Opposition criticise timing of announcement on face masks in Wales’ schools

A child working with a teacher wearing a face mask. (Picture by Todd Cromar)

The Welsh Government has been criticised for waiting until after politicians met for a Senedd meeting before releasing new guidance on the wearing of face masks in schools.

The government announced that it will be up to schools and councils to decide if face coverings are used in Welsh schools.

Earlier, questions had been asked by politicians at the Senedd about whether face masks should be worn in school corridors, as is the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of England under local lockdown.

But the change in guidance was not communicated at the Senedd meeting and only published once it was over, a move criticised by Shadow Minister for Health Andrew RT Davies.

“As soon as plenary finishes, the Welsh Government releases a statement on face coverings in schools,” he said.

“Completely unacceptable that this was not delivered verbally to members this afternoon given its significance.”

Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies said the announcement was “issued literally minutes after plenary. The Welsh Government needs to get a grip.”

Blaenau Gwent’s Labour MS Alun Davies said he agreed. “All government statements wherever possible should be made to parliament,” he said. “Especially when it has been recalled to discuss these matters.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford had told the Senedd meeting earlier there was a “part to be played” for face masks in Welsh secondary schools in areas that see rising cases of coronavirus, and where buildings do not allow pupils to move around safely.

 

‘Advice’

The Welsh Government said the use of masks is recommended for people aged 11 onwards indoors where social distancing cannot be maintained, including on school transport.

But Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services and Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education said they were not mandating their use in schools, saying instead that schools must assess their own circumstances and students’ before making a decision.

“We are advised that while face coverings are likely to be of little value in children under the age of 11 years, the rates of infection and transmission increase after from the age of 11 onwards and could have a role in risk mitigation,” they said in a statement.

“The current advice from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales is that face coverings are recommended for all members of the public over 11 years in indoor settings in which social distancing cannot be maintained, including schools and school transport.

“We will amend our operational guidance for schools and FE to require settings and local authorities to undertake risk assessments of their estates to determine if face coverings should be recommended for their staff and young people in communal areas. This will also include school and college transport.”

Teaching union NAHT Cymru said it was “unacceptable that school leaders are expected to shoulder the responsibility of deciding if face coverings are required in schools”.

“Headteachers are not medical experts and the Welsh Government should not put them in this position,” the union’s director Laura Doel said.

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