Staff and pupils in all Cardiff secondary schools will be asked to wear masks when term starts next week
Cardiff Council said it is “strongly recommending” that all school based staff and mainstream secondary school pupils wear face coverings when moving around corridors, in communal areas such as lifts, stair wells and toilets and in situations where social distancing is cannot be observed.
The announcement was made after the Welsh Government said it would be left to councils to decide whether or not masks should be worn in schools.
To help schools in Cardiff follow the new guidance, the council said it will give every member of school staff and every mainstream secondary school pupil two re-useable masks when term begins.
Secondary school pupils in the city will also have to wear face coverings when using mainstream school buses and public transport to travel to and from school.
Exemptions will be made for some pupils such as those with additional learning needs in mainstream schools, special resource bases and special schools.
Cardiff has seen a recent rise in the number of people infected with COVID-19 following the easing of some lockdown measures.
The Welsh Government’s decision follows similar policies in Scotland and England.
Nicola Sturgeon ruled that all secondary pupils must wear masks in communal areas into the first two weeks of term in Scotland. On Tuesday Boris Johnson made a u-turn saying masks should be worn by pupils in secondary schools in local lockdown areas like Birmingham.
Cardiff council’s deputy leader Sarah Merry said: “Safeguarding the health and safety of our pupils and school staff is priority. Therefore we are urging that when moving around their school and when social distancing cannot be maintained, all school staff should wear face coverings and that secondary schools ensure their pupils wear face coverings during these same circumstances.
“This virus has not gone away. We will continue to work closely with schools and will do everything we can to support them in ensuring pupils and staff can return to school safely.
“The wearing of face coverings is not currently recommended for primary school age children and special school pupils. However, this will be kept under review in line with Government guidance while taking into account any infection rate rises or outbreaks in Cardiff.”
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The National Association of Headteachers Cymru and Unison Cymru, which represents support staff, criticised the Welsh Government for leaving councils to decide policies on masks. They said there should be a national policy not different decisions around Wales.
Jonathan Lewis, Unison Cymru Wales schools forum chair, said: “Leaving it to local authorities and schools to decide is likely to create a great deal of inconsistency throughout Wales.
“Given the severe difficulties in maintaining social distancing in schools, every possible measure to reduce the risk of transmission needs to be put in place.
“It is the school support staff that Unison represents who are often in closest contact with pupils; the government, local authorities and schools have a legal duty to protect their well-being.”
Neil Butler, NASUWT national official for Wales said: ” Face masks that are not used or stored appropriately may have adverse impacts for individuals and for wider health protection.
“Face masks are not a substitute for stringent social distancing, good hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning of surfaces by appropriately trained staff.
“We welcome the ministers’ assertion that “social distancing is still required in the classroom” but this is not clear in the present operational guidance. Where social distancing cannot be assured face coverings must be worn.”