Boris Johnson has performed a u-turn on the wearing of face coverings in schools across England ahead of pupils returning to the classroom from next week.
Here’s what the government have said – and how the new rules affect pupils.
Why have the rules changed?
The u-turn comes days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a new statement on August 21 on when children should wear face coverings.
The WHO now advise 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.”
What are the new rules on face coverings at schools in England?
In an update issued at 10pm on Tuesday, August 25, by the Department for Education, the government has revised its guidance on face coverings for staff and children in Year 7 or above in England.
The government statement reads: “While the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary, schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances.
“In addition, and consistent with WHO’s new advice, the government will advise additional measures are taken in areas where the transmission of the virus is high.
“In these areas, defined as areas of national government intervention [areas of local lockdown] as listed on gov.uk, the government’s 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.”
Will pupils have to wear face coverings in the classroom?
It will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom. The government say protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and they can hinder learning.
Will the rules apply to sixth forms, colleges and universities?
Yes, the u-turn will also apply to further education colleges and will be reflected in the government’s guidance to universities.
Will the face covering rules apply to primary schools across England?
No, they will not apply to children in primary schools where the government say the risks to children are lower.
When will the new rules on face coverings in schools across England begin?
The new rules will come into effect from Tuesday, September 1.
The government say that updated guidance on face coverings in all education settings will be published in due course.
What has the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said?
Education Secretary, Gavin 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 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.”
Hint that stricter rules could be issued
Consistent with WHO’s advice, the government added that 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 government say they will keep the evidence
on transmission under constant review.