Face coverings in schools – Welsh Government “passing the buck rather than leading the way”
Opposition parties and a teaching union have reacted to this afternoon’s announcement by the Welsh Government on the use of facemasks in schools.
The government has handed responsibility for deciding whether face coverings should be worn in schools over to councils and schools themselves.
Ministers said the use of masks was being recommended for pupils aged 11 and over in settings where social distancing can’t be maintained, such as school buildings and buses.
However, they stopped short of making it mandatory, meaning the final decision will be made at a local level.
Councils and schools are being asked to conduct risk assessments before choosing if face coverings should be used in communal areas and on school transport.
Conservative MS Suzy Davies – the Shadow Minister for Education – has responded to the announcement on pupils wearing face coverings in schools, saying:
“We said yesterday that policy in relation to face coverings must be led by scientific evidence alone.
If the evidence proves that wearing a face mask will create a safer environment for students and staff alike – and crucially, enabling more students to get back into school, back into education, and back to learning – then we would consider supporting their introduction.
However, the announcement by the Health and Education Ministers is the worst of both worlds, putting the responsibility on the shoulders of schools and councils, while trying to absolve itself of responsibility for the decision.
Sadly, I am not really surprised; the Welsh Labour-led Government’s inconsistency and mixed-messaging over wearing facemasks on school transport showed us what to expect over wearing face covering in schools.
Also, primary and special needs schools will need different guidance from secondary schools. Guidance would also give schools certainty that, where pupils need to be exempt from wearing them for a variety of reasons, then they have formal support to do that.
The government here in Wales should have shown leadership – which it has not – and it should have issued definitive guidance.
Many students and their parents are naturally going to be a little apprehensive by the return to school after so long, and into what will be a very different environment and need reassurance. They have not been given it.”
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Transformation of Public Services Delyth Jewell MS Said,
“This is the latest example of the Welsh Government passing the buck rather than leading the way. It’s not good enough that Ministers aren’t setting national policy.
Local authorities are already under huge pressures due to the Covid 19 pandemic. With under a week to go until schools reopen, teachers, parents and pupils need clarity not another layer of bureaucracy.
The education sector has already endured months of confusion and leaving it in limbo with days to go is no way to start the new term.”
Teachers union NAHT Cymru has said headteachers should not be put in the position to decide on whether their pupils need to wear face masks.
Everyone wants to see pupils back in class, with their teachers and their classmates.
School leaders and their teams have worked hard over the summer playing their part to get schools ready for the start of the Autumn term.
We need the Welsh Government to demonstrate they are in control of this situation.
There needs to be absolute clarity about who is required to wear face coverings and when they need to be worn, this should include clear information in regards to pupils, teachers and parents.
If the government leaves this decision-making to individual schools or local authorities, we will once again see a mixed economy across Wales, with different schools having different measures in place which will be unsettling and potentially unsafe for pupils, parents and staff alike.
This will portray a message of confusion, not confidence in returning to school.
If face coverings become mandatory in certain schools, then they will have to purchase many thousands of masks.
This will undoubtedly come at an additional and unforeseen cost and may result in shortages as demand increases.
The government needs to guarantee that enough masks will be available to schools and that the costs of getting hold of them are met in full or run the very real risk that schools will not reopen next week.”
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