Government stops councils enforcing masks in English primary schools

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.

Step 1, part 1

All pupils and college students return fully. People can meet one other person outside, not just for exercise. Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor. The “stay at home” order will otherwise stay in place.

Step 1, part 2

Outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens. Outdoor sport for children and adults will be allowed. The official stay at home order will end, but people will be encouraged to stay local. People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

Step 2

The official outline plan states that the next steps will rely on data, and the dates given mean “no earlier than”. In step two, there will be a reopening of non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and public buildings such as libraries and museums. Most outdoor venues can open, including pubs and restaurants but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopening will be settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open but again people can only go alone or with their own household. Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities, but only for one household. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

Step 3

Again with the caveat “no earlier than 17 May”, depending on data, vaccination levels and current transmission rates.

Step 3 entails that most mixing rules are lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens. Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households. Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.

For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer. Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.

This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a separate review.

Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, all legal limits will be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

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.

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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.”

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Headteachers have called for more clarity on masks in classrooms, after school standards minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed it was not mandatory to wear one.



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