No10 insists primary school children should not be made to wear masks in school

3 March 2021, 00:05

Downing Street has said children at primary school should not be made to wear face coverings
Downing Street has said children at primary school should not be made to wear face coverings. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Downing Street has said children at primary school should not be made to wear face coverings after learning a council was encouraging their use when pupils return to the classroom.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that officials had been in contact with Redbridge Council in east London after it told primary schools under its control that pupils should be advised to wear masks.

The council's Labour leader Jas Athwal said "in some cases" the authority had gone beyond the official advice.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school on March 8.

"Face coverings are only necessary for pupils in year seven and above."

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Redbridge Council later denied that it had "instructed" primary schools to enforce face coverings, but said advice had been given.

A spokesman said the council "merely advised primary schools to consider the use of face coverings indoors along with a wide range of other measures that would play a part in reducing the risk of transmission within schools".

The spokesman added: "As always, we consider advice available from a wide range of reputable sources, which we then use to update the advice we provide to schools."

Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, has warned that ministers risk creating "mask anarchy" unless regulations on face coverings in schools are made clearer.

He has called for "definitive regulations" to be put in place on whether students should wear face coverings.

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Last week, schools minister Nick Gibb confirmed that face coverings in secondary schools in England will not be compulsory when pupils return to class on March 8, but he said they were "highly recommended".

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told MPs that it would be "much easier" if Government guidance on face coverings in secondary schools was "black and white".

He said: "If it is so significant that masks should be being worn, can we have that really clearly? Because it makes it much easier to say to a parent: 'I'm sorry, that is part of the expectation just like wearing a school uniform, doing your homework and all the other stuff. This is more important than that and therefore you need to be wearing it.' I think we need a clearer steer on that."

Mr Barton added that heads could "do without" disputes about face masks.

Addressing the education select committee on Tuesday, he said: "I'm hoping that people won't get into disputes that lead to young people having to be excluded from school because they're not prepared to wear a face mask.

"I really hope we don't have to do that and instead we have a sense that: 'When I wear a face mask I'm not doing it for my self interest, I'm doing it as an act of altruism. I'm demonstrating as part of a community that we are looking after each other.'

"And what I'm picking up from members - for all the frustration with a small group of parents they're having - generally, people are proceeding with that kind of spirit of social generosity."