Masks won't be recommended in Blackpool schools from Monday - but they will in Fylde in Wyre
Pupils at secondary schools and colleges in Blackpool are set to be able to remove their face coverings in class from next week - in spite of a recommendation to schools across the rest of Lancashire, including Fylde and Wyre, that they continue to be worn.
The government previously announced that the precaution would be dropped in England as of Monday, as part of the third step on its roadmap out of lockdown.
However, growing concern about the spread of the Indian variant of Covid in parts of the region has prompted Lancashire County Council's director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, to advise schools in his area not to relax the the rules that have been in place since they fully reopened on 8th March. Face coverings have since been required in classrooms and communal areas in all secondary schools and colleges.
But The Gazette can reveal that Blackpool Council will be following the national policy and will no longer be making that recommendation from next week - although individual headteachers have the flexibility to make their own decisions.
The move from the county council - together with Blackburn with Darwen Council - came just days after the Lancashire districts of the National Education Union wrote to education and public health bosses at County Hall calling for a “more cautious approach” to the relaxing of the requirement for masks.
Ian Watkinson, the Lancashire representative on the union’s national executive committee - and chair of its health and safety group - welcomed the advice to retain face coverings in class across most of the county.
“Now is not the time to relax any Covid-19 safety measures in our schools and colleges and the directors of public health should be applauded for once again putting the health and safety of Lancashire children, young people and communities first - and ahead of the totally inappropriate one-size-fits all government strategies.
“Curbing the spread of the Indian variant has to be a priority and we sincerely hope that all North West local authorities follow their lead,” said Mr. Watkinson.
Blackpool Council has been approached for comment.
Schools in Fylde and Wyre have been advised that their pupils should continue to wear masks until at least 21st June, the date that is supposed to mark the final step on the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, at which point all legal restrictions will be lifted.
Dr. Karunanithi said it was a “very tough recommendation to make”.
He added: "But the increase in prevalence of this variant in the North West means we need to take some prudent steps to help reduce its spread. Wearing face coverings in schools and colleges for a few weeks longer will help to contain this and ensure the variant doesn't take hold.
“This is vital so we can build on the good work to keep levels of infection, hospital admissions and the numbers of people becoming seriously ill low.
"We want to do all we can to keep our schools and colleges open. The classroom is the best place for children to learn. Wearing face coverings for just a few weeks longer until we control the situation is an effective way of helping us to do this.
"This is local health protection guidance and ultimately the decision on usage of face coverings in individual schools and colleges will be made by headteachers and principals.
"Thank you to headteachers, principals, schools, colleges and parents for their support so far. The county council's public health team will continue to work with Public Health England, the NHS and other local authorities and agencies to monitor the situation and advise schools and colleges accordingly," Dr. Karunanithi added.