No 10 at odds with Redbridge Council over masks for primary children

File photo dated 02/09/20 of pupils wear protective face masks as they returned to Outwood Academy A

Redbridge Council is defying government guidance and encouraging primary children to wear masks. - Credit: PA

Downing Street has said children at primary school should not be made to wear face coverings after learning Redbridge Council was encouraging their use.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said that officials had been in contact with the council after it told primary schools under its control that pupils should be advised to wear masks.

Council leader Jas Athwal said “in some cases” the council had gone beyond the official advice.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van Tam, during a media briefing in Down

Professor Jonathan Van Tam has suggested mask wearing by primary children is ineffective and almost impossible to enforce. - Credit: PA

The PM's spokesman said: “Children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings when they return to school on March 8.

“Face coverings are only necessary for pupils in Year 7 and above.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: “Our guidance is clear: face coverings are only necessary for pupils in year seven and above and we are in contact with the council on the matter.”

Cllr Athwal said: “We have provided comprehensive advice to our schools.

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“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.”

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Council leader Jas Athwal said in some cases it had gone beyond DfE advice and was following advice set out by Independent Sage. - Credit: Andrew Baker

Independent Sage is a group of scientists which has no official standing but has frequently taken a tougher stance on coronavirus control measures than the government and its official Sage advisers.

Some schools, like Our Lady of Lourdes in Wanstead, have informed parents that mask wearing for primary-aged children would be compulsory.

One parent who has lost family members to coronavirus in the past year and whose entire household are recovering from it, said she understands the severity of the virus but did not understand the logic of not following the guidance set out by the government and Sage. 

Cllr Paul Canal (Con, Bridge) advised the council to "think again" about its decision and stressed that guidance from the highest level, confirmed by Professor Jonathan Van Tam in a recent press conference suggested mask wearing by primary school children was ineffective and almost impossible to enforce.