Boris Johnson announced face coverings should be worn by secondary pupils and staff in local lockdown areas of England, and at the discretion of post-primary schools across the country. The Prime Minister noted that headteachers and governors now have some flexibility on the use of face coverings in their schools. But National Education Union chief Dr Mary Bousted accused Mr Johnson of “devolving responsibility” to headteachers who are not experts on coronavirus.
Speaking to LBC, Dr Mary said: “What I think is really damaging and really difficult to deal with is a Government that says absolutely not, schools are safe, we are not going to change our minds, we are not going to say that students over 12 should be wearing face masks, only then to change their mind when schools will be starting next Tuesday.
“It may sound easy to get students to wear masks but if half your students arrive without masks, where are you going to source them, what are you going to do?
“It is yet another massive logistical exercise for the school leaders in those lockdown areas.”
She explained that headteachers “are not public health experts”.
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She continued: “On what grounds will they make the decision whether or not to insist that students wear masks in communal places?
“It is devolving responsibility over something where they’re not experts and they’re asking them to take responsibility.
“Either they have them in communal areas or they don’t.”
It comes as Mr Johnson sacked the senior official at the Department for Education and blaming the debacle on a “mutant algorithm”.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the stress caused by the situation – which eventually resulted in a U-turn with A-level and GCSE grades in England awarded based on teachers’ assessments rather than the algorithm.
The Department for Education announced that permanent secretary Jonathan Slater will stand down because “the Prime Minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership”.
The announcement came a day after Sally Collier resigned from her role as head of exams regulator Ofqual.
Dave Penman, leader of the FDA union which represents senior public servants, said: “If it wasn’t clear before, then it certainly is now – this administration will throw civil service leaders under a bus without a moment’s hesitation to shield ministers from any kind of accountability.”
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Relations between Number 10 and Whitehall have been strained, with Mr Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings backing a major shake-up of the civil service.
Mr Penman said: “After this Government’s continuous anonymous briefings to the press, trust between ministers and civil servants is already at an all-time low and this will only damage it further.”
Education mandarin Mr Slater will stand down on September 1, in advance of the end of his tenure in spring 2021.
Susan Acland-Hood, currently interim second permanent secretary, will take over as acting permanent secretary.