Face coverings mandatory in communal areas of all secondary schools

The wearing of face coverings will become mandatory in communal areas of all secondary schools from Monday.

Following the announcement of the government’s decision to hold another month-long lockdown from this Thursday, the Department for Education has published updated guidance for schools.

Until now, face coverings in communal areas have only been mandatory in some areas subject to local lockdown restrictions. This change extends the requirement to schools nationwide.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was “ridiculous that this new guidance has landed on school leaders’ desks less than 24 hours before the start of the national lockdown. There is very little in the guidance that could not have been communicated with schools 72 hours ago.”

The guidance states: “In schools where pupils in year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.”

The DfE expects schools “to ensure any changes required in light of national restrictions are in place as soon as practically possible, and by Monday November 9 at the latest”.

However, the guidance goes on to say that “some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings and we expect adults and pupils to be sensitive to those needs”.

Face coverings “should also be worn by pupils in year 7 and above when travelling on dedicated school transport to secondary school or college”.

Coverings are not needed in primary schools and other settings that teach year 6 and below, but the government said these institutions will continue to have the “discretion” to recommend the use of face-coverings for adults on-site where social distancing is “not possible”.

DfE suspends its ‘contain framework’ of tiered restrictions

The DfE has also confirmed that the “Contain framework”, which brought in the rules on face coverings in local lockdown areas, will not apply during the national lockdown.

Currently, schools in areas subject to local lockdowns are in tier 1 of the Contain framework, which requires masks to be worn in secondary communal areas. None have yet been put into tier 2, which would involve the use of rotas in secondary schools.

The DfE said Contain would apply again once the national lockdown is lifted, and said it would say more on how it would be applied “in due course”.

The government has also updated guidance for school staff who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable, telling them to either work from home or if they can’t, not to go to work at all.

Applicable conditions include certain cancers, severe respiratory conditions, rare diseases and pregnancies in women with significant heart disease.

Staff in this category should “talk to their employers about how they will be supported, including to work from home where possible, during the period of national restrictions”.

‘Reimburse schools for staff cover’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the government should reimburse schools for the costs of hiring supply cover for staff absence, with the changes likely to compound shortages with staff off work self-isolating.

“We have received reports of schools having to spend £6,000 per week on supply cover, and this situation is going to become worse. Schools and colleges cannot sustain these costs,” he added.

The guidance also states that most children originally identified as clinically extremely vulnerable “no longer need to follow original shielding advice”, and that parents should speak to their child’s GP or specialist clinicial.

However, those children whose doctors confirm they are still clinically extremely vulnerable “are advised not to attend education whilst the national restrictions are in place”. Schools will need to make “appropriate arrangements” to enable them to learn at home, the guidance adds.

Children and staff who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, can still attend. Those considered clinically vulnerable, but not extremely vulnerable, can also still attend.