Critics have attacked a decision to continue making secondary pupils wear masks in classrooms, branding it an “assault on children’s rights”.

Members of Stand By Me Scotland (SBMS), a parent-teacher campaign group, said they were “appalled and disgusted” after ministers announced current Covid-19 mitigations in schools would be extended.

However, senior figures at the EIS union backed the move, which will also mean secondary-age children and young people, as well as staff in primary and high schools, having to put on face coverings in communal areas or when moving around campus buildings.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the decision was shaped by the desire for a “cautious” approach after infection trends suggested the “previous sharp decline” in case numbers had begun to level off.

READ MORE: High school pupils to continue wearing masks in class

Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer, has also advised that keeping the guidance in place as pupils return to school following the October holidays will allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated.

Ms Somerville added: “This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time.

“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff remains the overriding priority.

“There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville made the announcement.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville made the announcement.

But a spokesperson for SMBS said: “We are appalled and disgusted that the Scottish Government has bowed to pressure from the EIS and rowed back on updating its guidance in line with recommendations from experts on its own Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues, which met on October 5th.

“Blatantly pegging the removal of masks to vaccination rates of 12 to 15-year-olds, as today’s announcement does, is a monumental shifting of the goalposts and, frankly, it’s pure coercion. This is an assault on children’s rights which we’ll fight tooth and nail.”

SMBS also distributed staff testimonies, with one secondary teacher saying: “I hate masks in classrooms. I’ve found it very difficult to manage in terms of being able to communicate clearly with pupils, particularly those who are introverted or have additional support needs. It is also creating extra problems with regards to behaviour management.

“The logistics of constantly reminding pupils to put masks on, fetch replacements from the office etc take up so much valuable class time.”

READ MORE: School cuts use of bell in bid to create calmer environment

The criticisms were echoed by Scottish Conservative Oliver Mundell. “Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with facemasks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue,” he said.

Leaked draft guidance, which had been lined up for publication last week, suggested a range of in-school measures were set to be relaxed as part of moves towards “baseline” Covid mitigations. The loosening would have allowed events such as in-person, multi-class and multi-year group parents’ evenings to take place.

Senior figures at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, welcomed the Government’s latest decision.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS has argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete roll out of vaccinations for pupils.

“The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter."