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Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said new guidance on masks is “very clear” and that pupils no longer need to wear them in the classroom as Covid restrictions are relaxed.
Dozens of schools have written to parents saying they would continue to enforce the wearing of face coverings in classrooms, despite Boris Johnson announcing the policy was to be dropped.
Almost all legal restrictions around face coverings are set to be lifted from next week as the ‘Plan B’ measures aimed at slowing the spread of Omicron expire.
Announcing the plans on Wednesday, the Prime Minister made particular reference to schools. “Masks erode our ability to educate properly and to learn properly, and I am glad they are going,” he said.
But some headteachers have already said they planned to put their own rules in place in a bid to protect staff and pupils, claiming they continued to be necessary due to high Covid infection rates in their local area.
Daily cases have fallen significantly since the peak of 214,000 in early January, but appear to have plateaued at around 90,000 new infections each day in recent weeks.Union leaders have also criticised the plans to drop the need for face coverings in schools, saying masks continued to protect teachers, and warned that lifting the restrictions could increase disruption in schools if they are hit by outbreaks of the virus.
Speaking on Friday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said arrangements were a “matter for teachers and parents” but implored them to “follow the guidance” on lifting restrictions.
“I think that they should follow official guidance,” he told Sky News.
He added that ultimately the matter would be something for “teachers and parents to negotiate” but that “the Prime Minister is very clear that we won’t have to be wearing masks”.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted that “all schools” should follow the new rules to all pupils to “enjoy a normal experience”.
He added: “This applies to all schools – and if required local teams from [the Department of Education] would work with individual schools to support them in implementing the guidance.”
In a letter to MPs, Zahawi said he would be consulted by local health officials if schools planned to reintroduce measures if they were facing “extraordinary” outbreaks.
“We agreed that in the event of extraordinary outbreaks of Covid in localised areas, they will share their plans with me where they are recommending reintroducing face coverings in tightly-focused geographical zones, so that we can assess evidence and data to ensure any extra measures are proportionate.”
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