In response to the Government’s ‘Plan B’ guidance, that pupils should wear face coverings whilst seated in class, someone anonymously sent me a surgical mask on which they had inscribed “putting germ/ bacteria ridden cloths over kids’ faces for 8+ hours is ABUSIVE’.
I photographed it and broadcast it on twitter with the caption ‘whoever sent me this anonymously, I agree with you’
Later in the day a journalist asked me to respond to the storm of protest over the tweet which has ‘upset so many people’. Well, as I’ve conceded in this column previously, I use twitter infrequently to broadcast only: I do not read any of the responses to my tweets. First because I’m sure they would drive me insane and second, because there are only so many hours in a day (the tweet in question having attracted 4,343 replies). So, having not read any of them, I was unaware of the ‘twitter storm’ until the journalist tracked me down. Perhaps he’d taken the trouble to read the comments which I hadn’t. The only measure that I had was that some 47 thousand readers had flagged the tweet indicating that they liked it, which seem a pretty good score to me.
On Wednesday I raised the classroom face covering requirement in the Commons with The Secretary of state for Education. I was surprised and delighted that a number of other colleagues did so too (I had previously got the impression that I was a lone voice). I was even more delighted that the Secretary of State responded by acknowledging that the requirement was indeed a dreadful imposition and he wouldn’t let it last a day longer than he believed was absolutely necessary.
In support of the measure however, he referred to a study that purported to show a 0.6% lower Covid-related absentee rate in Schools that had required face coverings last November, than in schools that hadn’t.
Actually, having now read the study myself, all I can say is that it is so heavily caveated as to be pretty worthless. I then heard Karl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, deconstruct it in a radio interview in which he concluded that, in fact it, showed that the very opposite: that schools with face coverings fared worse!
The report itself acknowledges that it is not peer-reviewed and that ‘there is a level of statistical uncertainty about the result’.
There have been reports in the papers that in some schools whole classes have simply refused to comply. As I have pointed out to many of the parents who have written to me to complain about the requirement, it isn’t actually a requirement at all: It is merely guidance not regulation. Even that guidance acknowledges that face coverings should not be worn where clear sound or facial expressions to communicate are relied upon– as a former teacher, I’d say that in class, that’s ALL OF THE TIME!
Parents and pupils should know that they are not compulsory, but that you may end up having a row with your school.
And now I’m utterly vindicated: the former Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson – the author of the Children’s best-seller The Gruffalo has called the requirement ‘dystopian’ , the very word I used to describe face covering from the outset.
We really must stop making children do things just to make adults feel safer.
Next, Boris himself referred to ‘mumbo-jumbo’ -remember where you heard it first: I’m on a roll.