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- Face coverings are an essential part of reducing the risk of transmission. Face coverings which are not medical standard masks are intended to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 if the wearer has it, rather than protecting the wearer. Medical masks also protect the wearer (see 5 below).
- The latest advice from the Department for Education (DfE) recommends that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). The DfE states that children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering. I In education settings where year 7 and above are educated, the DfE recommends that face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas and in classrooms unless social distancing can be maintained.
- The DFE advice does not go as far as the NEU thinks necessary on face coverings. We recognise that expecting primary age pupils to wear them is more challenging. The World Health Organisation states that children aged 5 and under should not wear masks but that between the ages of 6 and 11 decisions should be made based on various factors, including local transmission, access to masks and ability of the children to use them and their well-being Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Children and masks (who.int) . Mask wearing among younger children is required in a significant number of other countries, including the USA. If this is achieved even only among older primary pupils, it could help prevent transmission and disruption. Where face coverings are not required to be worn by pupils in classrooms, school staff should be provided with appropriate higher grade face masks, which protect the wearer, eg FFP2, or FFP3 in higher risk settings, such as SEND. This should form part of the Risk Assessment. Exemptions from wearing face coverings will of course be necessary for students who find it difficult to wear them, in particular in special schools. Visors, if worn, should be worn in addition to face coverings – they should not be worn on their own. This is because visors are not fully in contact with the face, permitting aerosol transmission to take place. Face coverings should also be worn by parents/carers at the school gates.
- The NEU believes that, while the DfE advice remains in place, any students or members of staff who choose to wear a face covering for purposes of personal or collective reassurance should be permitted to do so. The NEU expects schools and colleges to respect this reasonable position. This reflects the Health and Safety Executive’s advice that if staff choose to wear face coverings, this should be supported by employers. Should any head teacher seek to prevent the wearing of face coverings, the NEU will support members who wish to secure a reversal of that position. Finally, the NEU favours the use of reusable face coverings rather than disposable ones on environmental grounds.
- In certain circumstances, school and college staff may require medical face masks and other PPE to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 by students. Where risks cannot adequately be controlled in other ways, the law requires that PPE must be supplied by employers. Risk assessments in relation to certain types of work with students (in particular those with multiple or profound special needs) might require the provision of PPE such as medical face masks, face visors, aprons and gloves.
- The DfE position is that such PPE is only needed in a very small number of situations - where an individual child, young person or other learner becomes ill with Covid-19 symptoms, and only then where a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained, and where a child, young person or learner already has routine intimate care needs that involve the use of PPE, in which case the same PPE should continue to be used.
- The NEU disagrees with this position and believes that the DfE has failed to fully understand the risks to staff working in settings such as specific learning disability and profound and multiple learning disabilities and also in other early years and SEND settings, where close personal contact with pupils who cannot control behaviour such as spitting, coughing or sneezing, or whose behaviour or learning needs to be physically managed, creates airborne risks which cannot be controlled in other ways. Cleaning and laundry staff and anyone administering first aid or medical care should also be provided with appropriate PPE as necessary following a risk assessment.
The NEU therefore advises that staff working in such circumstances should be provided with PPE. PPE, including FFP2 or FFP3 grade masks, if appropriate, should be provided for staff administering first aid, medical care or personal care activities where social distancing cannot be maintained, for example in some special schools and nurseries. Where PPE is needed it must be appropriate for the individual and training must be given in its proper use and disposal (hearing aid users cannot wear ties around the ears, while British Sign Language users or those who need children to see their mouth will need clear masks).
- Risk assessments should also consider the need for appropriate PPE to be provided for staff who are defined as clinically vulnerable, including pregnant women, or those who have vulnerable family members, before their return to work in school. The NEU advises that extremely clinically vulnerable staff and women in the third trimester of pregnancy should be permitted to work from home and this advice is not affected by any offer to provide medical grade PPE to such staff.
- The NEU emphasises that other safety precautions such as washing hands and enhanced cleaning may not be sufficient to protect staff and students. Proper consideration must therefore be given to schools’ and colleges’ policies on the wearing of face coverings and provision of PPE