Dear Department for Education,

Basis for Request

The DfE’s ‘advice’ that secondary school children should wear face coverings in classrooms was controversial in the absence of compelling evidence. Though the advice to secondary school children to wear face coverings in classrooms (the ‘measure’) was described as an experiment/trial being conducted for a limited period (between 8 March and the end of the Spring term) it was extended into the Summer term.

INFORMATION SOUGHT

Please provide all briefing documents provided to, or communications with, DfE ministers supporting the decision to advise the use of face coverings in classrooms from 8 March 2021

Yours faithfully,

CHP Gillow

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education. If you are
contacting us about coronavirus (COVID-19) you can find advice and
guidance on [1]GOV.UK. This includes [2]guidance for educational settings
in England. You can also contact our coronavirus helpline on 0800 046
8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to
4pm.

For emails and other written enquiries you will usually receive a reply
within 15 working days. You can find out how the department processes your
personal information by reading our [3]Privacy Notice.

 

 

[4]cid:image001.jpg@01D42E43.58989C30

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear  Chp Gillow 

Thank you for your recent enquiry which was received on 28 May.

A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible. For information; the
departmental standard for correspondence received is that responses should
be sent within 20 working days as you are requesting information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your correspondence has been allocated
reference number 2021-0029018.

 

Department for Education

Ministerial and Public Communications Division

Tel: 0370 000 2288

Web: [1]https://www.education.gov.uk
Twitter: [2]https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: [3]https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

 

 

 

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.education.gov.uk/
2. https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
3. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

Dear Department for Education,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Basis for Advice that Children Should Use Face Coverings in Classrooms'. You should have provided the requested information by 29 June 2021. Please provide me with this information without further delay.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...

Yours faithfully,

CHP Gillow

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education. If you are
contacting us about coronavirus (COVID-19) you can find advice and
guidance on [1]GOV.UK. This includes [2]guidance for educational settings
in England. You can also contact our coronavirus helpline on 0800 046
8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to
4pm.

For emails and other written enquiries you will usually receive a reply
within 15 working days. You can find out how the department processes your
personal information by reading our [3]Privacy Notice.

 

 

[4]cid:image001.jpg@01D42E43.58989C30

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear Chp Gillow,

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 28 May
2021. You requested:

Dear Department for Education,
Basis for Request
The DfE’s ‘advice’ that secondary school children should wear face
coverings in classrooms was controversial in the absence of compelling
evidence. Though the advice to secondary school children to wear face
coverings in classrooms (the ‘measure’) was described as an
experiment/trial being conducted for a limited period (between 8 March and
the end of the Spring term) it was extended into the Summer term.
INFORMATION SOUGHT
Please provide all briefing documents provided to, or communications with,
DfE ministers supporting the decision to advise the use of face coverings
in classrooms from 8 March 2021
Yours faithfully,
CHP Gillow

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
(“the Act”).

I have established that the Department holds the information you
requested, but it is being withheld under the Freedom of Information Act
2000. The exemption that applies to this information is section 35(1)(a),
which allows for the withholding of information if it relates to the
formulation or development of government policy.

Where s35(1)(a) has been applied, the Act requires that the
Department balances the public interest in withholding the information
against the public interest in disclosing the information.  We concluded
that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and not disclosing
the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this
instance. 
It is in the public interest that the formulation of Government policy and
Government decision-making can proceed in the space needed to ensure that
it is done well, and this position is heightened due to the unprecedented
nature of the impact of the virus on the country. The Government is always
reviewing its position in relation to the various mitigation measures in
place in schools in the fight against the virus and decisions about any
new or future policy position such as face coverings needs to be based on
the best advice available and a full consideration of the options. 

It is the Department's view that the public interest in non-disclosure
outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this case. Disclosure of
the withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive
effect on good Government and lead to less fully informed decision
making. This is not in the public interest. The Department has concluded
that, in this instance, that public interest consideration was greater
than the general public interest considerations for disclosure.

Although this specific information is being withheld, I have set out the
context of the decision below, which I hope that you will find helpful.

