Gavin Williamson was quizzed on why the British public should trust the Government after several U-turns in the past few months. LBC host Nick Ferrari noted the changes in school meal vouchers, A-level results and primary school children. But the Education Secretary insisted public health is at the forefront of all their decisions and noted unions have welcomed the changes.
Speaking to LBC, Mr Williamson said: “At every stage, what we’re focused on is making sure all children return back to school in September.
“We’ll take every measure that’s necessary to ensure that there is a safe and good return of all pupils because we know that the best thing we can do for children’s future is to see all children back in school and all schools open.
“That’s what we’re working towards and that’s what we’re going to deliver.
“We don’t want to be seeing children having to wear masks in schools up-and-down the country, but in certain areas where we’re in local lockdown, we’re taking a cautious and careful approach to welcoming children back into schools.
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“I think that’s what people expect and that’s what we’re doing in this instance.
“We’ve seen the move welcomed by unions in terms of the clarity that it brings because there was some concern in the teaching community, quite understandably, when they saw the advice coming out from the World Health Organisation.”
It comes as 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 Government announced in another policy U-turn.
The Department for Education (DfE) advised that in areas under local restrictions, face coverings should be worn when moving around corridors and communal areas.
The new guidance came after pressure from teaching unions and followed Scotland’s announcement that secondary pupils there will be required to wear face coverings in between lessons.
While it has largely been welcomed, Labour described it as a “half baked U-turn”, arguing that masks should have been made compulsory in communal areas and that the buck had been passed back to schools.
Face coverings will not be recommended in English schools more widely, the Government said, but secondaries will have the discretion to require them to be worn by staff and children in Year 7 and above in communal areas.
Face coverings will not need to be worn in classrooms, because other protective measures will already be in place and they might affect learning, the DfE said.
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The change follows World Health Organisation (WHO) advice that children aged over 12 should wear masks, the Government said.
Just this week Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted measures being adopted by schools to limit the spread of coronavirus meant masks were not required, and a Number 10 spokesman had said there were no plans to review the guidance.
But announcing the change in advice on Tuesday, Mr Williamson said: “Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage, we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice.
“We have therefore decided to follow the WHO’s new advice. In local lockdown areas children in year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces.
“Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances.”