Published: 27th August 2020
UK govt mandates masks for students above 12 years in schools located in areas under lockdown
The UK government is not recommending face coverings are necessary for areas not under lockdown, schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas
The UK government has made face coverings compulsory for staff and pupils aged 12 and over in secondary schools of England, in areas subject to local lockdowns, to control the spread of Coronavirus.
In a U-turn after mandatory face masks had been ruled out, the Department for Education said that as schools in England prepare to reopen for the new term in the coming weeks, it is updating its advice on face coverings in schools in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance on face masks.
WHO now advises that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area. As a result, the British government said on Tuesday that it is revising its guidance on face coverings for staff and children in Year 7 or above in England.
The Department for Education said it is in effect keeping its recommendation against using face coverings but that schools can make their own decision to ask pupils and staff to wear them.
Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice, said UK education secretary Gavin Williamson.
We have therefore decided to follow the World Health Organisation's new advice. In local lockdown areas children in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces. Outside of local lockdown areas face coverings won't be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances. I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance, he said.
While the UK government is not recommending face coverings are necessary, schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas and corridors if they decide to impose the rule.
Scotland had already announced a mandatory requirement of face coverings in communal areas in schools, mounting pressure on the UK government to clarify its stance on face coverings.
Many head teachers in England had complained about the lack of clarity, which meant they were unsure about imposing face mask requirements on staff and students.
In addition, and consistent with WHO's new advice, the government said it is imposing additional measures for areas where the transmission of the deadly virus is high.
In these areas, defined as areas of national government intervention, the official guidance will state face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils in secondary schools when moving around the school, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
It will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning.
This revised approach will also apply to further education (FE) colleges and will be reflected in guidance to universities, but not to children in primary schools where the risks to children are lower, the education department said.
Updated guidance on face coverings in all education settings will be published shortly and will come into effect from September 1.
Consistent with WHO's advice, if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country, it may be necessary to apply stricter guidance on face coverings in schools nationally.
This is not necessary at the moment but the UK government said it will keep the evidence on transmission under constant review.
The move comes after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a direct appeal to parents to send children back to schools in time for the new term, starting in most parts of the UK from next week.
Asked earlier about face coverings, he had indicated that the issue would be reviewed.
We'll look at the changing medical evidence as we go on, if we need to change the advice then of course we will, he said.
The ASCL head teachers' union had warned of confusion about the rules over face coverings and said there was a lack of clarity over how schools should respond if teachers or pupils wanted to wear masks.