masks schools Covid

Schools in areas facing “localised outbreaks” of Covid may be asked to reintroduce masks for pupils, the Department for Education has said.

The government announced earlier this week that the recommendation that masks be worn in secondary classrooms and by pupils in secondary corridors will be lifted from Monday, in line with step three of the roadmap out of lockdown.

Staff have been advised to continue to wear face coverings in communal areas where social distancing is not possible.

However, guidance for parents published today states that the reintroduction of face coverings for pupils or staff “may be advised for a temporary period in response to particular localised outbreaks, including variants of concern”.

Wilsthorpe School in Derbyshire was forced to close last week after large numbers of staff and pupils tested positive. There have also been reports of outbreaks in Merseyside and Warwickshire.

Any decisions to reintroduce masks will be managed on a “case-by-case basis”, the DfE said today.

Decisions affecting a small number of schools will be made by local directors of public health, while ministers will decide whether to reimpose the masks rule “where there is a widespread local issue”.

“In all cases, any educational drawbacks should be balanced with the benefits of managing transmission,” DfE guidance states.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Removing face coverings will improve interaction between teachers and students and ensure the clearest possible communication to support learning.

“In a small number of cases, such as if there were to be a highly localised outbreak, schools may be advised to re-introduce face coverings in certain areas for a temporary period.”

It comes after the government’s own Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group highlighted the “importance of maintaining current mitigation measures in schools, such as testing and mask wearing, in the coming months”.

In a consensus statement published last Friday, the group pointed to an increase in lateral flow test positivity in schools, and a “modest” increase in positivity in school age children in the Office for National Statistics community infection survey in the period between schools reopening on March 8 and the Easter holidays.