Milton Keynes head teacher orders all children from the age of 5 to wear surgical masks or face shields when they return to school next month

A Milton Keynes primary school is believed to be the first in the country to insist that all pupils wear surgical masks or face shields in classrooms.

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 20th August 2020, 7:10 pm

Warren Harrison, chief executive officer of the Premier Academy's Eaton Mill primary school in Bletchley, issued the order in a newsletter to parents on Monday.

He had previously warned parents that if they're not taking Covid-19 seriously they need to find another school, advising them to: "Maybe try Hogwarts".

In his newsletter, Mr Harrison slams the government for "doing everything on the hoof" and says the Premier Academy is acting with "common sense, logic and reason" in its face mask initiative.

Warren Harrison

The move is against government guidelines, which state children under the age of 11 are exempt from having to wear face coverings.

Mr Harrison's rules will apply to all children from Year 1 upwards when they return to school on September 8.

His newsletter states:

• All staff, children, parents, carers and visitors must don a mask when on site or they will not be allowed access. Face coverings are not acceptable. We recommend the N95 or surgical masks.

The Premier Academy's Eaton Mill Primary School

• Once in their bubbles, children and those members of staff in close contact with children will change from a mask to a named shield which will be supplied by the school. Anyone may however stay in a mask if they prefer.

• Reception aged children will not be mandated to wear a mask or face shield, however we would encourage you to encourage them to do so at the current time.

• When moving around the school, masks or shields must be worn - e.g. visiting the toilets.

• When not in the classroom, masks may be removed for eating purposes and when outside the building during the bubble’s daily walks.

"Maybe try Hogwarts", suggests Mr Harrisons

• All cross bubble contact between children and staff and staff will need all parties to don a mask.

• At dismissal time all shields should be left on desks with water bottles so that they can be cleaned efficiently.

• Children will be dismissed in masks to adults wearing masks.

• Where possible please maintain a 2m distance and follow the instructions given by the staff.

Mr Harrison's letter states water bottles and face shields were being provided and would be named by the school.

He urges parents to practice mask wearing with their children before school begins.

"Make sure that your child understands why they are wearing a mask," he writes.

"Teach them how to apply it and remove it and slip their arm through it up to their bicep for when they go to the dining hall or their daily walks.

"It would also be useful if they could practise wearing a shield over their face for a while at home to get them used to this too.

"Please note that the following steps are precautionary measures designed to protect everyone from C-19 and especially the more vulnerable members of staff. These measures will be reviewed monthly however we expect more schools to follow suit."

The school is also cancelling breakfast and after school clubs as an added safety precaution.

Much of the rest of the newsletter is spent criticising the way in which the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled in the UK.

Mr Harrison writes: "If it (the mask rule) goes well, you never know, it may catch on. From what we have witnessed so far, doing everything on the hoof doesn’t really pay dividends. Especially given the fact that government is now scapegoating Public Health England which will be disbanded by (Matt) Hancock who actually has direct control of PHE and is the same man who told NHS workers back in April that wearing masks made no difference.

"If this sounds too far fetched then please avoid talking to 18-year-olds about their exam results. Yesterday students protesting in London were demanding that the Prime Minister came out of hiding. Today a national newspaper has reported that he has gone on another holiday. Maybe he is thinking that if things don’t improve, he can replace Dion Dublin on A Place In The Sun. Who knows?"

The letter adds: "The WHO has said from the outset that we need to test test test and this would seem like the obvious way forward which would solve many of the issues and help reduce anxiety. If we could we would like to randomly test children and staff on a weekly basis and we do not understand why this is such a difficult strategy for the government to deliver on unless of course it knows something that we don’t.

"Just like a vesper martini it would shake things up without stirring things up especially today which is so far the day when the highest number of C-19 cases have been confirmed globally".

Mr Harrison's letter is titled 'The World Has Changed And So Have We' and also makes puns about Bond movies.

It states: "Although this may sound like the title of the next Bond Movie, it is not. I do appreciate that it could have felt like the sky was falling in recently but tomorrow never dies and we have to look to the future. The quantum of solace that we have all faced recently seemed to be coming to an end until today when MK Council leader Pete Marland said that MK may soon need to go into lockdown!

"As it stands we are still planning to open on 8 September and to have all children back on site by the end of that week. There is no way of working Moonraker into this paragraph, however if the next Bond movie is set in SW1, I expect the title to be From Punch And Judy With Love! Need I say more?"

Earlier this month he wrote another message to Premier Academy parents about Covid safety measures. He said: "None of us can afford to be complacent. And if you are not taking Covid-19 seriously then we need to find you a school which better matches your view of the world. Maybe try Hogwarts."

This week's newsletter, which is signed off with the words "Stay safe, mask up and stay classy", ends with an obscure joke: "I once threw a boomerang and now I live in constant fear. My girlfriend accused me of being immature, so I told her to get out of my den. Someone stole my mood ring; I don’t know how I feel about that. I broke my finger last week. On the other hand I’m okay."

Mr Harrison hit the headlines in 2017 for being outspoken when he ranted in a newsletter to parents about the then Prime Minister Theresa May spending £995 on pair of leather trousers. At the time he was one of the highest paid school heads in MK, earning between £140,000 and £150,000 a year.

Some parents at the Premier Academy, which has an all-round rating of Outstanding by Ofsted, are not happy at all about the latest newsletter and the face mask ruling.

One parent told the Citizen: "I believe this makes them the first primary school in England to do this, and it is contrary to government guidance. We have applied to move our child due to this and their decision to cancel breakfast and after school clubs, which makes it impossible for us to get them to school."

Others, however, have viewed the measures as sensible and safe.

"It sounds extreme, but at least I know my child is protected. It will be very difficult to persuade a five-year-old to wear a mask or shield all day though," said one mum.

Mr Harrison told the Citizen today: "Our last parental survey returned that only 70 per cent of parents were intending to send their children back to school in September. The school has had five staff resignations citing C-19 as the reason since July.

"We have 456 families with siblings on site and due to the nature of the site and parking restrictions (being at the very end of a cul-de -sac) we found in July that we would struggle to stagger dismissal if we wanted to maintain a one way system."

Mr Harrison said the school was lucky enough to have a number of NHS staff on its governing body and they are "fully supportive" of the initiative.

He said his stance was prompted by growing evidence that Covid-19 is an aerosol spread virus and not simply spread through formites and droplets.

"This point is probably the most salient one to the nation and would explain why when outbreaks happen that so may people get infected.I am now in consultation with NHS about its findings and others who are espousing this view as it will potentially mean replacing all our AC with portable HEPA filters," he said.

"I believe that this may explain why so many companies have already said that there will be no office based return for the foreseeable future and indeed why so many people are working from home."

Mr Harrison said Premier Academy had invested in large-scale precautions such as thermal scanning units and "thousands of pieces of PPE" for the school.