Government considering compulsory face masks in secondary school classrooms, DfE official says


The Department for Education is considering plans to make face masks compulsory in the classroom for pupils in year 7 and above, as well as their teachers, a government official said during a briefing on Covid plans.

Such a move would mark a big shift for the government, with prime minister Boris Johnson previously stating “you can’t teach with face coverings and you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings”.

The current guidance is coverings are worn in communal areas in secondary schools, but the government is under pressure to up its Covid measures over school safety concerns.

An official from the DfE’s department of strategy, social mobility and disadvantage told attendees at a briefing on Wednesday evening of the plans.

We do not believe it is safe for the community, pupils or school staff for schools to reopen on Monday

According to sources familiar with what was said at the briefing, the official said the department’s plan was to make it compulsory for pupils in year 7 and upwards, as well as their teachers, to wear face masks in the classroom.

He also said there would be exemptions for those who cannot wear masks for medical or special educational needs reasons.

However, in a further sign of confusion over its back-to-school plans, the DfE would only say the government continues to keep protective measures under review, adding its current guidance remains up to date.

Currently in schools and colleges with pupils in year 7 and above, face coverings should be worn by both adults and pupils in communal areas.

The department did not respond when asked for further clarification.

But government scientists have now said mandating the wearing of face masks in schools may now be necessary as the new Covid strain causes cases to rise.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised ministers on December 22 that it is “highly unlikely that measures with stringency and adherence in line with the measures in England in November [with schools open] would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant”.

Minutes of the meeting, published yesterday, state the closure of secondary schools, rather than primaries, would have a greater effect on lowering the R rate of transmission.

But scientists warned it “remains difficult to distinguish where transmission between children takes place”, adding further analysis of the measures required to bring the R rate below 1 would not be possible until mid-January.

A further meeting on mitigations to reduce transmission of the new variant of Covid, on December 23, stated it “may be necessary to extend the use of face coverings to a wider number of settings (e.g. workplaces and education) where they are not currently mandated”.

“This is important even when people are more than 2m apart, as correctly worn face coverings also reduce the emission rate of small aerosols,” the briefing notes stated.

Kevin Courtney (pictured), joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said “we do not believe that it is safe for the community, pupils or school staff for schools and colleges to reopen on Monday”.

He added they should remain closed until mid-January at the earliest so the government can make “an informed decision on the safety of reopening schools as SAGE advise”.

The government has pushed back the reopening of secondary schools, with primaries in Covid hotspots also not reopening as usual.

However, London boroughs not included on the hotspot list have demanded answers from the government.

Haringey council, one of the eight London boroughs where primary schools are due to reopen, has advised its schools to defy government and remain closed to all but vulnerable and key worker children.

A letter sent to schools from the council stated that when “parts of London with lower infection rates than Haringey are deemed by the government too high to allow children and staff to return, it cannot be safe for children and teaching staff in Haringey to do so”.

A DfE spokesperson has said decisions were based on “close work with Public Health England, the NHS, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and across government to monitor the number of new infections, positivity rates and pressures on the NHS”.

The DfE has been heavily criticised over this week’s new back-to-school plans, with confusion over changing expectations on remote learning, a quietly announced U-turn on mass testing now being mandatory and only publishing detailed return plans for special schools at 5.50pm on New Year’s Eve.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the government has “made a habit of chaotic eleventh hour announcements which leave schools and colleges picking up the pieces”.


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  1. Sheena Menzies

    Good afternoon, I work for Hampshire County Council as a school escort and I travel with Children with SEN, challenging behaviour. I wear a mask, but the children don’t and the teachers don’t. I have already had to self isolate for 14 days because of an alert informing me I had been in contact with someone who tested Covid positive.
    I am over 60 and have a chronic medical condition of 32 years. I am feeling anxious about returning to work, Looks like I won’t get the vaccine until after Easter maybe even the in summer time. I enjoy my job, it’s very rewarding, but I don’t want to end up in a hospital waiting in line to be seen with many other’s, as the rate of infection is clearly getting worse.

  2. I find this absurd. This is a form of munchausen and will have long term
    Psychological effects on children. Pretending that everyone is sick is disgraceful and should be stopped.

    This almost seems like a great way to stop children talking and socialising – I’d love to know from a speech therapist what the effects of mask wearing will have on speech even with secondary school kids. Unbelievable

  3. christina evans

    Keep the children home. How can you tell the parents to stay at home yet send their children out. Most of the country is in tier 4. It needs tackling aggresively like the govt should have done in the first place.

  4. David serva

    Is Boris ” more turns than a ballet dancer” Johnson who, in August 2020 said: “You can’t teach with face coverings and you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings” now going to do another turn and force school children into wearing face coverings or face nappy’s in the class room.? This is child abuse despite what Covid-19 lockdown zealots say.
    Its bad enough seeing so many people willingly accepting and conditioned to walking around looking miserable wearing their face nappies in the belief that some how they are being protect from a virus, albeit a nasty one that we now know is threatening to older people who may well have pre-exiting medical conditions but for millions of healthy people in the population the virus is not going to kill them.
    Now you can see children, toddlers and on two occasions I have seen babies masked up in the street.!
    This is what fear and social conditioning does to people and from the start (March 2020) SAGE, the media and government have led “Project Fear Porn” aimed against the people of this once democratic country.
    Now its going after school kids in the class room.?
    Anyone who says that wearing their face nappy does not cause discomfort in their ability to breath is a liar.
    If they are happy breathing their own state breath plus any microscopic particles from the nappy that will go down their throats causing probable health conditions in the future that’s their right but forcing children to sit in a class room wearing their face nappy is tantamount to child abuse and must not be forced on them.

