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Some Cambridgeshire schools keeping masks for now amid record Covid-19 infection rates

The high rate of Covid infections among pupils has prompted some Cambridgeshire schools to keep recommendations that masks should be worn in the classroom.

The Department of Education has told schools that face masks are no longer recommended in class and that masks were no longer required in communal spaces as of Thursday (January 27).

Meanwhile, our weekly Covid-19 data analysis has shown how infection rates for school-age children are at record rates.

Hills Road Sixth Form in Cambridge has told parents that students should wear face coverings at least until the end of the coming week.

And a letter from Bottisham Village College principal Jenny Rankine said pupils should continue to wear masks in classrooms.

She wrote: “At present we have five teaching staff self-isolating due to positive Covid tests and a number of others who are looking after their young families who have also tested positive. This has put a strain on ensuring classes have experienced and skilled teachers in every lesson. Students who have tested positive over the past two weeks have levelled out at around 40 and we feel strongly that we need another week of ensuring numbers of cases do not rise any further making operations even more challenging."

She added the school risk assessment would include “mask wearing in classrooms, corridors, and communal spaces” but that the situation would be reviewed in the coming days.

Last Monday, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it was the “right decision” to remove the guideline for pupils in England to wear face coverings in classrooms, but added that there would be no sanctions for headteachers who chose to keep them in place.

Jon Lewis, director of education for Cambridgeshire, said: “The Department for Education is no longer recommending the use of face coverings in classrooms. However, the director of public health can still recommend the use of face coverings in the classroom where rates are high or when there is a significant outbreak of Covid in an individual school.

“If this is agreed, schools can recommend – not enforce – the wearing of face coverings in consultation with parents until the school’s situation improves. Bottisham Village College is a school where we have agreed this is a sensible measure to manage the outbreak of Covid-19 in the school. Our focus must be on the safety of children, staff and the wider community.”

Students at school wearing face masks
Students at school wearing face masks

Niamh Sweeney, deputy general secretary for the national Education Union and a teacher at Long Road college, said: “Masks are the only mitigations we have got in secondary schools - obviously there are none in primaries. Young people have been saying they'd rather have that inconvenience of wearing a mask than be off with Covid. And they'd rather wear a mask than have to return to remote learning.

“It’s a real concern that students taking A levels this year were the ones whose GCSEs were most impacted by the pandemic. We don’t want them to miss anymore school because they are catching the virus. The government just saying masks are over without making any announcement about what we are going to do for this year's exam cohorts is ridiculous.”

In the week to the end of January 23, there were 1,644 cases of Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire among those aged 5-9. This age group was not required to wear masks and is too young to be vaccinated. The infection rate for the week was a record for any age group in the county during the pandemic.

In the 10-14 age group, there were 1,258 cases and the infection rate was the highest seen outside the 5-9 age group. This group will have included some in primary school, but mostly children at secondaries. Vaccinations are given to those aged from 12.

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Covid-19 analysis: Record infection rates in children fuel sharp rise of cases in Cambridgeshire

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