Since September, face coverings have been included in the system of
controls for settings where year 7 and above are educated, first in
communal areas, and then in classrooms as a precautionary measure where
social distancing could not be maintained from 8 March to 16 May. This was
based on advice from Public Health England (PHE). The guidance as
published on 22 February made clear that the use of face coverings in
classrooms was a temporary measure that would be reviewed at Easter in
partnership with health experts.

As part of the ongoing review of the policy, the Department has worked
closely with PHE and the Cabinet Office to consider a range of evidence,
balancing both the health and educational considerations. This has
included the latest public health advice and the most recent scientific
evidence (including the latest available education-related data, latest
data analysis on case rates in secondary school age children and the
broader COVID-19 epidemiological position), as well as stakeholder
intelligence and polling data from schools and colleges on their
experiences of wearing face coverings in classrooms and any perceived
impacts on teaching, learning, and communication.

When the policy on classrooms was introduced, it was an appropriate
additional safety measure while rates of infection were high in the
community, the school and college testing regime was in its early stages,
and the vaccine programme was just starting to roll out with little
evidence of its impact on transmission. We know that face coverings can
have an impact on reducing transmission as part of a wider system of
controls and that schools have done a great job in adapting to COVID-19
secure guidance and have been working hard to reduce the impact on
learning.

However, we have recognised that our policy on face coverings needs to be
weighed against the disadvantages, which include the negative impact on
communication between teachers and pupils in the classroom, particularly
for those with special educational needs, the effect on mental health, and
the discomfort of wearing face coverings for prolonged periods in warmer
weather.

The decision to continue the policy at Easter was a cautious approach that
aimed to maximise the effort to reduce transmission in schools and
therefore support the aim of keeping pupils and staff in education as much
as possible. It would also enable us more time to continue to monitor the
effect of school and college returns following the Easter period.

At this point of the review, it was decided that any changes to the policy
would be considered alongside the wider roadmap process at Step 3, where
the Government would consider evidence of progress made against its four
tests to inform decisions on wider relaxation of restrictions across
society. It made sense to align the considerations on face covering use
with the wider Step 3 review process as this also included consideration
of the next stage of easements across society, including increased social
contact indoors. It also allowed time for the vaccination programme to
reach everyone in priority groups one to nine with their first dose.

The assessment against the four tests has been continually informed by the
latest scientific evidence and seeks a balance between the governments key
social and economic priorities and our overriding goal to save lives and
avoid another surge in infections that would put unsustainable pressure on
the NHS. The removal of face coverings for all in the classroom and for
pupils and students in communal areas was supported by PHE. As the four
tests were met at Step 3, it was an appropriate time to remove the
recommendation in education settings as the balance of risks shifted.

Schools and colleges across the country continue to have robust protective
measures in place, including regular weekly testing to beak chains of
transmission and keeping pupils and students in smaller group bubbles.

We are also taking additional measures in areas where there is a high
prevalence of variants of concern, including increasing the availability
of testing for staff, pupils and families and working with Directors of
Public Health to reduce local transmission. The use of face coverings in
education is managed on a case-by-case basis, with decisions made by a
local Director of Public Health where they affect a small number of
schools or decided by ministers where there is a widespread local issue.
In all cases, any educational drawbacks should be balanced with the
benefits of managing transmission. Further information on responding to
individual or regional outbreaks can be found in the [1]contingency
framework for education and childcare.

The Department continues to work closely with other government departments
throughout the response to the pandemic to ensure that our education and
care policy is guided by the most up-to-date scientific evidence as this
continues to evolve. The Department regularly reviews data, analysis, and
advice from a number of different sources including PHE, the Scientific
Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the Office for National Statistics
(ONS), and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC). We also work closely with
the Department of Health and Social Care, PHE and the JBC, as well as
local authorities and Directors of Public Health, to inform our planning
and response.

Scientific evidence supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19 is
published on gov.uk by SAGE, PHE and ONS. There are also a number of
publicly available studies linked below that you can use to understand the
context in which the policy has evolved. The links below do not compromise
the full range of information and evidence considered as part of the
ongoing review but represent those that are already published, which you
may find helpful to review.

