Commenting on the Government's belated decision to revise its guidance on the wearing of face coverings in schools, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"Our union fully supports the opening of schools to all students in England from next week. After the enormous effort the nation has made to get the case numbers down, it is absolutely right to go back, but it has to be done in a way that is safe for staff and students alike.
"What is vital now is to keep the R rate below 1, and that means continuing to do all that we can to ensure case numbers remain low. So, if the World Health Organisation says that 12 years old and above should be wearing face masks in communal school areas, then our Government needs to look at that very seriously.
"It does matter, however, that there is a lack of confidence when ministers and senior medical advisers say different things for four days. This is no sort of assurance for the profession, parents or the public. The Government should have been looking at that WHO advice, coming to a considered position and then presenting it to the public. The alternative has been slow, incoherent, and a failure of leadership.
"We welcome the steps now being taken, but it is a halfway house to pass the decision to head teachers. There has to be a science-led approach from the top. It might be that face masks in communal areas are a good thing in parts of the country with high transmission, it might be that they are not as necessary in areas of low transmission. The Government needs to decide on that and give clear guidance to school leaders.
"We are also pressing the Government to look at another part of the World Health Organisation statement. At the same time they talked about over-12s, the WHO called for staff aged over-60 or otherwise vulnerable and who work closely with children, to wear medical-grade masks. Our many affected members will expect Government to deliver robust plans to meet, fund and co-ordinate a response to this new scientific advice."
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