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Ipswich school makes face masks compulsory as headteachers welcome ‘flexible’ new rules

PUBLISHED: 07:30 27 August 2020

Suffolk school leaders react to government's U-turn on face coverings in secondary schools.  Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Suffolk school leaders react to government's U-turn on face coverings in secondary schools. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Secondary school leaders have welcomed the government’s U-turn on face coverings as it gives them the “flexibility” to make the decisions which are best for their school – with one Ipswich headteacher making them mandatory.

Headteacher of Chantry Academy Craig D'Cunha, has made face coverings mandatory in his secondary school of 900 students.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHeadteacher of Chantry Academy Craig D'Cunha, has made face coverings mandatory in his secondary school of 900 students. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The government reversed its policy on face coverings on Tuesday night, giving headteachers at secondary schools the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it followed updated advice from the World Health Organization, which now advise that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults”.

The government now states that additional measures should be taken in areas where the transmission of the virus is high, such as areas of local lockdown.

The change in rules will not mean face coverings are necessary in the classroom, but will allow schools to introduce them in corridors and communal spaces where social distancing is more difficult.

Headteacher of Stowmarket High School, Dave Lee-Allan, has welcomed the 'flexibility' given to school leaders regarding face coverings. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHeadteacher of Stowmarket High School, Dave Lee-Allan, has welcomed the 'flexibility' given to school leaders regarding face coverings. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

‘We are not back to normal yet’

Craig D’Cunha, headteacher of Chantry Academy in Ipswich, has decided to make face coverings mandatory at the school – a rule he chose to implement before the government reversed its policy.

He said: “Students and staff will be required to wear face masks between lessons, in corridors and during social time.

“Face masks are a visual reminder for people that the virus is still out there and we are not back to normal yet.

Geoff Barton, former head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds and the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has welcomed the new rules. Picture: GREGG BROWNGeoff Barton, former head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds and the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has welcomed the new rules. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“They are another method which we are implementing to increase the safety of our staff and students, including a one-way system in the school, forward facing classrooms, rolling break times and social distancing signs.”

Mr D’Cunha said students will be spoken to and sanctioned if they do not obey the rules, however some will be exempt for health reasons.

He said he doesn’t feel there will be any issues with people following the regulations, adding the 900-student school is “very fortunate to have a strong community”.

The school is also providing all staff members with a Perspex face covering so students can still see the teacher’s faces, aiding those who are hard of hearing or rely on lip-reading.

Graham White who is the Secetary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said the decision should have been made sooner. Picture: Tudor Morgan-OwenGraham White who is the Secetary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said the decision should have been made sooner. Picture: Tudor Morgan-Owen

U-turn gives headteachers ‘flexibility’

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Meanwhile, Dave Lee-Allan, headteacher of Stowmarket High School and chairman of Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads, welcomed what he called a “helpful” policy reversal.

He said: “The change in government policy is helpful in allowing headteachers to make decisions which are best for their school and their circumstances.

“It gives us the right to have the flexibility to make those decisions.”

“One thing I am considering is that despite Suffolk having a low Covid infection rate, many families will be returning from holidays and we have no idea where they have been,” he said.

‘Make sure your children are well before sending them to school’

Graham White, NEU spokesman for Suffolk, said face masks are “essential” in schools and despite welcoming the government’s U-turn, he believes this should have been announced sooner.

“The government could have saved a lot of stress and anxiety for students, teachers and parents had they made this decision earlier on,” said Mr White.

“I would have been happier had the guidance been more mandatory, and I think it should be the same in primary schools, but I am glad the decision has finally been made.”

Mr White urged parents: “Take children’s temperatures before sending them to school, wash their clothes on a daily basis if you can and make sure your children are safe and well before sending them to school.”

He said windows ideally need to be kept open to maximise the ventilation, but understands this will become more difficult in the winter.

“Ultimately, the safety of pupils, staff, parents and carers has to be of paramount importance.”

Geoff Barton, former headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds and the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the majority of headteachers will welcome this flexibility.

He said: “It was inevitable that the policy on face coverings would change following guidance from the World Health Organisation, and we recognise that the government in Westminster has responded to our call for a quick direction on this matter with the reopening of schools imminent.

“The guidance gives secondary schools and colleges discretion over whether or not to use face coverings in communal areas, other than in parts of the country where there are local coronavirus restrictions where it advises they should be used. “The majority of school and college leaders will welcome the flexibility this affords them to decide what best suits their circumstances.”

What do you think about face coverings in schools? Let us know here.


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