Why many schools in England plan to encourage pupils to keep wearing masks despite end of Plan B

ITV News North of England Correspondent Hannah Miller reports on how many schools in England have defied the order to scrap masks, with some accusing the policy as being politically motivated

It has become part of the story of the coronavirus pandemic – schools and teachers at odds with the government’s position when it has come to Covid policy. The latest development has Downing Street telling schools, some of whom aren’t too pleased, that they should “follow the latest guidance” on face masks; which says student no longer have to wear them in the classroom or communal areas from next week. But with cases rising, there are plenty of schools around the country choosing to ignore that altogether.

In Wigan, the Director of Public Health has said the requirement to wear masks would stay in place until the end of the February half-term, pointing to high local transmission rates and hospital admissions as part of their rationale. There are concerns about the number of teachers being off sick with Covid and lessons being impacted. Kevin Courtney, the general secretary of the National Education Union, told me earlier today that they were worried that this would become more of a common theme if masks were removed from schools and that more lessons would be impacted as a result.

His union had already been getting plenty of reports from around the country about the increased use of supply staff due to Covid. He also said he felt the policy had been put in place to ease some of the pressure on the prime minister and that now wasn’t the right time for pupils to stop wearing masks.

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Number 10 disagrees with that analysis, arguing that “children have been one of the hardest hit as a result of the disruption throughout the pandemic” and today the business secretary was arguing that now was the right time for this policy, as the most severe impact of Covid had been dealt with. I’m told ultimately that Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi will need to be consulted by any region that decides to ignore the guidance.

He wrote to MPs earlier this week saying he had agreed with local directors of public health that if there were spikes in cases in local areas he would assess the evidence to ensure that face masks were needed and would be helpful - a move which has angered some schools.

Nadhim Zahawi said the removal of face masks is because he wants to ensure pupils can properly resume in-person learning. Credit: PA

Mr Zahawi says the removal of face masks is because his priority is to get back to “face-to-face education for all students” and that he wants to ensure there is as little disruption to students and learning as possible to ensure “children can enjoy a normal experience in the classroom”. Ultimately, whether this policy is the right call will be assessed over time once we can analyse the impact removing masks has had on schools and teaching.