Public sector trade union UNISON North West is calling for schools in the North West of England to strongly recommend that secondary school pupils wear face coverings to tackle the worrying rise in COVID cases in the region.
COVID-19 case numbers are now increasing in almost all parts of north-west England.
Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire continues to record the highest rate in the UK. Even more concerningly, all ten boroughs with highest rate of COVID cases per 100,000 in the country are in the North West region.
The highest rates of in many areas are amongst young people, with the majority of cases in Greater Manchester being amongst 16-29 year olds.
UNISON recently surveyed its members, who work as support staff within secondary schools in the North West. More than half (53%) of respondents indicated that their school is not encouraging pupils to wear face coverings in classrooms and communal areas after the government removed the national requirement for secondary school staff and pupils to do so.
In addition, half of respondents (50%) said that only a minority of pupils are continuing to wear face coverings since the government guidance changed.
Most notably, a huge majority (86%) of school support staff think face coverings should return as a national recommendation for staff and secondary school pupils if cases of the new COVID variant continue to rise in schools.
UNISON North West regional organiser Keith Bradley said: “The Government has placed Lancashire and Greater Manchester into increased restrictions due to sky-rocketing COVID cases, largely driven by cases amongst unvaccinated young people.
“It is completely nonsensical for the Government to scrap face coverings for pupils in secondary schools, when reports are clear that there is a significant spread of the virus among school-age children.
“School support staff have put themselves at increased risk this year to ensure that our children continue to receive an education during the pandemic. They are scared about a new and dangerous wave of COVID cases. Pupils, staff, their families and the wider community deserve to be protected.
“We are calling upon school leaders in the North West to use the discretion they have under current government guidance to actively encourage pupils to wear face coverings. Protecting school support staff also protects children, parents and the wider community.”
Meanwhile at a national level, four education unions representing teachers and support staff have this week called upon the government to reinstate face coverings in schools to limit coronavirus spread.
With infections on the rise once more, the unions issued a joint statement demanding a range of safety measures to keep education on track and reduce the risk of further closures.
The unions that have signed the joint statement are UNISON, GMB, Unite and NEU.