Julia Donaldson, the author of The Gruffalo and a former children’s laureate, has said face masks in schools are “dystopian” and should “not be considered normal”.
The former secondary school English teacher who has penned more than 200 books said children’s education should not be “sacrificed” to protect the NHS.
“Even if the current proposals are only for three weeks, this could be repeated and become something considered normal whenever there is infection, whereas in fact it should not be considered normal. It is alien – even dystopian,” she told The Times.
“Children are children for such a short time – I don’t think they should be sacrificed like this. [Masks are] seen as a gesture that isn’t costing the Government any money and as something that is not doing any harm.
“Because of the climate of fear, people have readily accepted something I regard as unacceptable, and that I fear may now be seen as a normal part of life.”
Meanwhile, school leaders said an exams “Plan B” was needed after the first week of term was hit by a spate of Covid-related closures.
It was “highly unlikely” that GCSEs and A-levels would take place as planned this summer given the scale of disruption schools face, a multi-academy trust chief warned.
The Rev Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis academy trust, which runs 52 schools, said pupils needed to have some certainty over the arrangements for the summer if exams are cancelled.
His comments came as schools around the country sent classes or entire year groups home as they struggled to cope with staff absences.
Four schools in Wakefield were partially closed this week, including Evolve Academy, which told pupils in years seven, eight and nine to stay at home, and Outwood Academy which told Year Nine to learn remotely.
Thorpe Primary School, in Bradford, was closed for the entire first week of term to all but Year Six students because “unprecedented” numbers of staff were self-isolating. Newlaithes Infant School, in Carlisle, was closed completely for the week because of Covid cases among staff, and is due to reopen on Monday.
Haveley Hey Community School in Wythenshawe, Manchester, sent both its Year Six classes home because of “significant staffing issues”, and Parklands High School, in Lancashire, asked pupils in years seven, eight, nine and 10 to learn at home for a day this week to cope with teacher absence.
Rev Chalke said staff absence levels across all the schools in his trust was running at around 10 per cent, but believed this could rise as term goes on. One of his schools, in Birmingham, was partially closed this week because it was “unsafe” to welcome all children back given the lack of staff.
“This is the last term you have to prepare pupils for their GCSEs and A-levels,” he said. “How can we have an undisrupted term? How can you create a level playing field nationally? Headteachers want clarity so we can serve our children well. I call on the Government to publish a Plan B if exams aren’t going to happen.”
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that if omicron cases among pupils started to ratchet up and “if we see more pupil absence, then a ‘Plan B’ is needed to give students and parents confidence in whatever arrangements are made”.
Sir Dan Moynihan, the chief executive of the Harris Federation, which runs 51 schools in London and Essex, said one fifth of staff at one large secondary school had tested positive, meaning a year group has been sent home – something he called “a disaster”.
He told The Telegraph: “I would say 10 per cent staff absence is where you run into trouble. We expect it to get much worse next week. In some schools we have unvaccinated staff, where they have been pinged by Test and Trace and it means they have got to go and isolate. We tend to have more unvaccinated staff in areas of high disadvantage.”
Last month, the Government launched a campaign aimed at encouraging ex-teachers to return to the profession and help cover lessons this term to keep schools open.
Terry Irish-Jones, the managing director of the teacher recruitment agency Education Matters Group, said demand for supply teachers had already increased “dramatically”.
- Live: Ghislaine Maxwell found guilty of aiding Epstein’s sex abuse | UK News video
- Oliver Dowden: ‘Tories have always kept taxes low – that’s where the PM and Chancellor’s heart is’ | UK News
- In watering down planning reforms, the Government is betraying a generation | UK News
( Information from telegraph.co.uk was used in this report. To Read More, click here )