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Welsh government not listening to school staff on face coverings

Education staff have criticised the Welsh government announcement that face coverings and contact groups or bubbles, will not be necessary in schools from September.

UNISON says school employees cannot understand why face coverings will not be required in classrooms given yesterday’s Welsh government announcement that they are to remain mandatory in indoor public places and on public transport.

UNISON says Welsh government has ignored the concerns raised by education unions in regular meetings and survey evidence they have presented to ministers.

UNISON has today (Thursday) released polling data it shared with government showing Welsh school staff across nursery; primary; secondary and special schools, believe face coverings are an important safety measure.

UNISON surveyed 1250 teaching assistants, administrators, caterers, cleaners, lunchtime supervisors, maintenance workers and technicians.

  • 61 per cent said that they felt safer wearing face coverings in work
  • 57 per cent felt that wearing them in secondary school settings is an important safety measure
  • 48 per cent would be worried if face coverings were removed

UNISON has raised with Welsh government its concerns that the number of pupils having to self-isolate is increasing daily as more children test positive. Yet the changes in September will expose more people to the virus variants.

The trade union says, if schools are left to make their own decisions and adapt accordingly, there will be so many variations across Wales that it will be impossible to properly understand and monitor what is happening. Changes to bubbles and contact groups will inevitably lead to more difficulty in tracing close contacts and managing to contain the spread of infection.

School deep cleaning practices are also being scaled back from September, which UNISON says is very worrying.

Rosie Lewis, UNISON lead officer for schools said,

“Welsh government’s plan to end bubbles and amend other mitigations such as mandatory wearing of face coverings in the classrooms in schools is a gamble and could lead to more disruption.

“It is far too early to know what the situation will be in September. Schools will need time to adapt at the start of the new term to whatever the landscape looks like then.

“UNISON will continue to urge the government to strengthen safety measures in schools.”

Pembrokeshire school worker and chair of the UNISON Cymru Wales school support staff forum, Jonathan Lewis, said,

“We want children, parents and staff to have confidence that schools are as safe environments for learning as possible. Removing face coverings for Welsh school pupils and staff is the wrong thing to do at this time.

“A clear majority of school support staff have indicated they would like face coverings to continue.

“UNISON’s survey data was shared with Welsh government in advance of this announcement, so it is very disappointing school staff’s sensible and reasonable wishes have been ignored.”