Government to U-turn on masks in schools

Staff and older pupils will be expected to wear face coverings in schools in England from September following a government U-turn, Schools Week understands.

Ministers are expected to announce the change later today following growing pressure in the wake of a similar decision in Scotland and changes to World Health Organisation guidelines.

It means staff and secondary school-age pupils will be expected to wear face coverings in schools in all places where social distancing can’t happen.

Pupils who cannot wear masks for medical reasons will be exempt, as will pupils in special schools.

However, it is not clear whether the requirement will be made statutory or enforced if schools opt not to follow it.

Current Department for Education guidance states that face coverings are not required in schools in England because “pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups, and because misuse may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission”.

But the decision this week by the Scottish government to make face coverings mandatory for high school pupils, and recently-updated World Health Organisation guidance stating pupils aged 12 and over should wear masks “under the same conditions as adults” has prompted speculation that England may soon follow suit.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, told Sky News this morning that there was “no current plan” to review the guidance on face coverings in England’s schools.

But ministers appear to have caved to pressure after headteachers said it would be “prudent” to review the guidance.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL school leadership union, said earlier today that any U-turn should come “sooner rather than later” to give schools time to prepare.

It also comes after a number of schools across England announced they would break with the government guidance to either provide or require face coverings.

Oasis Community Learning, which runs 52 academies across England, said today that it would provide face coverings for all staff and visitors and for secondary pupils to use during transition between lessons.

 

Update: The government has now confirmed it will update its guidance on face coverings, with stricter rules for schools in high transmission areas. You can read our latest story here.