The government has intervened to stop councils requiring children in primary schools in England to wear face masks when they return to school next week.
The move came after it emerged that Redbridge council in east London had advised headteachers that all primary school pupils in the borough should be encouraged to wear a face covering when indoors as part of Covid health and safety measures.
New government guidance for pupils returning to school next week recommends that secondary school pupils should wear masks in classrooms, but states that children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.
Responding to a report in the Telegraph that Redbridge had become the first council to tell all primary schools in the borough that children should wear face masks all day, the government said the council should not be enforcing masks in primary schools.
“The guidance is only necessary for pupils from year 7 and the Department for Education is in contact with the local council on that matter,” a government spokesperson said. “Children in primary school should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return next week.”
According to the Telegraph, the council wrote to all 56 primaries in its control advising that masks should be worn all day by pupils as young as four, apart from when they are eating, in all areas of the school including both teaching and non-teaching spaces.
The advice was first given in January and covered key workers’ children and vulnerable pupils who were in school because of concerns about increased transmissibility of the new Covid variants. Councillor Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge council confirmed the advice to primary schools remained unchanged.
A Redbridge council spokesperson said comprehensive advice had been provided for schools in the borough. “In some cases, where we have gone beyond the Department for Education advice, we have used Independent Sage 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.”
Headteachers have called for more clarity on masks in classrooms, after school standards minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed it was not mandatory to wear one.