Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: What are the rules on face coverings in UK schools?

As schools reopen and government advice changes, what exactly are the rules on face coverings in the UK’s schools?

What is the situation in Scotland?

Face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools from 31 August.

Scotland‘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.

Mr Swinney said: “There is increasing evidence that face coverings can provide some protection for the wearer as well as those around them.

“We also know that some pupils have found it very difficult to physically distance when moving around school, which could increase the risk of transmission of the virus. And on school transport, as on public transport, there can be mixing between different age groups.”

What about England?

Previously, Public Health England did not recommend face coverings in secondary schools and the Department for Education (DfE) said pupils and staff were mixing in consistent groups, so masks were not necessary.

But on Tuesday evening, the DfE decided face coverings would be mandatory in communal areas of secondary schools where social distancing was difficult from 1 September.

This is only for secondary schools in regions where lockdowns are in place due to higher coronavirus transmission.

As of Tuesday evening, these areas were Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Leicester, Luton and Northampton.

The rules do not include classrooms and it does not affect primary school pupils.

In parts of the country that do not have higher transmission, headteachers will be left to decide whether face coverings are needed.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the change followed updated advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying children aged over 12 should wear masks.

Announcing the change in advice on Tuesday, Mr Williamson said: “Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice.

“We have therefore decided to follow the WHO’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.”

The new guidance also followed pressure from teaching unions.

The government says schools will need to communicate the new arrangements to staff, parents and pupils “quickly and clearly” should new local restrictions be imposed.

Where a student or staff member is struggling to access a mask, or if it is soiled or unsafe, the guidance says that schools should take steps to have a “small contingency supply” available, adding no-one should be asked to leave school on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

Which pupils might be exempt from wearing a face mask?

Exemptions to the new measures include those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if a person is speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.

The government has said it is not necessary for a person who is exempt to request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face mask.

However, people who would feel more comfortable showing proof they do not need to wear a mask can download an exemption card from the government website.

Asthma UK has said most people with the condition are able to wear a mask, adding that the coverings do not reduce a person’s oxygen supply.

However, they added if it makes the asthmatic person feel breathless then they should take it off.

What about Wales and Northern Ireland?

A decision will be made in Wales on Wednesday, but current guidance says masks are not recommended.

In Northern Ireland, post-primary pupils will be asked to wear face coverings in communal areas.

Will the advice change further?

Hours before the DfE issued the new advice for England on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government will “look at the changing medical evidence as we go on”.

He added: “If we need to change the advice then of course we will.”

Source: Read Full Article

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