Schools defy Boris Johnson as they insist face masks must stay in class

Headteachers are defying the Government over face masks in the classroom as dozens insist they will remain in place.

More than 100 schools have already written to parents to say that children must continue wearing masks in lessons, despite the Prime Minister’s announcement that the measure is no longer necessary.

The Education Secretary insisted on Thursday that “all schools” should banish face masks so that children can “enjoy a normal experience” in the classroom.

He warned that Department for Education (DfE) officials will contact headteachers who are refusing to drop masks and explain why they must go.

It comes after union leaders reacted with anger at the new guidance on masks and accused the Prime Minister of flouting his “duty of care” to teachers.

Several schools say that masks in the classroom will continue “until further notice”, with some citing high Covid cases in their local area as the reason.

Others justify their stance by explaining that it will lead to fewer students and teachers becoming ill, while some say they need to carry out an internal “risk assessment” before making a decision.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson told the Commons that face coverings would not be required for teachers or pupils in classrooms and were no longer needed in communal areas from next Thursday, when the Plan B rules expire.

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Officials at the Department for Education (DfE) then wrote to every headteacher in England to reiterate that masks were only introduced as a “temporary measure” and that they were “no longer recommended in classrooms”.

But The Telegraph has learned that school leaders are now in open revolt against the Government’s position.

Shuttleworth College in Burnley told parents that it would “not be removing any of our measures in school at this time” owing to high Covid cases.

Several other schools – including Newton Abbot College in Devon, Isleworth and Syon School in Middlesex and Bristol Free School – used the same reasoning to insist that masks should continue to be worn.

Some schools did not give a reason, and merely stated that masks would remain in place. All Saints’ Catholic Academy in Nottinghamshire said it would “continue with our current procedures” including masks in the classroom “until further notice”.

On Thursday, Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, said the new national guidance on face masks applied to every school in the country.

“National guidance to wear face coverings in communal areas will also be removed in line with the national move out of Plan B,” he said.

“This applies to all schools – and if required local teams from DfE would work with individual schools to support them in implementing the guidance.”

Nadhim Zahawi said masks should only be reintroduced in the event of an 'extraordinary' local Covid outbreak© Provided by The Telegraph Nadhim Zahawi said masks should only be reintroduced in the event of an ‘extraordinary’ local Covid outbreak

Mr Zahawi wrote a letter to MPs on Thursday evening saying that he had kept his promise not to keep masks in place for “a day longer than necessary”.

But he added that, following a meeting with local directors of public health, he agreed that masks could be reintroduced in the event of an “extraordinary” local Covid outbreak.

Arabella Skinner, a director of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “As we have seen throughout the pandemic, schools often go far beyond the recommendations and beyond what the rest of society is required to do.

“In the case of masks being removed from class, we had over 100 schools raised with us who are choosing – against government guidance – to keep masks in class.”

Uckfield College in East Sussex said it was keeping masks in force “for now” on the basis that the “last thing students want at the moment is more staff absence”.

Some schools said they wanted to wait until their local director of public health had formally endorsed the Government’s position, and that masks would stay in place until then.

The Commonweal School in Swindon told parents to “ensure that your child brings a suitable mask to school each day” while they “await guidance” from their local council.

Others, including Oxted School in Surrey and Droylesden Academy in Manchester, said they wanted to wait until they had been sent official guidance from the DfE – even though this was published on Wednesday.

St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter told parents that masks must still be worn in lessons as “Covid has not gone away” and it is a “kind and thoughtful” way to support the community.

Two thirds of parents against mask-wearing

The UK’s largest teacher union has warned against lifting restrictions “too quickly” saying that this could lead to “more disruption” for schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Rather than announcements aimed at saving Boris Johnson’s job, [the] Government should be exercising a duty of care to the nation’s pupils and the staff who educate them.”

Recent polling by parent voice charity Parentkind found that almost two thirds of parents of secondary school children are not in favour of face masks in the classroom.

As teachers’ unions put up resistance, the Government faces dissent throughout the public sector over its ambition to get the country back into offices.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents civil servants and other public sector workers, warned in the Daily Mail that “there should not be a reckless, headlong rush” back to work.

David Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, said: “The idea that forcing civil servants back into the office will somehow show a lead to the rest of the economy is insulting to businesses who have made decisions that enhance their efficiency and profitability”.


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