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Face coverings in schools

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Dear Department for Education,
Yesterday you issued guidance to schools in England to extend the 'guidance' for children to wear masks in schools and classrooms, de facto making it mandatory for children to do so. I would like to see the following information used when reaching the conclusion that this was necessary, proportionate and likely to be effective in addressing Covid 19:

- specific data provided by PHE when making their recommendation to you.
- specific details and report provided by PHE to the DfE in making the recommendation to you.
- the feedback gathered from stakeholders in reviewing the success and costs of this measure between March and Easter.
- Data for the same.
- Anecdotal feedback for the same.
- Data and study evidence that face masks in classrooms are an effective measure in controlling Covid 19.
- Any other factor considered in your 'review' of this measure between March and Easter.
- The report providing details of the 'review' of face masks in schools between March and Easter, including full details of risks and benefits considered and the data behind these.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

PT

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Attachment

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

 

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ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear PT,

Thank you for your recent enquiry which was received on 07/04/2021.

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 2021-0021850.

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

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3. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 7 April
2021. You asked the following:

I would like to see the following information used when reaching the
conclusion that this was necessary, proportionate and likely to be
effective in addressing Covid 19:

* Specific data provided by PHE when making their recommendation to you.
* Specific details and report provided by PHE to the DfE in making the
recommendation to you.
* The feedback gathered from stakeholders in reviewing the success and
costs of this measure between March and Easter. Data for the same.
* Anecdotal feedback for the same.
* Data and study evidence that face masks in classrooms are an effective
measure in controlling Covid 19.
* Any other factor considered in your 'review' of this measure between
March and Easter.
* The report providing details of the 'review' of face masks in schools
between March and Easter, including full details of risks and benefits
considered and the data behind these.

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

* Specific data provided by PHE when making their recommendation to you.
* Specific details and report provided by PHE to the DfE in making the
recommendation to you.
* The feedback gathered from stakeholders in reviewing the success and
costs of this measure between March and Easter. Data for the same.
* Anecdotal feedback for the same.
* Any other factor considered in your 'review' of this measure between
March and Easter.
* The report providing details of the 'review' of face masks in schools
between March and Easter, including full details of risks and benefits
considered and the data behind these.

 
I have established that the Department holds the information you have
requested above, however the following exemptions apply to this
information: Section 35(1)(a) of the FOI Act - formulation of government
policy.

In applying section 35(1)(a), 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 the Department are withholding this specific information, I have
set out the policy on face coverings and have included any links to
research and evidence that are publicly available and support PHE’s advice
and DfE’s recommendations, which I hope that you will find useful.

Public Health England (PHE) are the lead department for providing
government, local government, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public
with evidence-based professional, scientific expertise and support. PHE
provides specialist public health advice to the Department for Education
(DfE) in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It is on the
basis of their advice that DfE’s recommendations on face coverings are
made.
Since September 2020, face coverings have been included in the ‘system of
controls’ for settings where year 7 and above are educated, first in
communal areas and – from 8 March – recommended in classrooms unless
social distancing can be maintained. This guidance was first introduced as
part of the Government’s commitment to open schools to all pupils safely
in September. This followed the publication of a statement by the World
Health Organisation advising that ‘children aged 12 and over should wear
face coverings under the same condition as adults, particularly when they
cannot guarantee at least a 1 metre distance from others and there is
widespread transmission in the area’. The statement is available
here:[1]https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail...
Based on the latest PHE advice, DfE recently published updated guidance
for schools to support the return to full attendance from 8 March, which
included updated advice on face coverings. The guidance can be found at
the following link:
[2]https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio...
 
