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Unions and scientists renew calls to keep masks in secondary schools

UNIONS and scientists have renewed calls for the government to retain the requirement for face masks to be worn in secondary schools, amid reports that ministers are set to scrap it.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was reported today to be planning to lift the measure as part of step three of the government’s “road map,” expected on May 17.

The move comes despite a letter sent to Mr Williamson earlier this week by scientists, public health experts, education unions and parents’ groups, cautioning against easing the measure before June 21, describing masks as “an essential part of the wider system of control in schools.”

It also follows news that Wilsthorpe School, in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, remained closed after the bank holiday with more than 100 students and staff testing positive for the virus.

Mr Williamson told the Daily Telegraph that removing face masks would “hugely improve interactions between teachers and students.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We will be very pleased when (masks) are no longer needed — but we advised the government to assess the impact of further opening up before removing this measure.

“Schools are doing a very good job of keeping pupils and staff safe and they should be permitted to retain the mask-wearing in the classroom if they think it necessary for reasons such as a rise in local infection rates.”

School leaders’ union NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Parents, pupils and staff will want to understand why removing the requirement for face coverings in classrooms is considered appropriate when it is not for other enclosed spaces.

“We expect that school leaders will continue to work closely with their staff and communities and make decisions based on their risk assessments and local circumstances.”

Jon Richards, head of education at Unison, said: “New concerns over Covid variants and some increase in school infections show more caution is needed.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry and put staff, pupils and the community at risk.”

Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that removing the requirement from May 17 could lead to more young people getting ill during the assessment period in secondary schools and colleges.

He said: “Not all adults have been vaccinated and many school teachers are relatively young as well, and we haven’t even started vaccinating adolescents yet.”

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