Now that September is getting nearer, the debate about wearing masks in schools continues to be polarised, with the government maintaining that it is not a required safety measure. However, unions feel masks should be a necessary in order to protect teachers and some schools have elected to take matters into their own hands. Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School in Cheshire, has recently advised pupils of navy blue re-usable masks as part of the required school uniform but what are the benefits and drawbacks of mask wearing in schools?
Benefits of mask wearing in schools:
- Reduce infection rates generally
- Reduce risk of illness amongst teachers
- Make pupils feel safe
- May help schools to stay open
- Reinforces and is consistent with expected community safety measures rather than giving a mixed message (‘where a mask in a shop but not a classroom”).
Drawbacks of mask wearing in schools
Inappropriate for younger children, therefore not applicable to nursery and primary pupils (but other safety measures such as segmentation are more achievable than in secondary schools where the need for mask wearing is arguably greatest).
For older pupils:
- Increase face touching, thereby increasing potential infection rate
- Difficulty for face recognition, mistaken identities
- Potential affect to language and speech development
- Communication difficulties as interferes with non-verbal communication
- Effects on social interaction between pupils
- Effectiveness dependent on quality and fitting of mask
Specific groups that could be negatively affected:
- Deaf/hearing-impaired pupils
- Pupils with English as a second language
- Pupils with sensory issues
- Pupils with asthma or respiratory conditions
As the debate continues, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, recently stated:“Certainly, we know the risk both of children catching the infection and of course transmission for younger children, primary and nursery, is very, very low. It’s still low for secondary school aged children, but there may be some children who may feel more comfortable with a mask on. So, I don’t rule it out. I don’t think it’s something that should be a blanket introduction as yet, unless the scientific advice is to do so, but if it means schools stay open and people have confidence, I wouldn’t want to rule it out either.”