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Covid chaos: School students refuse to wear face masks in class or take tests

Coronavirus will become an 'endemic' predicts WHO expert

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As students return to school following the Christmas break, new Government guidance states secondary school and college pupils in England should wear face coverings in classrooms. However, a number of children are refusing to do so or to take tests.

Damien McNulty, a national executive member of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said around five percent of pupils in one school agreed to take a test and wear a mask.

He told the BBC: “Sadly, we have had reports in the last 24 hours of at least six secondary schools in the north-west of England where children, in huge numbers, are refusing to take lateral flow tests or to wear masks.

“We’ve got one school in Lancashire where only 67 children out of 1,300 are prepared to have a lateral flow test and wear masks.

“This is a public health emergency.”

This comes after a survey by the National Association of Headteachers found one in three school leaders reported staff shortages of more than 10 percent as a result of increasing Omicron cases.

At least 95 percent have some pupils off for Covid-related reasons.

Around 29 percent said they had more than 10 percent of their students absent.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the union, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “Our members are doing everything they possibly can to keep the show on the road and to make sure face-to-face education continues.

“Our survey of 2,000 school leaders this week tells us more than a third have 10 percent or more of their staff away for Covid reasons at the moment, but they’re managing that reasonably well, with only 7 percent of those having to collapse classes into larger classes, and just 4 percent sending children home.

“That’s on absence rates of about 10 percent, and the government is warning everybody to expect absence rates of about 25 percent, so it’s going to be incredibly difficult.

“But yet again what we can see is school leaders and their teams stepping up and rising to the challenge.”

Mr Whiteman urged for an easing of pressures from the Government and Ofsted as schools face increasing staff shortages.

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He continued: “One of the things we need from Government is a clear statement, that there’ll be a clear permissive approach from them in empowering school leaders to make these decisions.

“[That could be] redeploying staff to different classrooms, having non-subject-specialists in front of classes if need be and removing those unnecessary pressures of inspection and assessment tests.

“Measuring schools in the normal way just isn’t appropriate and they still have all of those pressures right now, when down to very limited staffing.”

His warning comes after the Department for Education (DfE) suggested “combing classes” and said teachers with Covid should teach lessons from home.

It said: “As pupils do not need to be kept in consistent groups, you may wish to consider combining classes.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “It is our priority to retain face-to-face learning and the benefits it brings pupils.

“We understand that some schools and colleges might find it difficult to run their usual timetable if high numbers of staff are absent, which is why we are supporting schools to put in place appropriate contingency measures.

“It would be for individual schools to consider if it was appropriate to merge classes, but we’re clear face-to-face learning is the priority.”

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