'School leaders in a tricky position over mask-wearing policy'

More than 6,000 children in the three boroughs are off school and self-isolating. Picture: Getty Ima

Many secondary pupils want to keep wearing a face mask in Bobby Moore Academy - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As many parents and families will know, the government’s recent changes in rules around masks in schools have placed school leaders in a tricky position.

On a national level, everyone can recognise that rates of infection have dropped significantly over the past few months.

Here in Newham, school leaders face three areas of challenge around this. The first is the presence of several "variants of concern" in the local area, about which our pupils, parents and staff remain understandably worried.

The second is the close proximity in which pupils and staff are still working on a daily basis. The kind of social distancing measures which could be implemented in an office, restaurant or factory simply cannot be implemented in a classroom setting.

The third is that many school staff, and of course all pupils, are not yet eligible for vaccination. Prioritising vaccination by age rather than by key worker status has left out many teachers, learning support workers, cleaners and school administrators, all of whom are working in school day-in, day-out.

Bobby Moore Academy principal Daniel Botting highlights the positives of schools during Covid crisis.

Bobby Moore Academy principal Daniel Botting highlights the positives of schools during Covid crisis. - Credit: Archant

These challenges have led to a number of schools taking a more cautious approach to the lifting of lockdown measures, including us here at Bobby Moore Academy. Our pupils have been superb, as always, since their return on  March 8 - mask wearing, hand washing, playground zones and so on.

These measures have worked really well at keeping everyone in our school community safe. Our secondary pupils do not see it as a great imposition to keep going with masks, just as our primary pupils do not object to washing their hands more often.

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Many among our secondary community have expressed a preference that everyone continues to wear masks until we reach a point where vaccination can take place for teenagers too; they fear for the health of vulnerable friends and relatives, and they also don’t want to risk further disruption to their education from bubble closures.

Yes, there are other measures which school leaders can use to contain Covid - regular testing being perhaps the most significant.

Nonetheless, mask wearing remains a valuable tool in the fight against the spread of infection, so I ask parents to bear with school leaders as we make judgements about what the best arrangements for pupil safety here in Newham can look like.