COUNCIL leaders and union representatives in Cumbria have welcomed the Government's decision to reverse guidance on wearing face masks in schools.

Pupils in the North West will now have to wear face coverings in school corridors within local lockdown areas of England, after Number 10 was forced into yet another education U-turn.

Head teachers across the country had been told that face coverings will not be mandatory in schools when they reopen next week as long as they adhere to hygiene rules.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced into a climbdown over the issue, following days of pressure and accusations of 'buck-passing' from opposition parties.

The beleaguered Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, defended the move yesterday, arguing that the Government was simply following updated advice from the World Health Organisation.

Under the new guidance, secondary-school head teachers will also gain the 'flexibility' to introduce mask-wearing in their schools.

Cllr Sue Sanderson, cabinet member for education at the county council level and governor of Sandside Lodge School in Ulverston, said on Tuesday that she had had no indication it would be made mandatory in Cumbria.

"I think the evidence for face masks isn't very strong - especially with secondary pupils," she said.

"So I think it's right there's that discretion.

"In the case of Sandside, there are a lot of pupils with special needs who attend the school and for whom compulsory mask-wearing could cause a number of problems.

"I think it's right that different schools with different buildings and pupil make-ups might choose to make it mandatory or not."

Andy Brewerton, President of the National Education Union's (NEU) Cumbria branch, said: ""As far as the NEU's concerned, we're very pleased with the U-turn and also with the fact that the Government is providing head teachers in Cumbria with the powers to make the decisions they want to.

"Just for the safety and wellbeing of the staff and pupils who want to wear these protections, it's important.

"The union's position is that anyone who wants to wear a mask, visor, or a face covering of any description shouldn't be denied from doing that.

"Heads having the powers and the flexibility to decide on this matter is the way forward, in our view."

Cumbria's public health director, Colin Cox, said yesterday: "On August 25, it was announced that children in Year 7 and above in lockdown areas should wear face coverings in communal school spaces.

"Outside of lockdown areas, face coverings will not be required in schools, but schools have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances."