Stack of textbooks and a face mask for returning to school after Covid 19 By David Gales AdobeStock_362719386

Schools in Bedford are likely to be advised to ‘stick with’ mask wearing after national restrictions end on 19 July, a meeting heard.

The Borough Council is set to continue to go its own way on school mask wearing, which has not been a national requirement, because of the high infection rates in the area.

Ben Pearson, the council’s chief officer for education, SEND and school infrastructure, said: “The current Department for Education advice is that masks don’t need to be worn in school, but Bedford borough’s advice to every school is you’ve got to carry on wearing masks.”

Mr Pearson told the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Monday (5 July 2021) that it is his view that the advice will not change if case numbers remain high.

He added that the advice is to “stick with it because we know the mitigations are working.

With the end of term being on 22 July, only a few days after so-called freedom day on 19 July, Mr Pearson urged: “Please stick with it for the next three weeks and get us to the summer holidays and then we will review it from there.

The committee, which is continuing to meet remotely, also heard of the massive impact that covid is having on children’s learning.

Mr Pearson said: “In the last two weeks we have had 161 cases in schools which is huge and we are really concerned.

Last Wednesday there were two cases of COVID at Wixams secondary.

We met with Wixams secondary this morning (Monday) and they now have 32 confirmed cases with the whole of their year nine group self-isolating.

But the meeting heard that the infections are not being shared between pupils in schools. The spread is happening outside the school gates.

This is around community transmission,” said Mr Pearson. “It’s around children playing together and people going to each other’s houses.”

Education chiefs have concerns for year 10s heading into next year’s exams after having to isolate up to four times this year, and its disruption to their learning.

The committee also heard anecdotal evidence of students who have not been self-isolating and learning while at home.

Cllr John Wheeler (Con, Wootton) said: “There seems to be a lack of concern, with children who are meant to be isolating but aren’t.

Mr Pearson said: “Children isolating are meant to be at home learning.

I don’t want to see them out and about, that’s not what they should be doing.”