COVID-19: Schools minister ‘hopes’ masks may not been needed in classrooms by mid-May

Face masks may no longer be needed in classrooms by mid-May, the schools minister has said.

Nick Gibb said he hoped secondary school pupils in England would not have to wear masks for much longer, but said the decision to lift the measure, which would be no earlier than 17 May, would depend on the latest coronavirus data.

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He said: “There will be a review leading up to step three of the roadmap and the expectation is that if everything is successful, and the roadmap is going in the direction we expect it to go in, then we hope that face masks won’t be necessary after that date.

“But of course it depends on the data and the evidence and the advice that we’re getting from Public Health England.”

MPs have raised concerns about face coverings disrupting learning and wellbeing, with Conservative MP Caroline Johnson saying she had heard many stories of children “really suffering” as a result of wearing masks.

“Particularly as we’ve entered hayfever season and the pollen can lodge in the mask as the extra heat contributes to children who have skin conditions like teenage acne,” she said.

“So, the mask-wearing is becoming more difficult for young people particularly on top of the communication skills issue.”

Labour MP for Putney, Fleur Anderson, suggested that some deaf students were “losing out” because not all teachers were wearing clear face masks.

She said: “I’ve been contacted by pupils who are deaf and the impact of having a clear mask for all teachers is very important for them, but they’re saying that doesn’t always happen for deaf pupils and so they’re losing out at the moment on education so will that impact the assessment there?”

The Department for Education (DoE) said secondary school and college pupils in England should continue wearing face masks in class when they return after Easter.

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However, the DoE expected to remove the requirement as part of the next stage of lifting the coronavirus lockdown.

Any changes to the policy will be confirmed following a review of the latest data on infection and vaccine rates.

When pressed on the impact of masks on pupils’ mental health, Mr Gibb said students did not seem to mind wearing face coverings and the profession is “keen to keep” them in place until at least 17 May.

The date marks the day the next stage of restrictions could lift, with gatherings of up to 30 people allowed outdoors.

It comes as the UK recorded 29 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,166 new cases on 28 April.

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