OMICRON COVID UPDATE: Masks COMPULSORY for students in class at England's secondary schools
OMICRON COVID UPDATE: Children and students are set to be wearing face masks in England’s secondary school classrooms, to decrease the transmission of the Omicron variant, the government has announced.
The temporary reintroduction of compulsory face coverings attempts to answer worries about schools remaining open for face-to-face learning this upcoming term. This new rule is only for pupils and not teachers.
Although six school staff unions have issued a demand for urgent action to limit the spread of the virus, it seems this is the governments solution for the time being.
The unions feared that national exams would be put at risk, assuming that no further guidelines were to be put in place for schools.
They also called for air-cleaning units, financial support for absence cover, help with on-site testing and a lessening of Ofsted inspections.
With onsite Covid testing being introduced, schools across the UK are re-opening after the Christmas break with the aim of limiting Covid spread as much as possible.
Until now, England was the only one of the four UK nations where face masks were not recommended for pupils in classrooms.
Face coverings were recommended in schools in England between 8 March and 17 May last year. Even some individual schools and local authorities in England had taken initiative and already required masks in classrooms, meaning for those people, this new rule is one that will not change much.
'EDUCATION the number one priority'
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi stated that face coverings would be required until 26 January.
Although they will be reviewed on or close to 4 January, the 26th is when the current national Plan B Covid measures run out.
He said education was the "number one priority" for the prime minister and himself, and that they would do "everything in our power" to minimise disruption.
Instilling the public with confidence and trust that we will all be ok. As they so often do.
The government also stated it would be making 7,000 air cleaning units available to early years settings, schools and colleges.
Although there are more than 24,400 schools in England, according to the latest government figures, the Department for Education said the units would only be needed in some areas of schools where opening doors and windows was not effective.
Absence of Staff members
Rising Covid rates and staff absences at the end of last term (largely down to the Omicron variant scare) have led to worries of even further disruption to and already much disrupted education system.
The four main teaching unions covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland - ASCL, NAHT, NEU and NASUWT - plus the GMB and Unison, have issued a joint statement calling for urgent steps to help schools.
It said schools must avoid exam disruption, for a third successive year, and remove uncertainty and additional workloads for students and teachers. Students and teachers are no doubt finding it hard to constantly think about the possibility of the exam being cancelled, changed or delayed whilst trying to prepare as best as they can.
More specifically, it said:
- Masks in secondary school classrooms are "overdue" and, while there are drawbacks, it is clear the Omicron variant poses a "very significant additional risk"
- Spring term will be "extremely challenging" with the biggest problem likely to be high levels of absence
- The additional air cleaning units are welcome but "adequate ventilation in classrooms should not be limited to first come, first served".
The DfE shortly will begin the process by which schools can obtain the new air cleaning units, with every school expected to get at least one for areas in and around schools that do not receive natural ventilation from windows or doors.
Freelance piano and voice teacher Megan Skinner, who is based in East Sussex, said she was "frankly terrified about returning to school" as she had nearly died from blood clots in her lungs six years ago and her GP had told her she could develop them again if she caught Covid.
She said she was worried about the lack of adequate ventilation for some of her classes, adding: "I am exposed to five times the number of pupils that most teachers will be, and apart from the risk to me, were I to contract Covid, I could certainly be a super spreader."
It seems to be a of high importance to everybody that wearing face masks to prevent Covid transmission in schools should be implemented and I’m sure many parents and teachers are glad this new rule is being put in place. Hopefully the children (and some parents) of the UK comply to this rule, as I think I speak for everyone when I say this Covid lark can frankly clear off as soon as possible and if we don’t work together as members of the public, no progress will be made to going back to normal.