[2]Daily summary - Coronavirus in the UK
[3]Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK - Office for National
Statistics
[4]Scientific evidence supporting the government response to coronavirus
(COVID-19) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
[5]Research and statistics - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
[6]National flu and COVID-19 surveillance reports

In addition, a summary of the evidence relating to children, young people
and education settings as of 22 February can be found here:

[7]Evidence summary: COVID-19 - children, young people and education
settings
We are also applying section 40(2) (personal data) to some of the
information in scope. Personal data is that which relates to a living
individual who can be identified from that data, or from that data and
other information that is likely to be in, or to come into, the possession
of the requestor.  Disclosure of this information would contravene a
number of the data protection principles in the General Data Protection
Regulations/Data Protection Act 2018 and would be regarded as ‘unfair’. 
By that, we mean the likely expectations of the data subject that his or
her information would not be disclosed to others and the effect which
disclosure would have on the data subject. Section 40(2) is an absolute
exemption and is not subject to the public interest test.

The information supplied to you continues to be protected by copyright.
You are free to use it for your own purposes, including for private study
and non-commercial research, and for any other purpose authorised by an
exception in current copyright law. Documents (except photographs) can be
also used in the UK without requiring permission for the purposes of news
reporting. Any other re-use, for example commercial publication, would
require the permission of the copyright holder.
Most documents produced by a government department or agency will be
protected by Crown Copyright. Most Crown copyright information can be
re-used under the Open Government Licence
([8]http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/o...). For
information about the OGL and about re-using Crown Copyright information
please see The National Archives website
-[9]http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor....

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number 2021-0029018 in any future
communications.
 

If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should
make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar
months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an
independent review panel, who were not involved in the original
consideration of your request. 
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the
Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Yours sincerely,

Yours sincerely,
Covid Safety Measures Team
Department for Education

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...
2. https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/
3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationa...
4. https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
5. https://www.gov.uk/search/research-and-s...
6. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics...
7. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk...
8. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/o... blocked::http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/o...
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/o...
9. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor... blocked::http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor...
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor...

Dear Department for Education,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews. I am writing to request an internal review of the Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Basis for Advice that Children Should Use Face Coverings in Classrooms'.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...

My reasonable request was for the information underpinning the decision to impose face coverings on children in classrooms. As such, this information is in the public interest and should have been made available at the outset. You acknowledge that you have the information. However, you choose to withhold it claiming exemptions under section 35(1) and section 40(2). On the latter point, I do not see why any personal data need be released to satisfy my request.

In respect of your use of the section 35(1) exemption, you have previously been asked to publish the basis for evidence underpinning your decision to impose masks. on children. For example, in early March 2021, signatories of an open letter to Gavin Williamson, including Dennis Hayes, emeritus professor of education at Derby University, Ellen Townsend, professor of psychology at Nottingham University, as well as the former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption, asked “Upon what evidence is your department relying in order to recommend that masks in classrooms are today necessary – rather than ‘nonsensical’ – now that the four most vulnerable groups have ‘substantial ­protection''”. They also stated that "unless the scientific evidence can be published to justify the measure and unless it can be shown that the intervention has been “properly evaluated for potential harms to both psychological and physical health”, it must be reversed."

It has been apparent throughout that there has been little or no consideration of harms to children. A recently published letter report (Walach H, Weikl R, Prentice J, et al. Experimental Assessment of Carbon Dioxide Content in Inhaled Air With or Without Face Masks in Healthy Children: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. Published online June 30, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2659) highlights scientific evidence of the adverse effects of wearing masks, states that decision-makers should weigh the evidence produced by this and other reviews, and concludes that children should not be forced to wear face masks.

