School pupils told to wear masks in classrooms
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Pupils at a group of secondary schools in Norfolk have been told to wear face masks in lessons despite government advice that it is not necessary.
The Sapientia Education Trust has introduced a new policy requiring students to wear face coverings in the classroom at all six of its high schools.
Government guidance issued to schools and colleges states that because of mitigating measures and the “negative impact on communication”, face coverings are not necessary for pupils in class.
It adds: “Face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in the classroom should be avoided.”
The new face-covering policy was adopted this week at Attleborough Academy, Fakenham Academy, Framingham Earl High School, Old Buckenham High School, Wymondham College, and Stradbroke High School, near Eye.
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In a communication explaining the change, Chris Lloyd, health and safety manager at the trust, said: “Whilst the scientific evidence suggests children are less susceptible to the more serious effects of the virus, we cannot be complacent and with the winter flu season and a second lockdown upon us, it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure both the safety of our staff and students.”
Students have been told they can remove face masks when outdoors and exceptions will be made for those with known medical exemptions or conditions, and for students participating in physical activity lessons such as PE, music and drama.
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Mr Lloyd added: “We will continue to regularly review the situation and I fervently hope we will be able to scale back these measures in the new year.”
In a letter to parents, Karen Millar, headteacher at Stradbroke High School, said: “This is not a decision taken lightly but it is felt that as cases are increasing across the country, this is a step that needs to be taken however unpalatable it may seem.”
Parents have expressed concern over the impact on students and questioned whether it is necessary.
Craig McLeod, whose 13 and 16-year-old daughters attend Wymondham College, said: “I know that opinion is divided on the subject of masks but I feel it is harsh for children of 11 to 16 to be them all day.
“I’m surprised because the school initially said their line was we don’t want to see masks in school unless there is a very good reason. They seem to have done a complete U-turn within the space of six weeks.
“There is the comfort of having to wear a mask all day as well as it may have a negative effect on learning and teaching.”
Emma Coleman, whose son who attends Framingham Earl High has asthma, told the BBC: “I wasn’t surprised when he came home and told me he found it extremely uncomfortable and too restrictive.”
Jonathan Taylor, Sapientia Education Trust chief executive officer said: “We have seen a recent increase in positive cases in a number of our secondary schools and consequently have a number of staff and pupils self-isolating.
“This adds further disruption to what has already been an extremely difficult time for pupils, staff and our wider communities. We are doing all we can to mitigate against this.”
He said the trust was working with the Department for Education but that schools have “discretion to introduce control measures that are appropriate”.
“We have reviewed their latest guidance and our interpretation is that our measures fall within the scope of this guidance - which in itself is advisory in nature,” he added.