NEU chief accuses Boris Johnson of "devolving responsibility" over face masks in schools

26 August 2020, 20:47 | Updated: 26 August 2020, 20:49

By Fiona Jones

National Education Union chief Dr Mary Bousted accused the Prime Minister of "devolving responsibility" of face masks to headteachers who are not public health experts and will have to endure yet another "massive logistical exercise."

Boris Johnson has abandoned yesterday's advice that pupils should not wear face masks in English secondary schools.

Instead face coverings will be mandatory in communal areas and corridors for children in regions of local lockdowns. For other parts of England, headteachers will retain discretion on this decision.

While Dr Mary did feel sympathy for the Government in these ever-changing times, she criticised their behaviour.

"What I think is really damaging and really difficult to deal with is is a government that says absolutely not, schools are safe, we are not going to change our minds, we are not going to say that students over 12 should be wearing face masks, only then to change their mind when schools will be starting next Tuesday."

She told Tom, "It may sound easy to get students to wear masks but if half your students arrive without masks, where are you going to source them, what are you going to do? It it is yet another massive logistical exercise for the school leaders in those lockdown areas."

NEU chief accuses Boris Johnson of "devolving responsibility" over face masks in schools
NEU chief accuses Boris Johnson of "devolving responsibility" over face masks in schools. Picture: PA/LBC

Dr Mary continued that headteachers "are not public health experts" yet Boris Johnson's guidance on face masks in schools has left them to decide whether coverings should be worn in their institution.

"On what grounds will they make the decision whether or not to insist that students wear masks in communal places? It is devolving responsibility over something where they're not experts and they're asking them to take responsibility.

"Either they have them in communal areas or they don't."

Tom countered that one cannot ask the Government to give tailored advice to each and every institution, observing that the eventuality would always be that school leaders would have to make a choice based on the guidance.

Dr Mary dismissed this, "Secondary schools in England have a 90% occupancy. It is almost impossible between most school corridors to have a one metre social distance, they're too narrow, they're too short.

"It seems to me it would have been a lot simpler to go either do it or don't do it. At least then that gives some certainty to school leaders who have yet another very difficult decision to make in an area where they're not going to be experts."

Reflecting on the evolving advice, Dr Mary said she thinks schools should open, however she would feel a lot happier and that schools were safer if there was a better track and trace system in place.