STV’s Scotland Tonight is facing criticism after platforming a campaigner calling for face coverings not to be mandatory in schools.

Jo Bisset, co-founder of campaign group Us for Them, appeared on the programme as part of the “Listen Up” debate segment arguing face coverings are “ineffective” and “invasive”.

In Scottish schools the official advice is that pupils aged over 12 are only required to wear a face covering if they are in a communal area where social distancing is not possible, like corridors or public transport taking children to the school. Masks are not mandatory in classrooms.

Bisset was shown in a short campaign clip arguing pupils’ “entire interactive learning experience suffers as a result” of being asked to wear face coverings in schools, without offering evidence for the claim.

The campaigner also claimed that the rules on masks are “damaging to [children’s] mental health”. When asked for evidence to support that claim, Bisset pointed to research from Professor Ellen Townsend of Nottingham University’s self-harm unit.

She told viewers: “Her and her team have written extensively on the impact of lockdown and the various measures that we have enforced upon our children. And there is already extensive research that shows that these measures are having huge impacts.”

While Townsend is concerned about the impact of lockdown on young people, The National could identify no work examining Scotland’s masks rules for pupils from the professor.

The National:

Susan Quinn of the EIS appeared alongside Bisset on the programme to give the view from teachers inside schools.

“What we’re looking at is a situation where we have to be making sure that all mitigations are available for staff and pupils within our schools,” she told viewers. “What we’re seeing, you said yourself, face masks or face coverings are not expected to be worn anywhere other than in communal and busy areas.

“And that’s come about as a result of the effects of the return to school, where we’ve seen the two-metres distancing, the difficulties in putting forward the health and safety measures in our schools and it came from discussions between staff and pupils

“So what we have in place at the moment is a situation where over 12s are wearing them in a small period of time during the day where they can’t physically distance.”

Former Labour MP Danielle Rowley got in touch with Scotland Tonight to ask why they had provided a platform to Us for Them.

“Many people are baffled about why a woman claiming masks are ineffective and cause mental health problems was given a platform on the programme,” she told the programme.

“This misinformation is dangerous, and not backed up by any legitimate evidence.

“Why was this decision made?”

An STV spokesperson said: “Scotland Tonight regularly highlights debates in the broader community and gives those involved an opportunity to discuss them. The use of face coverings in schools is by no means a settled issue. 

“Bisset’s claims were challenged both by the presenter and another guest with an opposing view, leading to a balanced segment that presented several perspectives on an issue of ongoing public interest.”

The debate came after BBC Radio Scotland sparked a backlash after giving airtime to a coronavirus sceptic and anti-vaccination campaigner.