What are the effects on behaviour of student mask wearing within school?

The government has, this week, confirmed that secondary school pupils in England will no longer be required to wear masks from the 17th May; with evidence to show the infection rates are decreasing amongst these students, despite the plea by teacher unions to not make the decision lightly. The twice-weekly home testing has been found to be enough to prevent infections. Pupils had originally been recommended to wear masks since the schools return to full onsite provision in March. 

There is much conversation around the idea that mask wearing has been detrimental to students communication and learning, with head teachers warning the decision to remove mask wearing was ‘hard to reconcile’ with the evidence on safety. Prior to the release of this information, five unions representing teachers and support staff, as well as scientists and parents, wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, urging him to keep masks in place until at least 21 June. 

The use of masks within the setting is far from normal, with Geoff Barton (head of the school leaders' union ASCL) claiming this to be ‘clearly not ideal in a classroom setting, as it has the capacity to disrupt education and it is not something, we want to see going on any longer than is absolutely necessary.’ The BBC have also claimed ‘There have been concerns that masks obstruct communicating and learning.’  

The above poses the question of the effects these masks have on the behaviours of the students, both positive and negative. 

Firstly, they are seen to impair verbal and non-verbal communications, limiting the ability to recognise emotions between teachers and students, factors heavily involved in social interactions; which in turn could have a detrimental effect on students’ learning. 

Secondly, some students have obeyed the rules surrounding mask wearing, since they are happy to be in school, rather than remote learning at home, thus reacting positively; whilst others have struggled to understand the reasoning behind them, using them as a way to avoid listening to and an excuse to ‘act up’ to teachers, causing added pressures for teachers and school leaders around how to manage these behaviours.

Other behaviour issues teachers and staff are having to face include:
• Students refusing to follow social distancing guidelines
• Stealing safety resources
• Pupils deliberately coughing in the faces of staff
• Throwing around used masks and littering
• Emptying hand sanitisers onto the floor

While these behaviours are often confined to a minority of students, these incidents have occurred in some schools which thus put teachers and other students in danger. However, this does not change the fundamentals of behaviour management, there are a number of great tips on how to manage behaviours in our previous 'Managing Behaviour In Secondary Schools'. 

There have also been reports of positive behaviours including students’ patience and understanding, with the majority of them following these guidelines. 

With the new government guidelines from the 17th May, school life will hopefully start to return to some sort of ‘normal’. But is this too soon?

What behavioural challenges have you experienced in your schools as a result of the students wearing masks and what impact has this had on training and strategies?

Have you found the masks to be a positive influence with unexpected value?

What are your thoughts on when the rules should be changed?

Megan Jordan


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