Face mask rules are causing confusion, with schools and nurseries adopting different rules for parents.
While some have stepped up their restrictions by asking parents and carers to wear masks on school grounds, others are carrying on without them.
Families have told the Manchester Evening News it’s hard to keep track of what they should be doing and it’s clearly a divisive issue.
While some say there is little point in wearing face coverings outside when children are mixing in classrooms all day, others say they’d much prefer masks to be worn all round.
It comes amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant, which has sparked fresh guidance from the government that secondary students should wear masks in communal areas – a restriction most schools in Greater Manchester already had in place.
Mum Abbie Crawford has two children at primary school in Tameside, where the council has written to all families asking them to wear face coverings in school grounds.
The letter was issued last Tuesday – before details of Omicron emerged – and was sent because of concerns over ‘consistently high’ Covid rates.
“The number of cases across our communities has remained consistently high, with rates amongst children and young people being higher than all other age ranges since September 2021,” says the letter from Debbie Watson, interim director of population health at Tameside Council.
“We have also now seen a substantial increase in rates among 5-10 year olds and the number of outbreaks in primary schools.”
She adds: “As the evidence of wearing face coverings remains strong for reducing transmission of Covid-19, we are now asking all primary school staff, visitors, parents and carers to wear face coverings when on the school’s premises. This includes outdoor areas in school grounds such as the playground during drop-off/pick-up.
“Pupils will not need to wear face coverings, and staff will not be required to wear face coverings while teaching in class as we recognise this is more disruptive to teaching and learning.”
Abbie, who received the letter from The Heys Primary School, in Ashton, where her children are in years 6 and 1, says wearing masks in the playground is ‘pointless’.
“I just think it’s daft that we have to wear masks in an open aired playground while the teachers who are in a closed space don’t have to,” she said.
“Also, kids are sat in classrooms with 30 other children without a mask and then come home to us as parents and breath the same air as us and then go back to school. It’s just daft.”
The mum-of-two added: “It’s literally pointless. I can stand at the school gate without wearing one, but as soon as I step over the line into the playground, I have to put one on.
“I think nobody has a clue what’s going on anymore. Kids are being told to go home and get a PCR test for a bellyache.”
Since the letter was sent, Abbie says the response has been mixed – with some parents wearing the masks and others not bothering. But she thinks people will take more notice after the Prime Minister’s announcement that masks will return in shops and on public transport from tomorrow.
“I think now that it’s come from Boris, they will probably start wearing them,” she said.
However another mum, whose child goes to Holy Family RC Primary in Oldham, said they are not being asked to wear masks, but she wishes they were – especially as other mitigation measures have just been dropped.
“They haven’t requested masks at drop-off or pick-up,” she said.
“Ironically, today is the first day they have gone back to normal times too. They continued staggered start and end times then we get a message last week saying that from today it’s everyone back in at the same time and home at the same time, but keep your distance. It’s crazy.”
While secondaries are asking pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and other communal areas, unions want the government to bring them back to classrooms as well.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We welcome the DfE guidance that masks must be worn by adults and children in year 7 and above in communal areas. We think the DfE should go further and encourage mask-wearing in secondary classrooms and also plan investment to improve ventilation and air filtration.
“These steps can all help reduce the spread of Covid and thereby reduce disruption to education. Omicron makes the threat of disruption of education all the clearer: any close contacts of an Omicron case, staff or pupils, will have to self-isolate for 10 days, whether vaccinated or not.
“Such steps are all the more important because vaccination has not yet been offered to even a majority of secondary children.”
Paul Davies, headteacher of Fred Longworth High School, in Tyldesley, Wigan, says the biggest impact they’re seeing is on staff numbers.
“We are experiencing some disruption to learning but mainly because of Covid related staff absences,” he said.
“The number of cases amongst students remains low compared to other schools but we must remain vigilant because we are acutely aware that this could suddenly change.”
But he encouraged families to do their bit and continue testing at home.
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He added: “We continue to remind our school community to play their part in minimising the risk of further transmission by ensuring that home tests are conducted every Wednesday and Sunday evening and that anyone with symptoms stays at home and takes a PCR test.”
The Department for Education said it’s up to individual schools to decide whether to ask parents to wear masks, but local authorities may issue advice.
Is your child’s school asking parents to wear masks on school grounds? Do you support the move? Let us know your views in the comments here.