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Face coverings in schools? Your questions answered

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Face coverings in schools? Your questions answered

On the back of World Health Organisation guidance released on 21 August, which states 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 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area”, the Government altered its position on face coverings in secondary schools. 

The guidance published by the Department for Education on face coverings in secondary schools is not mandatory. The legal exemptions that apply to the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport also apply to the Government’s new advice.

Nationwide, the Government’s position is that it is not recommending face coverings as necessary generally due to the mitigating measures schools have been required to put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Notwithstanding the Government’s general view on the matter, the Government does state that secondary schools have the discretion to require pupils, staff and guests of a school to wear face coverings in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances.  The guidance provides examples of where school leaders might decide to recommend face coverings:

  • where the layout of the school makes it difficult to maintain social distancing when people are moving around school premises; and
  • where permitting the use of face coverings would provide additional confidence to parents to support a full return of children to school.

The Government takes a firmer view on face coverings in the classroom. Face coverings “will not generally be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible [emphasis added]. There is greater use of the system of controls for minimising risk, including through keeping in small and consistent groups or bubbles, and greater scope for physical distancing by staff within classrooms. Face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in the classroom should be avoided [emphasis added]”.

Is the position different for schools that are in an area where local lockdown restrictions apply?

These areas are defined as those subject to national government intervention. In these intervention areas, face coverings should be worn by all adults when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas. In the classroom, it will not usually be necessary to wear face coverings as other protective measures put in place by schools mean the risks are lower.

What should you do if your school is in an area that becomes subject to local lockdown restrictions?

In the event of new local restrictions being imposed, schools need to communicate quickly and clearly to staff, parents, pupils and learners that the new arrangements require the use of face coverings in certain circumstances. 

Do schools need to provide staff and pupils with face coverings?

The Government assumes that school staff and pupils will now have access to face coverings due to their increasing use in wider society. 
However, where anybody is struggling to access a face covering, or where they are unable to use their face covering due to having forgotten it or it having become soiled or unsafe, schools should have a small contingency supply available to meet such needs.

The Government is of the view that no-one should be excluded from education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

Are certain people exempt from wearing face coverings and therefore do not need to wear them at school?

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. For example people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability. The same exemptions apply in education settings, and school staff are expected to be sensitive to individual needs and circumstances.

If you would like to discuss the contents of this blog or have any queries relating to it, please contact Thomas Emmett, Head of Education, on 01245 453847 or at