Masks return to classrooms in England to help reduce spread of Omicron variant, reports ITV News' Romilly Weeks
High school students in England will again have to wear masks in classrooms as the UK faces an increase in Covid-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The government said the recommendation for secondary schools and colleges will be temporary and will be in effect until January 26, when 'Plan B' Covid measures are to be reviewed.
It added that the reintroduction of face masks in classrooms "will maximize the number of children in school" for the "maximum amount of time".
Headteachers welcomed the move, saying schools and colleges would take it "at their pace".
Face masks are already recommended in common areas for older students and staff.
Shade Health Secretary Wes Streeting said he would rather have masks in classrooms than children who have to go to school because of Covid, because it is important that students continue to learn.
He also spoke to Sky News about the relevance of testing: “H
owever, I think there are two things the government can and should do. The first is about testing. The students have to test twice a week. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that this was not done properly.
“So the message for the government is: make sure that the tests come, make sure that students can test twice a week.
“And my message to parents and students is 'take the tests', because the big challenge this month will be to keep students learning, avoid mass absences and of course make sure the staff is good enough to go to school as well. to go to school."
However, there were concerns about the provision of lateral flow tests, prompting calls from a head teachers' union to ensure the tests are available to schools.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT School Leaders' Union, said: "The difficulties the public has had in accessing lateral flow testing in recent weeks has made many people nervous that they will not be available when needed. is for school staff and students.
“If lateral flow testing is critical to enabling students and staff to return to school quickly, then a ready-to-use offering should be available to schools when they go back in January and throughout the period. "
But according to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), there are currently no concerns about the delivery of lateral flow tests to schools.
The government has been criticized from within its own party over the issue of face masks in schools, as Robert Halfon, chairman of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, told Times Radio he is concerned about a potential negative impact of mandating face masks. masks for children in secondary schools.
The Conservative MP said: “I am concerned about the mask policy. The children's minister came to my committee and said there was very limited evidence on the efficacy of masks in educational settings.
“Much respected Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said they can really hinder the natural expressions of learning in children, the national Children's Deaf Society has tweeted their big reservations about mask policy, and what I'm concerned about is going on.” about the effect masks have on children's well-being, mental health and anxiety, and we already know that the lockdown was a huge spike in children's mental health problems."
Mr Barton said: "While there are clear drawbacks to using face coverings in classrooms, it is clear that the Omicron variant poses a very significant additional risk to education with the potential for further widespread disruption to schools, colleges and young people.
“It is absolutely essential that everything possible is done to reduce transmission and ensure that children stay in school, which is why we support the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms for students in grades 7 and above.
“Face covers are already advised in the common areas for students in grades 7 and above.