    • Joanna Kowalska

      Totally agree with you. Is absolutely disgusting to force poor children to wear face coverings in their classroom. Face masks getting dump, glassess foggy. My son has very high hay fever and when wearing face covering he cannot breath, and he needs to take his glasses off. What kind of education it will be for him then. Just close the schools for a month as everyelse switch for remote learning. It will be much better then force school opens with weekly testing and face masks. It will be a horror for these poor children!

    • Luna Gyou

      I am in complete agreement with you, D Serva.
      I mean what next…. they going to have every child in the classroom, wearing those silly electronic headsets that monitor their levels of focus and concentration through out their day, like China is doing.
      There is something so sinister and de-humanising about putting kids in masks.
      Seriously Prime Minister… LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE!

  5. Andrew Clewes

    All educational establishments should be enforce use of masks.
    COVID 19 knows no boundaries, class or age.
    I am aware that risk to health seems to be greater the older you get.
    Nevertheless, this new variant of the virus transmits even more agressively and speedily.
    Teacher’s, whether qualified, NTQ’s or of an ITT status, in all educational settings/ stages should be allowed to teach safely and all controls to prevent transmission afforded them even if this means wearing masks whilst teaching, even with primary school children.
    This is a particularly difficult teaching environment as young children do not always understand the safeguarding measures required for both teacher and student alike. This is also a preventative measure to stop transmission to the larger communities such as family and friend’s.

  6. It is unacceptable to force anyone to wear face masks let alone children! everyone needs to get a grip! Targeted shielding is the answer. The great barrington declaration is sensible. Please please look at how these scary figures the media keep pumping out are conjured up! Leave the kids alone!

  7. Why last minute decisions yet again, lessons should have been learned from the first wave, it’s clear for all to see that strong choices now must be made right now to avoid masses of neadless death’s but worse this time as children will be in the figure’s not forgetting the cost to the government with long covid clogging hospitals for years to come , 50 plus thousand new cases day after day will have a catastrophic impact in 3 weeks as they start filtering into hospitals clogging up already full hospitals, no staff for nightingale hospitals that’s why theyre not being used, get a very strong grip now or God help us all.

  8. We are not agree for that!!!! Boris ahould wears mask alll day long ans see how it is. We are not believe in lies about Covid. It kind of virus whoch has been exist and it will be. I know loads of people with positive tests results and still alive! No any reson to locked us at hones, closed schools!!! You py are idiots if you atill belive in covid….idiots..

  9. Mask should be worn from infant school right up to universities. Hungary has been doing this from the start. They also take every child temperature at the gate and sanitize their hands plus hand sanitizer all around the school. Teachers wear mask all day. If the doctors and nhs staff can wear mask for long work shifts I’m sure we can for less hours ourselves!!! Also Hungary wear masks as soon as you step outside your door. Maybe we should try this or are people too selfish to think of others!!

  10. D Serva, if you’re ready to risk your long term health with an unknown virus with unknown long term effects, that’s your choice, you can roam free without mask, but trying to push on people this misery of “reasoning” is disgusting. This is not child abuse and most of the children wore masks voluntarily, trying to keep their parents and grandparents safe.

  11. This is wrong.. Working in a school that makes our job so much more difficult how can you teach when you can’t see children’s faces. We have never had to wear masks for other serious illness that go through schools like scarlet fever, mumps, flu, etc this is no different and. Masks won’t help there are so many children loosing an education because of this

  12. Emelinda Hayag

    Let the school kids and teachers wear FACESHIELD as well as FACEMASK in the school and inside the classroom… Kids and teachers can take their facemask off but leave their faceshields on while inside the classroom during lessons period…

  13. R. J. Hartley

    I think it is time to make face masks compulsory inside and out. Picking children up from school is a nightmare, people chatting away, next to each other, no masks on.

  14. Leslie Jill Shai

    Hello UK citizens!,

    We are struggling with COVID in Canada too, but l can share that there is plenty of precedent here, and in other places around the globe, that children have successfully adapted to mask-wearing.

    Acknowledged, my daughters required a few days to acclimate, but they understand the reasons and are coping well with this adjustment.

    In our province (Ontario), all children above age two have been expected to wear masks in public indoor spaces, and have generally succeeded, with accommodations made for children with medical or sensory issues.

    Please, benefit from our experience and make good use of this sensible protective measure.

    I can’t speak about general school-opening readiness in your locale, but l can share that the masking protective measure is viable for children.

    Of all the things my children were expected to learn to wear, of all the social customs they are asked to accommodate daily, none had the chance of saving a life – a chance of any magnitude – before. What other garment makes more sense?

    Let’s all look outward to places with lower infection rates than us: New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, and others. This isn’t a problem for which other communities haven’t found better solutions – and their choices are available for us to emulate. These communities had fewer deaths, fewer cases of long COVID, less total time in lockdown, and more resilient economies. When you see their choices and their results, what will you ask your leaders to do as a next step?

    With hope,

  15. Christine

    School children must not be forced into wearing masks in the classroom. Masks do not protect against viruses, they never did. How can they wear this the whole time in school?
    What is this country coming to? This is all about control and it has been going on for too long and it has to stop. Don’t compromise their immune systems by breathing in muffled air( carbon dioxide).

  16. As a parent and a teacher I venomously oppose face masks in the classroom. This is a step backward. It is not selfish to allow children to feel relaxed, happy and social whilst learning. As an older mum I am at risk, however, we take risks everyday. One wouldn’t leave the house at all if all the deaths of road traffic accidents were on the news every evening. Enough is enough. Life is about risk, not just existing, or even worse, being in a state of perpetual of fear.