Face masks could be worn in schools, the Children’s Commissioner has suggested as she joins Labour and teacher unions in questioning the Government’s guidance.
Anne Longfield said that she “wouldn’t rule out” the use of masks by secondary school pupils if it “gives people confidence” and means schools will stay open.
She is the latest public figure to intervene in the row over face masks in schools. Her remarks came after shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said face coverings that for older children in schools should be considered when students return in September.
Government guidance for schools returning in September says face coverings are not required and they should be removed on arrival at the school gates.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Ms Longfield said: The scientific advice at the moment is that face coverings isn’t necessary [in schools]. We know the risk of both children catching the infection and transmission, primary and nursery, is very very low.”
She explained that while the risk remains low for secondary school aged children, there may be some children “who feel more comfortable with a mask on”.
Ms Longfield went on to say: "So I don't rule it out. I don’t think it’s something that should be a blanket introduction as yet unless the scientific advice is to do so.
"But if it means schools stay open and people have confidence, I wouldn’t want to rule it out either."
Unions have urged ministers to update their guidance on schools to include the wearing of face masks.
They argue that the requirement to wear masks on public transport and in shops has "highlighted the need for similar protections to be in place in schools and colleges".
At least 10 schools have decided to break with Government guidance and make coverings mandatory for pupils.
But The Daily Telegraph revealed last month that schools which force pupils to wear face masks could face legal action for acting “irrationally” and in an “absurd” manner.
Headteachers have been warned that if they refuse to back down over plans to make face masks compulsory when schools fully reopen in September, they may face a judicial review.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said that official guidance remains that secondary school pupils will not have to wear face coverings in school.
Asked why children over the age of 11 must wear face coverings in shops and on public transport but not in schools, he said “that is what the science tells us. Within a school, of course, you're not with people that you don't meet normally, you see these same children every day, so there are different circumstances - when you're on public transport for example, when you're encountering people you've not come across or met before."