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Education secretary faces legal over masks

Official guidance says masks should be worn by secondary school pupils in lessons and anywhere indoors at school where it is not possible to socially distance. However lawyers for the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) have sent Gavin Williamson a “Letter before Action”, stating the guidance must be changed.

The Department for Education, DfE, recommended in the autumn that in Tier 2 or 3 regions face masks should be worn in corridors and communal areas, while elsewhere, it was left to the discretion of headteachers. Mr Williamson has now been told the latest guidance is “unlawful, irrational and inconsistent” with his legal duties.

The NDCS says face masks create a “wholly avoidable additional barrier” to learning and social interaction for deaf children who rely on lip-reading, which is only possible with transparent face coverings, which headteachers have been deterred from allowing as the guidance claims “limited evidence” of their effectiveness or safety.

The pre-action letter says the guidance encourages the use of home-made face masks but discourages transparent masks despite being “approved for use by the NHS”.

Lawyers involved with the case said Mr Williamson, “gave assurances that the guidance will be amended to accommodate the needs of deaf children, but this has not been delivered.” Susan Daniels, of the NDCS, said, “Face masks can have a devastating effect on deaf children who all too often have been left to struggle on alone.” The Department For Education has until March 24 to respond.

A DfE spokesman said, “Our guidance is clear that anyone who relies on lip-reading or facial expressions do not have to wear face coverings in school.”

 

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