Calls for schools to make up their own minds about wearing of face masks after PM relaxes rules
Schools should be allowed to make up their own minds as to whether students need to wear masks after the Prime Minister announced the current ruling will end on Monday.
Peter Gruen, the chair of the GORSE Academies Trust, which has six secondary schools and a college in Leeds and the surrounding area has called for each individual school to decide what is best for its own staff and students.
It comes as Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference last night "We will no longer require face coverings in classrooms, or for students in communal areas, in secondary schools and colleges."
He announced that more indoor mixing will be allowed to take place from May 17 and it is hoped the move - which has been taken amid declining infection rates - will improve interaction between teachers and students, and ensure the clearest possible communication to support learning.
All other protective measures - such as ventilation and social distancing where possible - will remain in schools, and regular rapid testing will continue to help find asymptomatic cases when they do occur.
Staff are not required to wear face coverings in the classroom, but they should continue to wear them in communal areas, such as the staff room, where social distancing may not be possible.
A former Leeds councillor, Mr Gruen said: "My view is that I can understand the government wanting to renormalise the situation as much as possible but I hope each individual setting can make the final determination so that this is up to date guidance, but not instruction.
"People in local settings can use their judgement as to what is best for their particular circumstance and hopefully there will be a sensible compromise for people.
"Nobody wants to jeapordise the gains that have happened so if people feel safer - staff or students - let's just leave the final judgement, within the guidance, to the responsibility of local individuals."
MPs and parents have raised concerns about face coverings in class disrupting pupils' learning and wellbeing since they were introduced in March.
But union leaders and scientists have called for them to remain in classrooms beyond next week to ensure pupils, staff, parents and the community are not put at risk of infection.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "It is obviously better for communication and learning if masks aren't required in classrooms, but any decision to this effect must follow the scientific advice, and it is very worrying that the government's decision appears to contradict the published evidence.
"This is particularly troublesome in light of the fact that a Covid strain first detected in India has recently been declared a 'variant of concern' by Public Health England as this would suggest the need for greater caution."
He added: "For the sake of a few more weeks all this unnecessary anxiety could have been avoided and we don't understand why the government is in such a rush over this issue."