Unions’s fury after masks are scrapped in classrooms as they accuse PM of flouting his ‘duty of care’ to teachers and warn lifting curbs too early could cause ‘more disruption’

  • PM says it’s no longer mandatory to wear a face covering at school from today
  • The move was hailed by some as a large step towards a return to normality
  • But the National Education Union has expressed caution over the plans 

Unions reacted furiously to the scrapping of masks in classrooms last night, accusing Boris Johnson of flouting his ‘duty of care’ to teachers.

The Prime Minister lifted a range of restrictions on Wednesday, including axing work from home guidance and removing the need for Covid passes at large venues next week.

From today, it will also no longer be mandatory for pupils to wear face coverings while learning at school.

The move was hailed in some areas as a large step towards a return to normality, but the National Education Union warned lifting curbs too early could in face cause more disruption.

Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘Schools and colleges are still feeling the impact of Covid-19. 

‘The latest ONS infection survey update shows one in 10 primary age pupils have Covid-19. 

‘While the trend amongst secondary aged children is down it is however uncertain, due to the short time schools have been back since the Christmas holidays, that this trend will continue. 

From today, it will also no longer be mandatory for pupils to wear face coverings while learning at school

The Prime Minister lifted a range of restrictions on Wednesday, including axing work from home guidance and removing the need for Covid passes at large venues next week

‘Such uncertainty could lead to a pronounced risk of increased disruption with children and staff having to isolate.

‘We are concerned to see what the Covid-19 related absence is when figures are released next week. 

‘The danger is we lift restrictions too quickly before the effects of returning to school are clear. 

‘This will result in more education disruption which is extremely worrying particularly for pupils taking national exams this year whose education has been so badly disrupted already.

‘Rather than announcements aimed at saving Boris Johnson’s job, Government should be exercising a duty of care to the nation’s pupils and the staff who educate them. 

‘This disruption is at the door of the Government who should have got ventilation and filtration solutions in place before Omicron as advised by SAGE and they should be getting these solutions in place urgently now to ensure ​interruption of education remains at the minimum.’ 

It comes after teachers also warned that pupils will take more than 18 months to catch up after falling behind on their studies due to Covid.

State school teachers were far more likely to offer a gloomy forecast compared to their private school counterparts, according to a survey of 4,690 teachers in England by Teacher Tapp for leading EdTech event, Bett.

The study showed that 14 per cent of teachers in private primary schools and 23 per cent in private secondaries had not seen pupils falling behind due to school closures or Covid-related absences.

It comes after teachers also warned that pupils will take more than 18 months to catch up after falling behind on their studies due to Covid 

A majority of private secondary school teachers thought their pupils would catch up within six months. Just three per cent of teachers in state schools did not think pupils had fallen behind compared to 19 per cent in private schools.

The figures may partly be explained by private schools adapting faster to home learning, including by giving pupils laptops. 

Some 36 per cent of primary teachers in state schools thought it would take 18 months or more for pupils to catch up, while 32 per cent of secondary state school teachers thought the same.

Overall, classroom teachers were slightly more pessimistic than headteachers or members of the senior leadership teams (SLT).

Some 32 per cent of teachers at the coalface thought it would take 18 months or more, compared with 31 per cent of SLT and 28 per cent of heads.

When analysed by subject, language teachers and Key Stage 2 primary teachers were the most pessimistic, with 34 per cent believing it would take more than 18 months. 

It also emerged that nearly four in ten – 38 per cent – of teachers agree or strongly agree with banning school closures and classing them as ‘essential infrastructure’.

The move is proposed by senior Tory MP Rob Halfon, the chairman of the education select committee, who wants school closures to be banned unless they are voted for in parliament.  

Eve Harper, director of the Bett show, who commissioned the research, said: ‘Our survey shows that teachers are clearly concerned that the learning gap has widened since the pandemic. More teachers think that the Covid catch-up will take 18 months or more.

‘There is also a stark difference in how long state school teachers fear it will take for pupils to recover lost learning compared with private school teachers.

‘Education technology has been pivotal during remote learning and beyond but it is clear that there is a great deal to do to ensure that all students are given the very best opportunity to catch up and that teachers feel well supported in their roles.’

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