Face masks in schools blasted as ‘devastating’ for deaf children as Gavin Williamson faces legal challenge

EDUCATION Secretary Gavin Williamson has been hit by a legal challenge over face masks in schools with guidance blasted as "devastating" for deaf kids.

Mr Williamson has been sent a Letter before Action by lawyers acting for the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) who say the guidance is unlawful.

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In the letter the Education Secretary was told that the latest guidance in schools is "unlawful, irrational and inconsistent" with his legal duties, the Telegraph reported.

The NCDS say that face masks create a "wholly avoidable additional barrier" for deaf kids to learn and socially interact.

Those pupils will not be able to see the faces of their teachers and peers and will be unable to lip read.

Transparent masks have been discussed in the past, however, the guidance claims that those masks show "very little evidence" for the safety of pupils and teachers.

The legal letter explains how the guidance on transparent masks is "irrational" as the recommendations also encourage pupils to make their own homemade masks.

“The suggestion that transparent face coverings may be ineffective is belied by the fact that specified transparent face coverings have been approved for use by the NHS in numerous healthcare settings and meet the standard set for face coverings,” it says.

Recently the Government has faced pressure over its latest guidance on masks in schools which says that they should be worn by secondary pupils during lessons as well as anywhere indoors in school where kids can't socially distance.

The rules are more strict than official recommendations on face masks that had been previously advised.

In the Autumn term, the Department for Education (DfE) said face coverings should be worn in communal areas in schools that are under Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions.

In other areas, it was up to the teacher's discretion whether pupils wore masks indoors.

George McLellan, an associate at the law firm DLA Piper said that the Education Secretary is failing in his duty to protect the wellbeing of kids and is discriminating against deaf children.

“He gave assurances in writing to NDCS that the guidance will be amended to accommodate the needs of deaf children,” Mr McLellan said.

“But this has not been delivered on.”

Chief Executive of NDCS Susan Daniels said that ministers are failing to meet their "moral and legal duty" to the 35,000 deaf pupils across the UK.

She called the failings "simply unacceptable".

“Face masks can have a devastating effect on deaf children and young people and all too often in the past year, they’ve been left to struggle on alone,” she added.

“Face masks can have a devastating effect on deaf children and young people and all too often in the past year, they’ve been left to struggle on alone."

DLA Piper have given the Department of Education until March 24 to respond and said they will follow up with a judicial review if no changes are made to the guidance.

A DfE spokesperson told the Telegraph: “Our guidance is clear that any children and staff who rely on lip reading or facial expressions to communicate do not have to wear face coverings in school.

“Throughout the pandemic schools have been able to make adjustments for children with additional needs, so they can learn and be taught alongside their peers.

“We will review our position on face coverings by Easter, and in line with all decision-making throughout the pandemic, will follow the best available scientific and public health advice at the time.”

In February two of the country's top scientists said they strongly advise teachers not to make primary school kids don face coverings.

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said: "The consensus view is very strongly to not advise school children of primary school age to wear face coverings.

"They can have difficulties wearing them and keeping them on all day, and it’s really important they can see facial expressions in order to develop their communication and language skills."

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam added: "I find it quite a daunting proposition to try and keep face masks on 30 five-year-olds in the same room.

"I just think you should be concentrating on the teaching."

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