Primary schools told by council that pupils must wear masks – despite official guidance

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
A child works at school in a face mask - Halfpoint
A child works at school in a face mask - Halfpoint

A London council has become the first to tell all primary schools in its area that children should wear face masks all day.

Redbridge Council in east London has written to all 56 primaries under its control, advising that masks should be worn by pupils as young as four all day apart from when they are eating.

Children from Reception to Year Six have been told to wear face coverings “in all areas of the school” including both “teaching and non-teaching spaces”.

Last week the Prime Minister announced that secondary school students should wear masks in the classroom when they return if it is not possible for them to keep two metres apart.

Official guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) states that children in primary schools do not need to wear masks.

The Telegraph has previously revealed that individual primary headteachers started to write to parents telling them that children will need to use face coverings when they return to the classroom on March 8.

However, Redbridge is understood to be the first council to instruct all the primary schools under its remit that pupils should wear masks.

It came amid warnings that the secondary testing plan was in chaos, with some reports that up to half of parents are declining to give permission for their children to be tested.

Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, told the Commons that some schools are “unable to test up to half of their pupils”, as she called for testing to be on an opt-out rather than an opt-in basis to ensure greater take up.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said that the Government expects parents to give permission to “all secondary school pupils” to be tested twice a week.

Meanwhile, the Government was accused of risking creating "mask anarchy" unless regulations on face coverings in schools are made clearer.

Robert Halfon MP, the Tory chair of the education select committee, insisted "definitive regulations" must be put in place on whether students should wear face coverings.

Redbridge council officials first wrote to primary schools in January to say that all pupils attending schools – which at the time was limited to key workers’ children and vulnerable youngsters – should wear face masks “given the increased transmissibility of the new Covid variants”.

Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council confirmed today that the advice to primary schools remains unchanged.

“We have provided comprehensive advice to our schools. In some cases, where we have gone beyond the DfE advice, we have used the advice from Independent Sage,” he said.

“We have advised primary schools to encourage the use of face coverings indoors, as per the Independent Sage advice that pupils at both primary and secondary should be encouraged to wear a face covering indoors as one of a range of health and safety measures.”

In December, when Redbridge had among the worst Covid rates in England, the council went against government guidance to say that it backed schools to close early for the Christmas holidays.

Primary schools in Redbridge have been writing to parents setting out arrangements for the return of pupils next week.

The headteacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Primary School told parents that children need to wear masks all day and there are “no exceptions”.

The school said: “In line with Redbridge Council advice (and Independent Sage) all children in Years 2-6 will be wearing disposable masks which will be changed at lunchtime.

“There are no exemptions; this is a condition of returning to school as per our risk assessment. This will be reviewed by the council on a regular basis and school will follow localised advice to ensure that we keep the children safe.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school from March 8.

“Our guidance is clear, face coverings are only necessary for pupils in Year 7 and above and we are in contact with the council on the matter.”