Transmission of COVID-19 is primarily via aerosols building up in the air of indoor spaces, so face masks have little or no impact on risk of infection or transmission. Even surgical masks do not filter out enough infected aerosols to be considered respiratory protection devices. In addition, aerosols routinely escape with breath around the sides of the mask. UK Government’s scientific advisers admit masks are of little use to the wearer, saying they “may provide a small amount of protection to an uninfected wearer; however, this is not their primary intended purpose”. Rather they are “predominantly a source control” (preventing transmission). The advisers cite the findings of a study by Brainard et al, which reviews several RCTs and concludes surgical masks provide the wearer with protection from just 6% of infections. The same study’s review of RCTs for masks as source control finds no evidence above low quality. Studies consistently find no significant benefit from wearing masks. The Danmask-19 randomised controlled trial (RCT) found that surgical masks provide no significant protection for the wearer from COVID-19 infection. This is in line with other RCTs for similar viruses. One RCT, published in autumn 2020, concluded face masks “did not seem to be effective against laboratory-confirmed viral respiratory infections nor against clinical respiratory infection”.

The enforced wearing of face masks by children for protracted periods needs to be based on thorough risk assessments based on the best available evidence to balance harms against benefits. This balance must be considered, as it should be for the administration of vaccines, in respect of the individual child. It would be unacceptable for the welfare of children to be secondary to any public health or other population consideration. In this context, I note comment that "disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive effect on good Government and lead to less fully informed decision making." On the contrary, the sharing of the evidence underpinning this controversial and potentially harmful policy would support good Government and fully informed decision making. What I believe is 'corrosive' is the supposition that good Government is promoted by secrecy and decision making immune from scrutiny.

Please reconsider your decision to withhold this information. This is a matter of urgency given the risk that you may decide to reimpose this measure next term. Therefore, if you intend to maintain this decision, I would be grateful for a prompt response so I may escalate the matter to the ICO for review.

Yours faithfully,

CHP Gillow

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education. If you are
contacting us about coronavirus (COVID-19) you can find advice and
guidance on [1]GOV.UK. This includes [2]guidance for educational settings
in England. You can also contact our coronavirus helpline on 0800 046
8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to
4pm.

For emails and other written enquiries you will usually receive a reply
within 15 working days. You can find out how the department processes your
personal information by reading our [3]Privacy Notice.

 

 

[4]cid:image001.jpg@01D42E43.58989C30

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

Gadawodd CHP Gillow anodiad ()

This is my third attempt to have placed in the public domain the information/evidence underpinning the decision by the Department for Education to impose the extended wear of face coverings on secondary children. The Prime Minister has previously described face masks in the classroom as “nonsensical” and said that “you can’t teach with face coverings and you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings.” Unsurprisingly, many of those responsible for the safeguarding of children in schools have asked for the scientific evidence to be published to justify the measure so that the intervention can be properly evaluated for potential harms to both psychological and physical health.

My first information request dated 28 March 2021 (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...) was refused on 28 April under the section 12 exemption.

I submitted several smaller follow up requests on 4 May 2021 and these were all refused under section 12 on 26 May 2021.

My third request, dated 28 May 2021, (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...) asked the Department to "provide all briefing documents provided to, or communications with, DfE ministers supporting the decision to advise the use of face coverings in classrooms from 8 March 2021". This request was refused on 1 July 2021 citing section 35 and section 40 as exemptions. The Department's refusal suggested that a "disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive effect on good Government and lead to less fully informed decision making"

I have requested an internal review.

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear CHP Gillow,

I refer to your request for an internal review, which was received on 5
July 2021. Your request was as follows:

“Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information
reviews. I am writing to request an internal review of the Department for
Education's handling of my FOI request 'Basis for Advice that Children
Should Use Face Coverings in Classrooms'.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on
the Internet at this address:
[1]https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...

My reasonable request was for the information underpinning the decision to
impose face coverings on children in classrooms. As such, this information
is in the public interest and should have been made available at the
outset.  You acknowledge that you have the information. However, you
choose to withhold it claiming exemptions under section 35(1) and section
40(2). On the latter point, I do not see why any personal data need be
released to satisfy my request.

