Should school children be forced to wear masks? We speak to both sides after U-turn

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the change followed updated advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying children aged over 12 should wear masks.

Face coverings will have to be worn in communal areas of schools in areas where local lockdowns have been introduced, and headteachers will have the option to ask pupils to wear them elsewhere in the country.

But until yesterday, the government was saying masks wouldn't be worn in schools and opinion is still divided on whether it's the right thing to do.

We asked two people to argue for and against forcing school children to wear masks during the pandemic.

YES: Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union The British people have done great work through the lockdown in getting Covid cases down, and that means it is the right time to open schools more widely.

But the virus has not gone away.

Scotland listened to the World Health Organisation and mandated masks for over-12s in corridors and communal spaces.

Obviously, wearing masks can be disruptive, but if they keep transmission of the virus down, then they might just head off a future school lockdown.

Staff, parents and students are worried about whether their school is going to be safe when they go back next week.

The NEU has been working closely with school leaders to ensure they are safe, but if face masks can build confidence and reduce stress, then of course people should have them.

NO: Prof Russell Viner, of the Royal College of Paediatrics We know very little about the benefits of masks in children and young people, and we can’t simply assume that data on adults will also apply to children.

Given the evidence that young children play a limited role in transmission, there is little to suggest that under-12s need to wear masks in school or elsewhere.

Decisions about whether secondary school students should wear masks in corridors and common areas are less clear cut.

While there is evidence older children may be able to transmit Covid-19 as much as adults, there is little real world evidence of transmission of the virus taking place in secondary schools.

In the face of uncertainty, governments should make decisions in the best interests of children, but recognise these may need to change as the scientific evidence evolves.