Several Tory backbenchers have vented their frustration with Boris Johnson’s decision to introduce face coverings in schools across England, calling it ‘utterly wrong’ while branding the ordeal an ‘utter sh*tshow’.
A group of Tory MPs have been fuming over the prime minister’s latest U-turn on face coverings in schools across England.
The government has now made face masks compulsory in secondary schools under a local lockdown and is advising for them to be worn in other areas of the country when pupils are in communal spaces outside of the classroom.
The move comes a mere 72 hours after ministers and officials ruled out their introduction and is the government’s second major U-turn in eight days.
Tory MP Huw Merriman criticised the decision, warning that it had made teaching in classrooms a ‘slippery slope’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t think it’s the right decision because I think we need to send the message out that our schools are safe with the measures that they’ve been taking and will be taking.
‘I just absolutely fundamentally feel that young people just need to be able to get on with their education free of any encumbrance.
‘Anything that sends a message out that it’s not safe in the corridor means that it can’t be safe in the classroom and we’re on a slippery slope.’
Merriman added: ‘My concern is that we just keep making this up as we go along. So, the WHO (World Health Organisation) is not explicit about schools at all, it just states that they should reflect the national picture.
‘Why is it that we’re changing it right now when we haven’t been talking about this before?’
Another Tory backbencher told The Times called the ordeal ‘an utter, utter sh*tshow’. ‘It’s beyond comprehension why this wasn’t done earlier. It’s mess after mess, U-turn after U-turn.’
Other Tory MPs are furious the policy had to change at all.
Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh called it ‘utterly wrong’. Taking to Twitter, he wrote: ‘No @BorisJohnson this is utterly wrong. Masks should be banned in schools. The country should be getting back to normal not pandering to this scientifically illiterate guff.’
Another is claimed to have said making students wear masks in school went ‘way too far’.
Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that he would ‘look at the changing medical evidence as we go on’ regarding face coverings but insisted schools would be safe regardless.
The government has come under pressure to review its advice on masks in schools after the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its guidance at the weekend to say that they were useful in stopping the spread of Covid-19 where physical distancing between adults and pupils aged 12 and over was impossible.
The Department for Education confirmed the change in updated guidance on Tuesday night.
It said: ‘Nationwide, while the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary, schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances.’
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘Parents and schools needed clarity and leadership, but instead the government have just passed the buck back to them.
‘Face coverings should be compulsory in communal areas in schools. Instead of this half baked U-turn the government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School & College Leaders, has welcomed the news, saying that allowing schools to decide their own face coverings policy was a ‘grown-up bit of policy-making’. He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think that is a good and rather grown-up bit of policy-making which will largely, not entirely, be welcomed by headteachers.’
Education minister Gavin Williamson said the decision on the wearing of face coverings by pupils was taken in consideration of WHO advice and following discussions with Public Health England (PHE).
He told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: ‘We’ve constantly said that this is something that stays under review at all stages.
‘Now we’ve reached the decision and this was very much, yes, looking at the World Health Organisation but also most importantly in constant discussion with Public Health England.
‘Actually in the case of a small number of schools where there’s high transmission rates within the community, and this is only a very small number of areas where there are local lockdowns, we felt that it is best to take the most careful and the most cautious and the most precautionary approach.’
In Scotland, face coverings in schools have been made obligatory from August 31 in corridors and on school transport.