In respect of your use of the section 35(1) exemption, you have previously
been asked to publish the basis for evidence underpinning your decision to
impose masks. on children. For example, in early March 2021, signatories
of an open letter to Gavin Williamson, including Dennis Hayes, emeritus
professor of education at Derby University, Ellen Townsend, professor of
psychology at Nottingham University, as well as the former Supreme Court
judge Lord Sumption, asked  “Upon what evidence is your department relying
in order to recommend that masks in classrooms are today necessary –
rather than ‘nonsensical’ – now that the four most vulnerable groups have
‘substantial protection''”. They also stated that "unless the scientific
evidence can be published to justify the measure and unless it can be
shown that the intervention has been “properly evaluated for potential
harms to both psychological and physical health”, it must be reversed."

It has been apparent throughout that there has been little or no
consideration of harms to children. A recently published letter report
(Walach H, Weikl R, Prentice J, et al. Experimental Assessment of Carbon
Dioxide Content in Inhaled Air With or Without Face Masks in Healthy
Children: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. Published online June
30, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2659) highlights scientific
evidence of the adverse effects of wearing masks, states that
decision-makers should weigh the evidence produced by this and other
reviews, and concludes that children should not be forced to wear face
masks.
Transmission of COVID-19 is primarily via aerosols building up in the air
of indoor spaces, so face masks have little or no impact on risk of
infection or transmission. Even surgical masks do not filter out enough
infected aerosols to be considered respiratory protection devices. In
addition, aerosols routinely escape with breath around the sides of the
mask. UK Government’s scientific advisers admit masks are of little use to
the wearer, saying they “may provide a small amount of protection to an
uninfected wearer; however, this is not their primary intended purpose”.
Rather they are “predominantly a source control” (preventing
transmission). The advisers cite the findings of a study by Brainard et
al, which reviews several RCTs and concludes surgical masks provide the
wearer with protection from just 6% of infections. The same study’s review
of RCTs for masks as source control finds no evidence above low quality.
Studies consistently find no significant benefit from wearing masks. The
Danmask-19 randomised controlled trial (RCT) found that surgical masks
provide no significant protection for the wearer from COVID-19 infection.
This is in line with other RCTs for similar viruses. One RCT, published in
autumn 2020, concluded face masks “did not seem to be effective against
laboratory-confirmed viral respiratory infections nor against clinical
respiratory infection”.

The enforced wearing of face masks by children for protracted periods
needs to be based on thorough risk assessments based on the best available
evidence to balance harms against benefits. This balance must be
considered, as it should be for the administration of vaccines, in respect
of the individual child. It would be unacceptable for the welfare of
children to be secondary to any public health or other population
consideration. In this context, I note comment that "disclosure of the
withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive
effect on good Government and lead to less fully informed decision
making." On the contrary, the sharing of the evidence underpinning this
controversial and potentially harmful policy would support good Government
and fully informed decision making. What I believe is 'corrosive' is the
supposition that good Government is promoted by secrecy and decision
making immune from scrutiny.

Please reconsider your decision to withhold this information. This is a
matter of urgency given the risk that you may decide to reimpose this
measure next term. Therefore, if you intend to maintain this decision, I
would be grateful for a prompt response so I may escalate the matter to
the ICO for review.”

The Department has now completed its internal review process and has
carried out a thorough review of the case, chaired by a senior official
who was not involved with the original request. The Department has decided
to uphold the original decision not to disclose the information concerned,
for the same reasons set out in our letter to you dated 1 July.

If you are unhappy with this decision, you have the right to appeal
directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can
be contacted at:

           The Case Reception Unit
           Customer Service Team

           Information Commissioner’s Office
           Wycliffe House
           Water Lane
           Wilmslow
           Cheshire
           SK9 5AF

Further information about the Information Commissioner’s complaints
procedure can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website:
[2]https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...

Yours sincerely,
 

Safety Measures Team
COVID Response Measures Directorate
Department for Education

Web: [3]https://www.education.gov.uk
Twitter: [4]https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: [5]https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

 

 

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/b...
2. https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...
3. https://www.education.gov.uk/
4. https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
5. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

Gadawodd CHP Gillow anodiad ()

The DfE have taken every hour of the time they were allowed for an Internal Review and have decided to stick to their position that:

“Disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive effect on good Government and lead to less fully informed decision making. “

I have complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office and will not be giving up on this….