Should face masks be used in schools?

Edit – On the 26th August the government changed their advice on face coverings following the World Health Organization announcing that masks should be worn in school. Masks will become mandatory in ‘communal spaces’ for schools that are in areas facing a local lockdown.

Parents and Teachers for Excellence fully supports the current DfE guidance against face coverings in educational settings. This advice is based on recommendations from Public Health England and supported by the opposition. However we are aware that since the guidance is constantly under review it is subject to change. Given that the response to the pandemic has been characterised by U-turns there is still the possibility that face coverings will become compulsory in school.

We are concerned that a minority of voices could have undue influence. Last week the NASUWT called for face coverings to be made mandatory in schools. On top of this a small number of schools have already announced plans to implement compulsory masks. Their argument is that since face coverings are required in most indoor settings there is no reason why schools should be exempt. This fails to take into account the various factors at play, most notably the detrimental effect on learning and whether masks truly provide protection in educational settings.

 What does the evidence show?

It is widely accepted that face coverings form part of a package of preventative measures against the transmission of the virus. While the data may not be conclusive it is reasonable to assume that the significant scientific consensus suggests that they should be worn in certain settings. However the usefulness of face coverings in an educational setting has yet to be sufficiently supported by any study.

The government have made it compulsory to wear masks when spending a short period of time indoors interacting with people you do not regularly come into contact with. Unlike other indoor settings the staff and children in schools will be spending all day inside. Further they will be interacting with the same people on a daily basis. Schools are in this sense unique environments similar to offices which have also been exempt from compulsory masks. The parallel made by the NASUWT between schools and other indoor areas does not stand.

The case against masks

The most important factor against the implementation of face coverings is the impact they would have on education. The number one priority for all schools is to maintain an environment conducive to learning. Wearing masks in the classroom will undoubtedly jeopardise this goal. Not only will masks create discomfort for pupils but they will ruin the teacher’s ability to communicate and be understood. There is nothing more vital to education than communication. At a time when we must do our utmost to provide the most efficient lessons possible no further handicaps are required.

Further it is unrealistic to think that children will adhere to the protocol of wearing masks correctly. They may not fully cover their nose or worse still they could damage their masks over the course of the school day. This will result in the masks failing to stop transmission while still proving a distraction.

Given the potential harm to education the burden of proof is on the unions and those advocating the wearing of masks. Unless they can provide compelling evidence that there is a significant risk to staff that can be mitigated through face masks the idea should not even be entertained.

If you agree you can get involved by signing this petition created by Us for Them. Us for Them are a group of parents who have been campaigning against masks and social distancing in schools.