To ensure education and care policy is guided by the most up-to-date
scientific evidence as this continues to evolve, DfE 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, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

We continue to recommend this additional precautionary measure for a
limited time to reduce the spread of infection/transmission of the virus
that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19). We will align any future
consideration of the policy with step 3 of the roadmap process. This
allows us to ensure that any decision is consistent with wider government
considerations on the relaxation of restrictions across society.  Based on
the current state of the pandemic and the positive progress being made, it
is expected that face coverings in classrooms will no longer be required
for both staff and pupils in classrooms, or by pupils in all communal
areas. Subject to the roadmap process, as part of step 3, we expect these
precautionary measures to no longer be recommended. This would be no
earlier than 17 May and will be confirmed with one week’s notice.
Public Health England published a rapid review which identifies and
examines evidence on COVID-19 transmission within school settings and the
effects of school-based interventions in reducing transmission. This can
be found at the following link:
[3]https://phe.koha-ptfs.co.uk/cgi-bin/koha...
On 22 February, DfE published its evidence summary: COVID-19 – children,
young people and education settings. This sets out the evidence relevant
to, and in support of, the Government’s decision to lift restrictions on
education from 8 March 2021 and includes a section on face coverings. This
can be found at the following link:
[4]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk...
As referenced within the evidence summary on page 18, SAGE have advised
that face coverings can be effective in reducing transmission in public
and community settings. Their effectiveness stems mostly from reducing the
emission of virus-carrying particles when worn by an infected person
(source control). Face coverings are likely to be most effective at
reducing transmission in both indoor and outdoor settings when people are
likely to be close together. Physical distancing and use of fabric face
coverings, alongside other interventions, are important mitigation
strategies to reduce community transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and
are likely to be needed to be applied more consistently and effectively to
be able to mitigate transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant. The link to
meeting minutes are available here: [5]SAGE 76 minutes: Coronavirus
(COVID-19) response, 14 January 2021 (publishing.service.gov.uk)
You may also find it useful to review the information set out in recent
SAGE Children’s Task and Finish Group papers. The paper at the link below
outlines that mitigations as set out in the system of controls are
important in all school settings to reduce transmission through aerosols,
close-range interactions and via surfaces. This paper is available here:
[6]TFC: Children and transmission - update paper, 10 February 2021 -
GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Scientific evidence supporting the government response to coronavirus
(COVID-19) is published by SAGE. Papers and meeting minutes can be found
at the following link: [7]Scientific evidence supporting the government
response to coronavirus (COVID-19) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Here, you will
also be able to find scientific publications from SAGE and SAGE
sub-groups. These publications will include minutes and papers covering
the scientific advice received at that time. There is also a list of
participants of SAGE and related sub-groups - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) where
you can find a list of SAGE participants who have authored and discussed
these papers at SAGE meetings.
Throughout the evidence summary document, in each of the footnotes you
will find links to the evidence and analysis that have contributed towards
the Government’s decision-making, which you may find helpful.
 
As our guidance outlines, these measures are being recommended for a time
limited period. We continue to work closely with PHE and other government
departments, as well as stakeholders across the sector, to keep all
measures under review based on the latest evidence and the effectiveness
of such measures, and we update guidance as necessary.

Data and study evidence that face masks in classrooms are an effective
measure in controlling Covid 19.
In response to your request for data and study evidence that face
coverings in the classrooms are an effective measure in controlling
COVID-19, I have established that the Department does not hold the
information you requested. As I have mentioned earlier in my response, PHE
provides specialist public health advice to the DfE in the context of the
coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It is on the basis of their advice that
DfE’s recommendations on face coverings are made.
Should you require any further information or have any further
questions on this, then we would recommend that you get in touch with PHE
at [8][email address] as they lead on evidence-based professional,
scientific expertise and support.  You may find it useful to check
PHE previous FOI releases to see if your question has been answered
already. FOI previous releases are available at the following
link: Transparency and freedom of information releases - GOV.UK
([9]www.gov.uk).
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
([10]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
-[11]http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/infor....
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number 2021-0021850 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,

Infection, Prevention and Control Team
Coronavirus Response Unit
Department for Education

References

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8. mailto:[email address]
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We don't know whether the most recent response to this request contains information or not – if you are PT please sign in and let everyone know.