Education Secretary hints masks could be part of Covid plans to keep schools open

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Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary  (PA Wire)
Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary (PA Wire)

The Education Secretary has hinted that face coverings could be part of “contingency plans” required to keep classrooms open if there is a further spike in Covid cases among school children.

Nadhim Zahawi, who was promoted from his vaccine minister post in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet reshuffle last month, told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference that the Department for Education’s (DfE) extra measures would be targeted at keeping in-person lessons going.

It comes after new figures showed that one in 20 young people at secondary school in England were estimated to have had coronavirus last week.

Watch: UK reports further 30,301 cases

At a Policy Exchange event in Manchester on Sunday, Mr Zahawi was asked whether he planned to order school children to wear masks if coronavirus cases continued to escalate.

Mr Zahawi replied: “We have got contingency plans in the department if we see further disruption.

“My very strong focus has to be to protect education.”

The Cabinet minister said the recent Big Ask survey by children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, which garnered half a million responses, found that children were “not snowflakes” – a term used to describe people who are seen to be soft or easily offended – when it came to dealing with pandemic disruption.

“One, they found that those young people are not snowflakes, they are pretty resilient, they have done pretty well to get through this pandemic,” said the Education Secretary.

“Two, they do want conditional support on things like mental health, both creating safe spaces but also that they value online counselling, one-to-one counselling.

“But we have got contingency plans to make sure that education remains open because actually what they told us is that they really value being back at school with their school mates, in front of a teacher, learning and letting those creative juices flow.”

Mr Zahawi, who is due to give his conference speech on Monday, said he was in “listening mode” as he fielded questions during the panel event looking at the future of vocational education for post-18s.

Watch: Schoolboy one of first in England to get Covid-19 jab in 12-15 rollout

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