Government reverses guidance on face masks in schools

The Department for Education has updated its advice on face coverings in schools, saying that secondary school pupils in England will have to wear masks in school corridors in local lockdown areas of England.

Following updated advice from the World Health Organization, as well as decision made by the devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the government U-turn also means that headteachers in any secondary school will also have the ‘flexibility’ to introduce masks in their schools.

But it will still not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where the government says that ‘protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning’.

The new guidelines, which apply from 1 September, also warn that ‘stricter guidance’ on face coverings could apply to all schools ‘if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country’.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice. We have therefore decided to follow the World Health Organisation’s new advice. In local lockdown areas children in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces. Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances. I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance.”

Whilst the change in policy is not surprising, the government has still been accused of not doing enough.

Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commented: “Parents and schools needed clarity and leadership, but instead the government have just passed the buck back to them. Face coverings should be compulsory in communal areas in schools. Instead of this half baked u-turn the government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it.”

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