Half of pupils kept wearing masks after January guidance change

Most secondary pupils felt face coverings should be mandatory

Most secondary pupils felt face coverings should be mandatory

Around half of secondary pupils kept wearing face masks in school after government guidance changed, new data suggests.

Despite a decline in mask-wearing after advice changed in January, 50 per cent of pupils said they continued to wear them in classrooms, and 55 per cent kept them on in communal areas.

This was down from 80 per cent and 68 per cent before advice changed, according to an Office for National Statistics school infection survey of 2,481 pupils conducted between January 18 and February 11.

The government removed its advice that face coverings be worn in secondary classrooms on January 20, and withdrew similar guidance for school communal areas a week later.

However, some schools said at the time that they would keep the measure in place to protect children and staff.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said local teams from the Department for Education would “work with individual schools to support them in implementing the guidance”.

Today’s survey data showed most secondary pupils felt face coverings should be mandatory in their schools. Twenty-seven per cent said they should “definitely” be compulsory, while 43 per cent said they “probably” should.

Masks made pupils feel safe, but affected communication

Eighty-six per cent of pupils said using face coverings helped keep others safe, while 64 per cent said they helped them feel safe themselves. However, 74 per cent said wearing masks made communication difficult, and 49 per cent said it affected learning.

The change to mask guidance for schools in January prompted warnings from unions that mitigations were being lifted too soon, with schools still affected by widespread Covid disruption.

Today’s data shows that in the autumn term, 42 per cent of primary pupils’ parents and 38 per cent of secondary pupils’ parents reported their child had missed in-person education for Covid-related reasons.

This was despite a move by the government to end compulsory self-isolation for children who were close contacts of positive Covid cases in August.

Schools were required to provide remote education to those absent because of Covid in the autumn term, but many pupils stuggled, the survey suggests.

Forty-two per cent of primary pupil parents and 38 per cent of secondary parents said they had found remote learning difficult.

Of the secondary pupils who were set remote learning, 55 per cent said they had struggled with motivation, while 21 per cent said they struggled with anxiety or other mental health issues.

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