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Teaching unions call for face masks to be made mandatory for children

Teaching unions have urged ministers to make face masks mandatory for children in secondary schools when they finally return in September.

Ministers currently have no plans to make pupils or staff in the UK wear masks when they go back to school after the summer holidays. 

The Government has conceded that face masks in the classroom were pointless for protection because students and teachers spent so much time together.

Unions claim the rules are ‘out of step’ with the decision to make masks mandatory in shops, supermarkets and train stations, saying teachers aren’t given the same amount of protection as other workers. 

GMB said there was a ‘clear double standard’ in guidance which said face masks are compulsory anywhere where social distancing is difficult. 

Some schools have already taken matters into their own hands and asked parents to buy their child a face mask as part of their uniform. 

Teaching unions have urged ministers to make face masks mandatory for children in secondary schools. Pictured, a schoolchild in France

Ministers have said face masks would not protect people who spend a lot of time together - like children and their teachers. Pictured, a schoolchild in Thailand

Ministers have said face masks would not protect people who spend a lot of time together – like children and their teachers. Pictured, a schoolchild in Thailand

WHY ARE MASKS NOT COMPULSORY IN SCHOOLS?

In England, the Government has decided that face masks will not be necessary in schools.

Its guidance for schools states that: ‘Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended.

‘Face coverings may be beneficial for short periods indoors where there is a risk of close social contact with people you do not usually meet and where social distancing and other measures cannot be maintained, for example on public transport or in some shops. 

‘This does not apply to schools or other education settings.

‘Schools and other education or childcare settings should therefore not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings. 

‘Changing habits, cleaning and hygiene are effective measures in controlling the spread of the virus.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said: ‘If you’re in a space with the same people repeatedly and for long periods of time, whether an office or a classroom, then a mask doesn’t actually protect them.’

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) union, told The Telegraph that guidance to other employers recognises that ‘face masks should be worn’ where physical distancing ‘cannot be assured’.

Mr Roach said: ‘Teachers and other staff working in schools also want to be assured that, when they return to the workplace in September, they will be afforded the same level of protection as other workers, and that the guidance for schools will be brought into line with guidance for other workplaces.’

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said there was ‘a fair degree of confusion’ about why face coverings were required in some settings but not in schools.

GMB wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson two weeks ago, asking him to consider new rules for wearing masks in schools.

It said school staff questioned why they have to wear masks on public transport to get to work or in shops if they pop out at lunch time — but not in the classroom. 

GMB’s national officer Karen Leonard said: ‘Changing the rules for buses and shops to enforce the wearing of masks while actively discouraging those working in schools from even wearing them is causing untold confusion.

‘It’s time for Gavin Williamson and his colleagues to rethink their position, provide clarity and consistency for our valuable school staff, and ensure PPE [personal protective equipment] – including face masks – is available and can be worn by staff in schools where required.’

She added it was ‘plain common sense’ that teachers and other workers in schools should be able to wear coverings. 

The Department for Education says wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended.

It says face coverings may be beneficial for short periods indoors where strangers are standing near each other. It does not explain why specifically. 

The Scottish Government has advised that face coverings should also be worn when entering enclosed spaces, including public transport and shops.

Wales and Northern Ireland have rules that say face coverings are mandatory for public transport passengers, but not in shops. 

THE BATTLE BETWEEN MINISTERS AND UNIONS OVER SCHOOL CLOSURES

The long battle between ministers and unions over school closures (that has left parents and children as collateral)

March 20 – Schools and nurseries are closed indefinitely.

March 23 – The government announces that vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers will still be taught in classrooms.

May 10 – Boris Johnson announces that schools might reopen to more children on June 1, prompting intense opposition from teaching unions warning this would be unsafe.

May 13 – Teachers union NASUWT joins other unions in resisting the government’s plan.

May 17 – The Church Of England weighs into the continuing row by warning that further delay damages the prospects of children who can least afford it.

June 1 – Some primary schools and nurseries reopen in England for pupils in reception, nursery and Years 1 and 6.

June 9 – Education Secretary Gavin Williamson scraps plan to bring primary school pupils back before summer break.

July 2 – Mr Williamson tells the Commons all schools will reopen in September.

Some European countries have decided to make masks compulsory for teachers and pupils, including Germany. 

In Spain, children aged between 11 and 18 must wear them in settings where they can’t keep at least 1.5m away from other people.

And in France, masks must be worn by teachers if they’re one meter or less away from a child. 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded last week that face masks were a waste of time when people are interacting regularly. 

He had been discussing why face masks wouldn’t be necessary in offices, another enclosed space. 

Referencing reports that face masks would be necessary at work, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on July 15: ‘No, that isn’t going to happen, and the reason is that in offices you tend to spend a lot of time with the same people, and so the way to stop the spread of the virus in offices is to have social distancing, either two metres or one metre plus mitigations in place.

‘The same is true in classrooms, by the way, where if you’re in a classroom, if you’re in a space with the same people repeatedly and for long periods of time, whether an office or a classroom, then a mask doesn’t actually protect them.

‘Where the masks benefits is from you spreading the disease to other people when you have relatively short interactions with lots of different people, which is why it’s right to have this as mandatory on public transport, in shops and in the NHS but not in offices where you’re basically there with the same group of people for long periods of time, or in classrooms where the same applies. So it’s following the scientific advice.’ 

