Head teacher criticises new national mask-wearing rule for schools

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A head teacher has criticised Wales’ new national rule on masks in secondary schools saying it is based on “contradictory and vague” science.

Armando Di Finizio, head of Cardiff’s Eastern High, said there was no evidence coronavirus had spread in his school. He said he was more concerned about the mental health and education of his pupils and believed local decisions on masks made more sense.

New Welsh Government guidance published on Monday says staff and children in all secondary schools in Wales are “expected” to wear masks at all times outside the classroom, which includes at break time on the school yard and in canteens.

This reverses a decision made before term started that it was up to local councils to decide mask rules for their schools.

Mr Di Finizio said masks have been optional at his school up until now. He said it was decided that as a new-build school it was spacious and well-ventilated enough for social distancing and as such he believed infection risk was low. This was supported by parents and staff with just three complaints from parents, all of whom had been reassured, he said.

There was no evidence the two cases among staff and five among pupils this term were transmitted in school, according to Mr Di Finizio, who said the staff cases were the result of infections over the holidays and the pupils were also infected outside school.

Mr Di Finizio, who has been praised for turning around the fortunes since being head-hunted to run Eastern High, demanded to know what has changed to prompt the stricter advice he must now ask his pupils and staff to follow and enforce.



Eastern High moved into its new building in January 2018
Eastern High moved into its new building in January 2018

The Welsh Government said it made the new national ruling after fresh evidence from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and its own Technical Advisory Group about coronavirus in schools. The TAG said the virus spread more easily among schoolchildren than first thought.

But Mr Di Finizio questioned this. He said: “I am perplexed. I’ve read the Sage report and although it is contradictory in places and at times vague it nevertheless portrays young people as being a very low-risk group who are not necessarily big transmitters of the virus.

“On top of that it highlights how safe the teaching profession is compared to other low-risk professions.

“Do we now have a situation where things are being escalated rather than responding to data which in many ways seemed to be reassuring?

“The message we heard when schools first went back was that some school buildings were modern, open 21st-century environments and so local decisions with regards to the wearing of masks was appropriate. We therefore did not make the wearing of masks mandatory. Along with our distancing rules and one-way system, so far it seems to be working for us.

“The report also points out that some school environments vary from others. Perhaps we have an excellent ventilation system that seems to be working?  

“Since the start of term we have had seven cases – two with staff and five amongst children. The staff cases were following the half-term break and the cases among children also came in from outside.

“I have no evidence from Track and Trace, or from parents, that any cases have been transmitted within our school. I have also not heard of a case in our school community where a child has passed it to an adult [member of staff or in the home].

“Hence the reason for my confusion. What has changed? The Sage report has, if anything, lessened any anxiety I might have had about safety in schools.”

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He added: “We have an escalation plan that would move us to masks if our situation changed but at the moment I feel I would be dishonest to my parents if I went back to say that things have changed in our school community.  

“All I want for the children in our school is for them to come in and have the opportunity to be educated and socialise without distraction and free from the anxieties they face outside.

“I am worried we are damaging their education and to a greater extent their mental health and current as well as future wellbeing, as intimated in the Sage report.”

But others have welcomed the new rules and even suggested they do not go far enough with one union backing the wearing of face coverings in classroom settings too.

David Evans, Wales secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “That everyone should be wearing masks in a communal setting of a secondary school or college and on school transport is a step in the right direction. It is clearer as a directive than asking heads to do individual risk assessments.

“We can see now that the virus is spreading in schools. We have more and more information all the time and our priority must be keeping both learners and staff as safe as possible.

“Our members would be keen to see face coverings being warn in classrooms in secondary schools too. We need to do everything to make sure that we stop young people catching the virus in school or college and taking it home to more vulnerable family members.

“We think face coverings in the classroom could help protect the health and wellbeing of staff and learners alike. So we are pleased to see the minister has not ruled this out in future.”




The new rules were announced as 14 schools in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, and Powys have closed for two weeks after new cases there.

There was also been a slight rise in cases across schools in Wales last week, most of them in primary schools.

Latest Public Health Wales data shows that in the six days to November 18 there were 26 cases of coronavirus in schools in Cardiff compared with 23 the previous week and 46 the week before that.

For primary schools the updated Welsh Government guidance on masks remains unchanged. It says as risk of transmission is lower among these children masks are not recommended.

But it also conceded that there are also some risks from the use of masks in any schools: “There are some risks and harms of face coverings to be considered, including the potential for inadvertent virus spread when putting on or taking off, the need for supply, safe wearing, storage and disposal, and the risk of stigmatisation or bullying of those with medical exemptions, especially neurodiverse students, problems for those who lip-read, and adverse effects on learning, emotional engagement and communication of the masking of facial features.”



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