Downing Street has said children at primary schools in England should not be made to wear face coverings, after learning a council was encouraging their use when pupils begin returning to classes next week.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said government officials had been in contact with Redbridge Council in east London after it told primary schools under its control that pupils should be advised to wear masks.
“Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school on March 8,” said the No 10 spokesman. “Face coverings are only necessary for pupils in year seven and above.”
A Department for Education spokesman confirmed officials had been in touch with the east London council – and several other primary schools planning on making pupils wear masks.
“Our guidance is clear: face coverings are only necessary for pupils in year seven and above,” said the DfE spokesman.
Redbridge Council’s Labour leader Jas Athwal said “in some cases” the local authority had gone beyond official guidance – basing its plans on advice group of independent scientists.
Councillor Athwal told the Daily Telegraph: “We have provided comprehensive advice to our schools. In some cases, where we have gone beyond the DfE advice, we have used the advice from Independent Sage.”
He added: “We have advised primary schools to encourage the use of face coverings indoors, as per the Independent Sage advice that pupils at both primary and secondary should be encouraged to wear a face covering indoors as one of a range of health and safety measures.”
Independent Sage is a group of scientists which has no official standing, but has frequently taken a more risk-adverse stance on Covid control measures than the government.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, has warned that ministers risk creating “mask anarchy” unless regulations on face coverings in schools are made more clear.
He has called for “definitive regulations” to be put in place on whether primary students should wear face coverings.
Reports suggest Redbridge is not the only place where primary schools are asking families to make sure pupils have masks. Nascot Wood Primary School in Watford has also asked pupils to wear “a well-fitted face mask” in classrooms when schools reopen.
And Selsdon Primary School in Croydon, south London, has asked children from year 1 to year 6 — ages five to 11 — to wear face coverings when in school to be able to allow them to “play and socialise”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school from 8 March.”
The official added: “Our regional schools commissioner is working with Selsdon Primary school in Croydon and Nascot Wood Junior School in Watford to make sure they follow the department’s guidance on this issue.”