Primary schools in Britain have already been allowed to reopen to certain year groups and are run in ‘bubbles’ of teachers assigned to certain classes.

Secondary schools, however, have had to remain closed since lockdown was imposed in March and will not reopen until September.

From the start of the school year, all schools in England are set to reopen as normal and attendance will be mandatory again as it is in normal times.

A handful of schools have advised students to return with a face mask — despite official guidance saying it is not necessary.

Fallibroome Academy, in Macclesfield, says it ‘expects face masks will be necessary’ in places like corridors until it is ‘safe’ to not do so.

‘NO TEACHERS HAVE CAUGHT COVID FROM PUPILS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD’

There is no proof Covid-19 has been transmitted from a pupil to a teacher in school anywhere in the world, a scientist advising the Government has claimed.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist from the University of Edinburgh, said closing all schools completely during Britain’s lockdown might have been a mistake.

Evidence now suggests children are ‘minimally involved’ in the spread of Covid-19, which politicians should bear in mind in the future, he added.

Statistics show 15 children and teenagers have died of coronavirus in England and Wales since March, 0.03 per cent of the total deaths.

And scientists say children appear to only rarely be seriously affected by the condition, which preys on existing ill health and is most dangerous for the elderly. Getting fewer symptoms and milder illness may make them less likely to spread it.

Professor Woolhouse, who sits on a sub-group of SAGE, told The Times it is ‘extremely difficult’ to find any instances of children spreading the virus to adults in schools, with no certain cases.

He suggests closing schools was ‘never essential’ and said it was unlikely that governments would repeat the drastic step.

It is not clear, however, how much children contribute to the spread of the virus in the home, which is where most transmission takes place. Elderly relatives could be at risk from children catching the virus from other families, for example, suggesting keeping youngsters apart at school could still be beneficial.

Brighton College has told parents the ‘current expectation’ is that masks would be required when pupils are walking around.

And Holmes Chapel, in Cheshire, has directed parents to a designated shop where face masks can be bought for £3 as part of uniform.

According to The Sun, a letter sent out to parents said: ‘On the balance of probability, the wearing of face masks is likely to make our school safer than if we don’t wear them.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘We have set out the controls schools should use, including cleaning and hygiene measures, to substantially reduce the risk of transmission of the virus when they open to all children from September.

‘This does not include the wearing of face coverings as we believe the system of controls laid out adequately reduced the risk of transmission to both staff and students.’

Department of Education officials have already issued guidance on how schools can keep both children and teachers safe.

It included removing soft furnishings, such as pillows, bean bags and rugs, as well as soft toys, which could include teddy bears.

The guidance also says frequently touched surfaces, equipment, door handles, and toilets will need to be cleaned thoroughly ‘several times a day’.

The National Education Union – which has 450,000 members – published a 169-point shopping list of its own demands for teachers and staff.

The list, described as a ‘barrier’ to reopening schools, included demands for mapped locations of lidded bins in classrooms and around the school.

It comes after parents last week reacted with fury after the government included teachers in inflation-busting public sector pay rises, despite thousands staying at home since March.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled salary increases for 900,000 public workers, with doctors and dentists seeing their pay rise by 2.8 per cent – more than three times the rate of inflation — in recognition of their ‘efforts on the frontline’.

However, the largest increases of 3.1 per cent were reserved for teachers despite the fact they have not been teaching full class sizes for months.

This prompted an angry response from parents and the Campaign For Real Education, which said that education staff who had been refusing to return to the classroom with the backing of militant unions ‘didn’t deserve a pay rise’.

Returning to school has been a controversial issue in Britain as teachers and school staff said they felt unable to do it safely in the way the Government was asking.

Some teachers are still refusing to return after the summer break, with unions insisting the government’s plan for schools to start back in September is ‘pure fantasy’. 

It comes after a scientist advising the government last week claimed there is no proof Covid-19 has been transmitted from a pupil to a teacher in school anywhere in the world.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist from the University of Edinburgh, said closing all schools completely during Britain’s lockdown might have been a mistake.

Evidence now suggests children are ‘minimally involved’ in the spread of Covid-19, which politicians should bear in mind in the future, he added.

Statistics show 15 children and teenagers have died of coronavirus in England and Wales since March, 0.03 per cent of the total deaths.

And scientists say children appear to only rarely be seriously affected by the condition, which preys on existing ill health and is most dangerous for the elderly. Getting fewer symptoms and milder illness may make them less likely to spread it.

THE TRUTH ABOUT FACE MASKS: WHAT STUDIES HAVE SHOWN 

Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing. 

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers. 

It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks. 

The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials. 

N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous. 

This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose. 

Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria. 

For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others. 

But the Oxford analysis of past studies- which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients. 

However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission. 

Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks. 

So what about cloth coverings? Although good quality evidence is lacking, some data suggest that cloth masks may be only marginally (15 per cent) less effective than surgical masks in blocking emission of particles, said Babak Javid, principal investigator at Cambridge University Hospitals wrote in the BMJ on April 9.

He pointed to a study led by Public Health England in 2013 which found wearing some kind of material over the face was fivefold more effective than not wearing masks for preventing a flu pandemic.

The study suggested that a homemade mask ‘should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection’.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk