Government’s new face covering rules for schools in England

The government has issued further guidance surrounding the use of face coverings in England's schools following the outbreak of coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a new statement on August 21 on when children should wear face coverings.

The organisation now advises "children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1 metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area."

Following the statement, the government has revised its guidance on face coverings for staff and children in Year 7 or above in England.

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The government is not recommending face coverings are necessary nationwide and schools will be given the power to require face coverings in communal areas – if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances.

Following the change in the government's police, the PA news agency has looked at the recommendations for secondary schools in England and how this differs across the UK.

What measures are being introduced in England?

From September 1, and in secondary schools in England that are within areas under local restrictions, face coverings should be worn when moving around corridors and communal spaces.

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This does not include in classrooms and it does not apply to primary-aged pupils.

Why are face coverings not required in classrooms?

Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) states it will not usually be necessary in classrooms, as protective measures mean the risks are lower – such as grouping staff and students in "bubbles".

Face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in lessons should be avoided, it adds.

Which areas should face coverings be worn in secondary schools?

According to the guidance, additional precautionary measures apply to places defined as areas of national government intervention, as listed on the government's website.

Local restrictions are currently in place in areas of Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, Leicester, Luton and Northampton.

Can schools recommend face coverings if they are elsewhere in England?

Schools and colleges outside of local lockdown areas will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, the guidance states.

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It gives the example of a school or college which has a layout that makes it "particularly difficult" for people to stay apart.

Are there any exemptions?

Yes. Those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, will be exempt.

The guidance states exemptions also apply to people who provide assistance to someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expression in order to communicate.

Could the measures be changed further?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ruled out the requirements for face coverings in England's schools being extended further.

When asked if the measures could be extended, he told the BBC: "No, no, there's no intention of extending it beyond that because as both (Dr Jenny Harries) said and (Schools minister Nick Gibb) said is that actually that isn't what is required."

What has the Scottish Government announced on face coverings?

Face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools in Scotland from August 31, according to Holyrood's Education Secretary.

John Swinney said the rule will apply on school transport for primary school pupils aged five and above, and all those at secondary school in communal areas, but not in classrooms.

What is the situation in Wales and Northern Ireland?

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said a decision on schoolchildren wearing face coverings will be made on Wednesday, but current guidance says masks are not being recommended.

In Northern Ireland, post-primary pupils will be asked to wear face coverings in corridors and other communal areas, Stormont's education minister Peter Weir said.

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