While face masks are very important for containing coronavirus, we must recognise the unintended consequences of measures designed to control the spread of the virus. I therefore recognise the concerns raised about the impact of face masks being worn in schools on deaf children and those with hearing loss who rely on lip reading and facial expression to communicate.
I know the National Deaf Children’s Society is calling for the inclusion of specific adjustments for deaf children and those with hearing loss in the guidance for schools, such as the wearing of transparent face masks in educational settings. I understand this is in response to concerns that some teachers are wearing standard face masks in classrooms, and social interaction outside classrooms is also difficult for deaf students when standard masks are worn.
I agree deaf children must be supported to access learning during the pandemic, and I believe clear face masks have an important role to play in schools for children with hearing difficulties.
While there is no requirement to wear masks in classrooms, the guidance for schools does recommend the use of face coverings in certain settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. But as you will be aware, there is no specific advice on the use of clear face masks in these situations. There is, however, an exemption from wearing face masks for people who are speaking to or assisting someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.
Last year the Government confirmed plans for 250,000 clear face masks to be delivered to frontline NHS and social care workers to support better care for people who use lip reading and facial expression to communicate. I certainly believe the Government should consider the case for clear face masks being used in schools.
The guidance on face coverings is likely to be in place for some time. I support an inclusive approach for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, and I will continue to press the Government to make clear face masks available to all those who need them.