The end of masks in the classroom as ministers defy teaching unions and plan to end compulsory covering-up from May 17
- The measure will be removed by step three of the roadmap out of lockdown
- Boris Johnson is expected to make the official announcement on Monday
- Unions and scientists want masks to remain in schools until at least June 21
The Government is planning to lift the face mask requirement for secondary school pupils in England despite opposition from unions.
Gavin Williamson told the Telegraph that the Government planned to remove the measure at step three of its road map out of lockdown, which will be no earlier than May 17.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make the announcement on Monday, according to the newspaper.
The Government is planning to lift the face mask requirement for secondary school pupils in England despite opposition from unions
Current guidance states face coverings should be worn by pupils and teachers in classrooms where social distancing cannot be maintained, but it is not mandatory.
It is expected pupils will still be encouraged to wear masks in corridors and other communal areas.
It comes as a group of unions and scientists wrote to Mr Williamson calling for face coverings to remain in schools until at least June 21, describing the measure as ‘an essential part of the wider system of control in schools’.
Mr Williamson told the Telegraph: ‘As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom at step three of the road map.’
He added: ‘Removing face masks will hugely improve interactions between teachers and students, while all other school safety measures will remain in place to help keep the virus out of classrooms.’
But many teaching unions have called for masks to be kept.
Gavin Williamson said that the Government planned to remove the measure at step three of its road map out of lockdown
Kevin Courtney, of the National Education Union, said: ‘Everyone is looking at the data and I think some schools will continue to use face masks after May 17 and the NEU would support schools in making that decision.’
The letter to Mr Williamson, from five unions representing teachers and support staff, as well as scientists, public health experts and parents, highlights concerns about the risks of developing long Covid, warning that an estimated 43,000 children and 114,000 school staff are thought to be suffering from the condition.
The letter said: ‘To strip these necessary protections, when there are already too few mitigation measures in schools, and when rates of Covid-19 are still significant, would have consequences for the health of our children and their parents as well as their communities.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘As infection rates continue to decline and our vaccination programme rolls out successfully, we plan to remove the requirement for face coverings in the classroom in line with step three of the road map.
‘Virus transmission in schools continues to drop, with the latest data showing a significant decrease in students and staff testing positive and cases isolated quickly thanks to our twice-weekly rapid testing programme.’