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Primary school pupils should NOT be told to wear masks, says No10

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 02/03/2021 Nicholas Cecil

Primary school pupils should not be told to wear face masks when they return to class next week, Downing Street said today.

No10 issued the statement after a London council advised primary as well as secondary schools that students should wear face coverings.

The Department for Education has contacted Redbridge council about the 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 from March 8.

“You have seen our guidance which is clear, that face coverings are only necessary for pupils in Year 7 and above.

“The Department for Education (DfE) is in contact with the local council on that matter.”

He stressed that the advice for secondary school pupils to wear face masks would be reviewed at Easter.

However, Redbridge Council was sticking by its stance on primary schools.

A spokesperson said: “We have provided comprehensive advice to our schools. In some cases, where we have gone beyond the DfE advice, we have used Independent SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advice.

“We advised primary schools to encourage the use of face-coverings indoors as per the Independent SAGE advice that pupils at both primary and secondary schools should be encouraged to wear a face-covering indoors as one of a range of health and safety measures.”

Downing Street also defended the fact that the school face coverings guidance was advisory rather than mandatory after Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, raised concerns that it could lead to “mask anarchy”.

“We have said it is advisory and it will remain the case,” stressed the No10 spokesman.

He emphasised the benefits of the testing for returning school pupils which will require “opt-in” parental consent rather than being an “opt-out” system which would assume parents gave their agreement unless they said otherwise.

Concerns have been raised that thousands of pupils could miss out on being tested because their parents have not given consent.

Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, said local headteachers were still waiting for hundreds of consent forms to be returned with just days to go before schools fully re-open.

She told The Standard: “We all want schools to reopen, but it’s vital that they can do so safely.

“With some schools yet to receive consent forms for over half of their pupils to be tested, shouldn’t school testing be ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’?

“More pupils would be tested, parents could still choose, and families would be safer. We can all see this problem on the horizon, why isn’t the Government acting now before it becomes a far bigger problem next week?”

Asked about the issue, the No10 spokesman said: “We are introducing this testing regime to ensure we can spot and identify cases of the virus quickly and to ensure that those who are positive can isolate.

“We know lots of people carry the virus asymptomatically and this testing will allow us to spot those cases in pupils.”

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