland they have not abandoned the safety precautions.

‘My prediction is very shortly we are going to see schools all over the country in their hundreds having to operate the contingency framework.’

England’s Covid cases fell 10 per cent in a week yesterday after another 20,967 were recorded, taking the infection rate to 315 cases per 100,000 people.

The country’s outbreak has tailed off over the past week, but experts have always warned the return of schools would trigger an uptick. 

In Scotland cases rose 40 per cent in a week yesterday after another 6,029 were registered. The nation’s infection rate is currently 644 positive tests per 100,000 person. 

When 8.9million children in England went back last September it led to Covid cases spiking four-fold in a month.

And they spilled over into older age groups, who are more vulnerable to the disease.

Schools in Wales and Northern Ireland are also set to go back this week and next, which is expected to fuel a rise in cases. 

Schools in parts of the South West will still ask pupils to wear masks in corridors, playgrounds and ‘communal areas’ when they return.

And one school in Rotherham has pledged to defy Government guidance.

Wales High School in the South Yorkshire town will maintain masks and support bubbles when pupils return to the classroom this week.

Headteacher Pepe Di’Iasio told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: ‘We’re maintaining masks in crowded corridors, and in social areas because we feel that that will help keep the infection rates down.

‘But we’re also maintaining some of the pre-Covid rules of our one-way systems, and our separation of year groups that were formerly known as bubbles and they’re now just going to be kept in new groups again to try and just keep crowds down and keep the numbers apart.’ 

There is no national guidance on wearing masks in schools, with all the remaining restrictions dropped in May.

The bubble system, which saw pupils eat with the same group every day to stop the virus spreading, was also scrapped.

No10’s Education Secretary has, however, said schools should consider keeping children in lunch ‘bubbles’ this term to improve behaviour.

Gavin Williamson is encouraging headteachers to extend the Covid measures because it has other benefits beyond restricting the virus.

But Mr Williamson said schools found it a great opportunity to teach ‘family dining’ – including table manners and social skills.

Writing for the Mail, he also urged parents to encourage their children to get regularly tested and to ensure they don’t get ‘carried away’.

During the previous academic year schools were launched into Covid chaos with some sending whole year-groups home after just one positive test.

Official figures show that at the end of the last academic year 750,000 children had been sent home to self-isolate, despite there being only 40,000 positive tests.

Lobby groups have blamed over-cautious teachers and staff for sending so many children home, and welcomed the Government’s decision to relax most Covid restrictions this year.

But teaching unions have already warned that school are set to be plunged into ‘chaos’ again in the weeks ahead should cases spiral rapidly. 

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