Monday 24 August 2020

Face masks chaos as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to order children to wear them in Scottish school corridors

Nicola Sturgeon today signalled secondary school pupils and staff in Scotland will be asked to wear face masks when they travel between classes - as Number 10 ruled out a similar move in England. 

The Scottish First Minister said her government is consulting on exactly when and where the coverings will be required as she cited concerns about ventilation issues in corridors and communal areas. 

However, Downing Street said there are 'no plans' for the UK Government to change its approach to the issue in England. 

The Prime Minister's deputy official spokesman said the wearing of masks would risk 'obstructing communication' while ministers insisted face coverings are 'not necessary' if guidance on school hygiene is followed. 

The difference in approach is likely to cause confusion among parents and pupils as all four of the home nations try to get schools back up and running. 

Education is a devolved issue which means the administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can adopt their own policies.  

The UK government's current guidance for England does not recommend teachers or pupils should wear face masks. 

But Ms Sturgeon told her daily coronavirus briefing that Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney is in the final stages of consulting with teachers and councils on the issue.
She said recommendations would not include pupils wearing masks while in the classroom.

The move follows requests from some schools north of the border for pupils to wear face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon said: 'We're consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas - increasing the potential for transmission.

'Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

'Finally, there's also less scope for ventilation in these areas.'

She said decisions are yet to be made on whether the guidance would apply to school transport and that decision will be made in the coming days.

Asked if the UK Government would follow Ms Sturgeon's lead on the issue, the PM's deputy official spokesman said: 'There are no plans to review the guidance on face coverings in schools… we are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.'

Earlier, the UK Government's Schools Minister Nick Gibb had said masks are 'not necessary' for teachers or pupils.   

He told the BBC: 'We are always led by the scientific advice. What the current advice is is that if a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July, all of the hygiene pleasures I have been talking about, then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils.'

Asked if he believed the guidance could change, he said: 'We always listen to whatever the current advice is from Public Health England, the chief medical officers, we always adhere to that advice.' 

Unison is one a number of unions who have called for teachers to be allowed to wear a mask or face covering because of staff safety concerns.

'It's still unclear why government guidance won't allow them, when they're recommended for other workplaces,' the union said. 

The World Health Organisation and UN children's agency Unicef advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area. 

England's deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was 'not strong'.

Dr Harries told Sky News that in children under 15 'compliance is very poor' and other measures being taken in schools - such as children sitting side by side or back to back meant masks were not needed.

'We also need to think through the sort of psychosocial effects of masks for children, it's a learning environment, and we need them to learn for life,' she added.

Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green said the issue of masks in schools should be kept under review. 


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