Schools defy Boris Johnson by asking pupils to wear face coverings

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A growing number of schools and colleges are defying Boris Johnson by asking older pupils to wear face masks in corridors and communal areas.

The Government’s official advice against masks at school was dealt a blow today when the founder of a major group of 52 schools announced that it is ordering masks which will be colour coded for different year groups.

The Evening Standard understands that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who led calls to make masks compulsory on public transport, is examining the issue and moving in the direction of backing masks for older pupils in corridors where they cannot socially distance properly.

Conservative former education secretary Justine Greening said masks “should be considered” to see if they could help the safe return of all pupils next week.

Pressure was building on the Prime Minister to order a U-turn at Westminster as Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish education secretary confirmed that from Monday there will be “obligatory guidance” to schools north of the border for pupils to wear a face covering when moving around corridors and confined shared spaces.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said there were no current plans to change the guidance to English schools, which states that masks are not appropriate in school.

Gavin Williamson on a visit to a south London primary school on Tuesday (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

A No 10 spokesman yesterday said there were “no plans” to review the guidance on face coverings in schools.

The rebellion was given a boost when Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis group of academies, revealed that it has started purchasing masks for its teachers and secondary school pupils to wear next week in certain shared spaces.

“Oasis has booked face visors & masks for all our school staff & masks (colour coded for year groups) for our secondary students for transition in corridors etc,” he tweeted. “We’re also booking extra space (offices, church halls etc.) for a number of our schools.”

But Mr Sharma told Sky News: “Public Health England has been very clear that they do not recommend the wearing of face masks in schools. And the reason for this is because pupils are obviously mixing in the same cohorts.”

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, has said evidence on whether children over 12 should wear masks in schools was “not strong”.

But the World Health Organisation has said that over-12s should wear them in some circumstances. Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said parents were asking “why should [children] wear one in Scotland but not in England”?

He told Talk Radio: “It seems to me to be a reasonable question to ask.”

He added: “If we are going to have a screeching U-turn from the Government, could we have that now so that at least we can plan for the start of term?”

The Mayor has been consulting health experts and is said to be influenced by other countries where masks are worn in confined areas by older pupils who are more likely to transmit the virus.