Publication - FOI/EIR release

COVID-19 face masks in schools and colleges: FOI Review

Published: 21 Dec 2021

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Published:
21 Dec 2021
COVID-19 face masks in schools and colleges: FOI Review
FOI reference: FOI/202100250240 Review of 202100229906
Date received: 25 Oct 2021
Date responded: 17 Nov 2021
Information requested

You requested a review of a response to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) for:

1. All scientific and clinical evidence that was used to decide that it is safe for a 16 or 17 year old attending college not to wear a face mask while in classes, but unsafe for a 16 or 17 year old to attend school without wearing a mask all day.

2. Any email correspondence between the Scottish Government and the EIS discussing the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear masks all day at the start of the autumn term.

3. The specific criteria (e.g. rates of virus, rates of vaccination in teachers, rates of vaccination in young people) that must be met before secondary pupils will no longer require to wear masks in school all day.

Response

1. All scientific and clinical evidence that was used to decide that it is safe for a 16 or 17 year old attending college not to wear a face mask while in classes, but unsafe for a 16 or 17 year old to attend school without wearing a mask all day.

I have determined that a different decision should be substituted.We issued a section 25(1) notification under FOISA that set out that we do not have to provide information that is otherwise accessible to you that the Scottish Government holds but is in the public domain. I have determined that some of this information is not held by the Scottish Government but links were provided to publicly accessible information. In these instances a notification under 17(1) that the Scottish Government does not hold the information should be substituted.

Links to the following documents that were provided in our original request for which a 25(1) notification – that we are not required to provide information held by the Scottish Government that is otherwise accessible to you - should be upheld:

  • On 25 August 2020 the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues published an update on face coverings in schools which further supports our current position with regards to children wearing face coverings. The update can be found here.
  • The Advisory Sub‐Group on Education and Children’s Issues published advice on the return to School in August 2021. In their publication, they state that “face coverings should continue to be worn by adults and secondaryaged pupils in classrooms, as well as in communal areas and when moving around the school building. They should also continue to be worn by adults in communal areas and when moving around the building in ELC settings”.
  • Children’s rights and wellbeing impact assessment on back to school arrangements – August 2021
  • Impact assessment on back to school arrangements – August 2021
  • The Scottish Government published guidance on 3 August that states that it continues to be the employer’s responsibility to regularly carry out workplace risk assessments, including around face coverings, for their school and put in place measures to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable to try and minimise the risk to staff including contracting COVID-19. This guidance can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools. In addition, the educational sub-group advice takes account of all the relevant evidence and seeks to balance risks when making recommendations.
  • On 21 June 2021, the Scottish Government published “Working Paper: Covid-19 Mitigation Measures Among Children and Young People”. This paper summarises the available evidence base around mitigation measures for children and young people, including the use of face coverings. This paper was undertaken in response to World Health Organisation (WHO) advice that countries should monitor the impact of face coverings on young people, looking at their physical and mental health and transmission of COVID-19. This paper is kept under regular review as new evidence and data emerges.

Links to the following documents that were provided in our original request for which a 17(1) notification should be substituted that the Scottish Government does not hold the information requested:

  • On 21 April 2020, the SAGE meeting number 27 considered DELVE group paper on face masks for the general public. The paper highlighted that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are infectious and that droplets from infected individuals are a major mode of transmission. Therefore, they concluded that face masks can be a tool for managing community transmission of COVID-19 within the general population. Based on the above, SAGE concluded in meeting number 27, held on 21 April 2020, that evidence for using face cloth coverings in the community for source control and protection is weak.However, they could be recommended as a precautionary measure in high-risk indoor settings where it is not possible to follow social distancing measures.
  • On 28 April 2020, SAGE Environmental and Modelling Group (EMG) published the paper environmental influence on transmission. This paper looked at transmission through airborne, droplet and contact routes and considered the evidence relating to different mitigating measures. They advised that face coverings could be another mitigation in place, especially when 2-metre distancing cannot be maintained.
  • On 4 June 2020, SAGE discussed mitigating measures which included the use of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 5 June 2020, updated December 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released updated advice on the use of face coverings. The guidance advised that, to prevent Covid-19 transmission effectively in areas of community transmission, governments should encourage the general public to wear face coverings in specific situations and settings as part of comprehensive approach to suppress Covid-19 transmission. You can find a copy of this guidance on the WHO website here.
  • On 22 July, SAGE published a paper on aerosol transmission, which highlighted that “[Cloth] face coverings will reduce the dispersion of respiratory droplets and small aerosols that carry the virus into the air from an infected person”. The paper also highlights the importance of face coverings to reduce asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission. The paper can be found on the SAGE website here.
  • On 24 July 2020, UK Parliament released a summary of the relevant SAGE reports on face coverings. This can be found on the UK Parliament website here.
  • On 15 September, SAGE NERVTAG-EMG provided updated advice on the use of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 1 October 2020, SAGE concluded that to mitigate against aerosol transmission, enhanced use of face coverings should be considered alongside ventilation for reducing far-field aerosol transmission risks. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 1 December 2020 WHO published updated advice on the use of face coverings in the community. You can access the most up to date guidance from WHO here.
  • On 22 December 2020, SAGE meeting number 74 discussed a paper on mitigations to reduce transmissibility. The publication reinforced the importance of strengthening all mitigation measures. For face coverings, they highlighted that this mitigation is important to reduce the emission rate of small aerosols, which provides a degree of protection for individuals around the wearer.
  • On 8 April 2021, SAGE highlighted that studies support the continued use of face coverings for staff working in hospitality, retail and leisure sectors, especially those working at restaurants, bars and pubs are at higher risk. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 5 July 2021 EMG, SPI-M and SPI-B published “considerations in implementing long-term ‘baseline’ NPIs.” The key messages are that ongoing baseline measures, such as face coverings, are required to decrease the risk of transmission from an infected person. The paper also highlights the importance of quality and fit of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On the 21 August 2020, the WHO published evidence on the use of face coverings for children within the community. This evidence can be found on the WHO website here.
  • On 1 December 2020 WHO published updated advice on the use of face coverings in the community, including children. It reiterated its advice of 20 August (as above) and 14 September that the decision to use masks for children between 6-11 should follow a risk-based approach.

2. Any email correspondence between the Scottish Government and the EIS discussing the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear masks all day at the start of the autumn term I have determined that a different decision should be substituted.

In responding to your initial request we issued a section 17(1) notification under FOISA that set out that the Scottish Government does not hold information falling within scope of this part of your request.. In conducting my review I have identified some information that meets the scope of your request and have
therefore determined that we were not entitled to respond to this part of your request under section 17(1) (information not held).

I attach a copy of most of the information you have requested.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of information redacted from this document because it is personal data of a third party, i.e. names/contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the
General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

3. The specific criteria (e.g. rates of virus, rates of vaccination in teachers, rates of vaccination in young people) that must be met before secondary pupils will no longer require to wear masks in school all day.

We issued a section 17(1) notification under FOISA that set out that the Scottish Government does not hold this information. Having carried out further searches, I have determined that the original decision should be upheld. The reason the Scottish Government does not hold this information is that decisions on mitigations within secondary school settings are not linked to specific criteria as your request describes but are made considering a wide range of evidence including clinical and public health evidence relating to vaccine efficacy, potential health harms, harms caused by public interventions, case numbers and views on risks. For this reason, the Scottish Government does not hold the information you requested.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG