Government U-turn over secondary school guidance on face coverings

By - Integrated Care Journal

Secondary school pupils will have to wear face coverings in school corridors in local lockdown areas of England after the Government reversed its guidance.

Face coverings will be compulsory in "communal areas" of schools where it is difficult to maintain social distancing in parts of the country with high levels of coronavirus transmission.

Schools outside of these affected regions will have the right to enforce mask-wearing if they "believe that is right in their particular circumstances”.

However, face coverings will still not be necessary in the classroom, where there are already "protective measures” in place. With these precautions, the Government believes “the risks are lower, and (masks) can inhibit learning”.

Although, the Department for Education commented that, for most areas of England, it is keeping its recommendation against using face coverings,  schools will be able to make their own decisions whether to ask pupils and staff to wear them.

The new guidelines, which apply from 1 September, also warn that "stricter guidance" on face coverings could apply to all schools "if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stated that the guidance offered to schools followed updated advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

However, the most recent guidance from the WHO has been updated since the Government's announcement. It now recommends that children aged over 12 should wear masks under the same conditions as adults.

Labour has accused the Government of "passing the buck" on decision-making during the back to school debate. There has also been criticism from backbench Conservative MPs. Huw Merriman commented, saying the use of face coverings sent "the wrong message" and suggested, "schools are not a safe setting”.

However, Mr Williamson insisted the Government was listening "to the latest medical and scientific advice" and taking "the most precautionary approach”.

In addition to the new face-covering rules, the Department for Education said all schools would be supplied with ten coronavirus testing kits to be used in "exceptional circumstances" when no other way of testing is available. Schools will also be given a "small amount" of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as aprons, gloves, visors and clinical face masks.

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said face coverings should be compulsory in communal areas of schools, adding that "instead of this half baked U-turn, the Government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it. ”

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