Masks are back for schoolchildren in Year 7 and above, who from the start of term will be required to wear them throughout the day including in classrooms. The Telegraph has the story.
Secondary school pupils will be asked to wear face masks in classrooms again as ministers draw up contingency plans to keep schools open amid fears of widespread teacher absences.
The measure will apply to students across the country in Year 7 and above, with the Government issuing new guidance just 48 hours before millions of pupils are due to start returning after the Christmas holidays.
It brings England in line with Wales and Scotland, with mask guidance already in force for staff and pupils when walking through corridors and communal areas.
Defending the decision to reimpose masks in classrooms for the first time since May last year, Nadhim Zahawi said it was designed to help “maximise the number of children in school” and would remain only as long as needed.
Writing for the Telegraph, the Education Secretary said face-to-face teaching would be the “expected norm” heading into the new term, and confirmed that all exams in January would “go ahead as planned”.
“The Prime Minister could not be clearer: education is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power as a government to minimise the disruption to schools,” he said.
However, the Telegraph can also disclose that officials in the Department for Education (DfE) have begun discussing proposals that could see heads asked to prioritise primary, GCSE and A-level pupils for face-to-face teaching should schools be hit by widespread staff absences, with others taught remotely.
Other potential guidance that could be issued in a worst-case scenario includes grouping multiple classes together in sports and assembly halls. The department is also looking at “flexible staff models” should absences hit 10%, 15% or 25%, but insiders say schools are likely to “tip over” at 30%.
Worth reading in full.
The controversial move comes despite the two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) for the use of masks against COVID-19 finding no robust evidence of benefit. The Danish Danmask-19 study found no statistically significant reduction in COVID-19 incidence from the use of surgical masks (the study didn’t look at the even less effective cloth masks that are common among school pupils). The Bangladesh mask study also found no benefit from cloth masks and the reported benefit from surgical masks was just 11%, with a 95% confidence interval that included zero (meaning we can’t even be 95% sure there was any benefit at all). The mask intervention in Bangladesh was also accompanied by an awareness raising campaign, among other issues that confounded the findings.
Masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 largely because SARS-CoV-2 is an airborne virus and cloth and surgical masks do not prevent people breathing, or filter particles small enough to prevent sufficient virus particles passing in and out.
But why let scientific evidence get in the way of a political gesture and a sop to the unions?