“Huge numbers” of British schoolchildren are refusing to wear masks in classrooms in line with government guidance, a union official has said.
In its latest guidance issued on Jan. 2, the UK Department for Education (DfE) recommended that secondary school pupils in England should wear face coverings inside classrooms to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Before that, masks were already recommended in outdoor communal areas and corridors.
Secondary school students are also advised to take a lateral flow test twice a week.
But according to the NASUWT teachers’ union, there has been strong resistance from pupils to the new policy.
Damien McNulty, a national executive member of the union, told the BBC on Thursday: “Sadly, we have had reports in the last 24 hours of at least six secondary schools in the northwest of England where children, in huge numbers, are refusing to take lateral flow tests or to wear masks.”
“We’ve got one school in Lancashire where only 67 children out of 1,300 are prepared to have a lateral flow test and wear masks,” he said.
McNulty said this was likely to be the case in other parts of the country.
He called it “a public health emergency” and said schools should engage with parents and pupils to encourage uptake.
A DfE spokeswoman told the BBC: “Schools know their pupils best and can decide how best to encourage them to wear face coverings and take COVID tests.”
“No-one should ever be denied education on the grounds that they are, or are not, wearing a face covering,” she said.
Despite having recommended mask-wearing in schools, the government admitted on Jan. 5 that the evidence on the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing COVID-19 transmission in education settings remains “not conclusive.”
A DfE evidence review found that studies have provided “mixed results” on the practice, and admitted mask-wearing has a negative effect on learning.
A DfE survey conducted in March 2021 found that 80 percent of pupils reported that wearing a face covering made it difficult to communicate, and 55 percent felt it made learning more difficult.
In response to the DfE review, Sarah Lewis, professor of molecular epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said the studies outlined in the review do not provide justification for recommending mask-wearing in schools.
“The negative impacts of mask-wearing on communication and learning in schools are outlined in the report and mask-wearing has an especially detrimental effect on those with hearing impairments who are excluded from class discussion,” she said.
“Where there is insufficient evidence of a benefit of a policy and evidence of harms, the default should be not to intervene.”
PA Media contributed to this report.