RULES on children wearing masks in the classroom were in chaos today as a leading scientist said schools should just open windows instead.
Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the Sage group that advises Government policy, revealed he’s “not a fan” of asking young kids to don face coverings.
? Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates…
Kids are returning to schools in Wales and Scotland from today
His remarks came as a senior Cabinet minister admitted it’s up to teachers whether or not they want to enforce mask wearing.
Some primary schools have already announced they are going to make pupils as young as five use face coverings at almost all times.
But Prof Semple said that is unnecessary because young kids present the “lowest risk to both themselves and society”.
He told the BBC: “There is really good data coming out that shows that children are half to a third as likely to acquire the virus.
“When it comes to transmitting, they are probably half as likely to transmit it as adults.
“That risk actually gets smaller as you go into younger age groups. So I am not a great fan of young children wearing face masks.”
The top scientist also said young children will find it difficult to wear masks properly.
He added: “If I had to invest in a single activity to improve the environment both for the children and the adults, I’d be looking at improving the ventilation.
“Unsealing windows that have been painted shut and kept shut for energy-saving reasons, improving air exchanges.
“That would be a much more effective way to reduce transmission in schools.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said mask rules in schools are up to teachersCredit: Rex Features
Prof Semple also insisted data shows teachers going to school “as a workplace are no more at risk than people in general society going about their daily living and normal working environment”.
The Government has recommended the use of face masks in classrooms for secondary school pupils until at least Easter.
It also says teachers and visitors in primary schools should wear them “in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas”.
But this morning the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted it’s ultimately up to teachers to decide whether to follow the guidance.
He told Sky News: “The position is it is recommended that masks are worn. I think it’s right for the Government not to be too prescriptive about this.
“We need to trust headteachers and staff to ensure that not only their school is safe, but that the practicalities are understood.
“It’s right to give that element of flexibility. I think they can be trusted to make the right decisions for the circumstances they find.”
His remarks come after parents at primary schools in south London and Hertfordshire were told children must keep their faces covered in the classroom when they return on March 8.
Pupils at Selsdon Primary School in Croydon must wear coverings at all times, except during sports lessons or when eating or drinking.
Headteacher Susan Papas said: “In order to be able to allow children to be able to play and socialise with the children in their bubble, we are asking that children from Year One to Year Six wear a face mask when in school.
“They will be taught the safe way to wear face coverings and will be asked to remove them for PE lessons, when eating and when drinking.”
And parents at Nascot Wood Junior School in Watford have been told “well-fitted” face masks are needed while in the classroom.
The school said: “We request that children wear a well-fitted face mask whilst in the classroom, as the classrooms do not allow adequate social distancing.”
Boris Johnson has launched a publicity blitz to show schools are safeCredit: Universal News & Sport
Ministers’ guidance on masks was unveiled in the PM’s roadmap to reopen the country earlier this week.
It states: “The Government recommends that the use of face coverings in Higher Education, Further Education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments – including classrooms – unless 2m social distancing can be maintained.
“Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas.
“All children will once again be expected to attend school, as they were in the autumn term.”
The mask wearing measures will be reviewed at Easter, but ministers haven’t ruled keeping them in place until the summer holidays.
Schools are set to return from March 8 for all pupils in all year groups in England – rather than a staggered approach.
Professor Chris Whitty has said good ventilation and hygiene practises will help to keep schools safe and the impact of secondary students wearing masks will be monitored over the first five weeks of school.
He fully supported the move to get kids back to school – saying the face mask measures and increased testing would help ensure the safety of students and staff.
The Chief Medical Officer said: “It is absolutely universally accepted that there are huge advantages for children to be in school – mentally and physically and for their education and life.
“If you keep children out of school, every child is disadvantaged.”
Prof Whitty said in contrast, the risk of Covid to kids was “incredibly low”, adding: “We are confident that given the huge benefits of school, the residual risk is strongly in favour of children – primary and secondary – going to school.”
And he said the Easter holidays in five weeks time would provide a natural “fire break” if cases in schools started to grow.
The Prime Minister is preparing a major school safety campaign to convince parents children are safe, despite nine teaching unions saying they want a staggered return.
The PM faces huge opposition from unions over his plan, who have warned of a huge spike in cases if all kids go back at once.
But a fresh Labour civil war exploded once again after Sir Keir Starmer threw his weight behind a “big bang” opening – to the fury of left-wingers in his party.
And they were backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who said he was “absolutely sure” the government was right to prioritise the reopening of schools, saying: “That is probably the most urgent thing, it’s been the most urgent thing right the way through.”
Pupils will also be given extra classes during the summer holidays to help them catch up with lessons missed during the pandemic.