Norfolk schools will expect pupils to wear masks - even if it's not 'mandatory'
- Credit: PA
While the public remains divided over the idea of face masks in classrooms, head teachers have shown no such reservations.
For them, ignoring government guidance, even if not legally binding, would be most unwise.
The Department for Education (DfE) has recommended secondary school students wear face coverings where social distancing cannot be maintained from March 8, but stopped short of making it "mandatory". Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons education committee, said the "confusion" risked "mask anarchy" if definitive regulations were not released.
But for many Norfolk head teachers, their schools will be following the "guidance" as if they had no choice in the matter.
Alison Mobbs, principal of Lynn Grove Academy, Gorleston, said: "There's no real confusion here on my part. Even government 'guidance' has legal ramifications, and the way DfE instruction works is that it's always a must. Teachers are not health experts and we take recommendations from the government seriously."
She added: "I am not prepared to turn this into a big deal: we will be encouraging children to spend as much time as possible outdoors to avoid wearing masks, but when indoors they will wear them."
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Ms Mobbs said the arrangements would only be in place until Easter before they were reviewed, and that her experience during the pandemic so far was of parents and students fully complying with instructions.
A Norwich headteacher, who has asked to remain anonymous, said it was "unhelpful" for the government to have only "recommended" masks, as this implied the evidence for their efficacy was dubious.
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"Face masks have become so contentious, and the government knows this. Although there is clear evidence they are effective in preventing the transmission of disease, there are still those who strongly oppose using them in schools."
He said the government's equivocation had put school leaders in a difficult position, but that all schools, in the end, would "follow the evidence" while trying their best to make children comfortable.
Likewise for Michael Brewer at Thetford Grammar, where children will be wearing masks indoors and will be asked to bring in three usable coverings with them for each day.
He added that the school fully respected and supported children who could not wear them, and was committed to "working through parents' concerns."
Jon Perriss, head at Langley School in Loddon, said they would be abiding by government guidance, while an Inspiration Trust spokesperson said their head teachers would do the same, while making provisions for students who were exempt.
Meanwhile, an EDP Facebook question, asking whether masks should be compulsory in schools, received 500 comments in six hours, with many saying continuing "abnormality" was bad for students' mental health.
One reader said children had been "robbed of so much already" and deserved a "normal" school experience, while another said masks would prove a "distraction" to learning.
Others questioned if schools were really "safe to return to" if masks were still necessary, and suggested that the twice-weekly testing should be sufficient in stopping the virus's spread.
A teacher said it had been hard enough for her in the past year working 12-hour shifts with face masks on, and that open windows and spaced-out desks should be enough.
The majority of people commenting, however, had no problem with the idea.
One said: "My son's high school have worm them since September, with zero issues. He isn't bothered by having to wear one all day at all."
Another said it was a "small price to pay" for children to see their friends again.
Julie McCulloch, policy director at the ASCL union, said while it was frustrating schools had been left to "navigate a minefield", they wanted to "encourage pupils and parents to support schools by using face coverings as directed".
A spokesperson for the National Association of Headteachers added: "Erring on the side of caution would seem a sensible approach to take given the information coming out of the WHO."