Pupils to be tested on-site for Covid as they're asked to wear face masks in class

3 January 2022, 07:30 | Updated: 3 January 2022, 14:57

School pupils have been asked to wear face masks in class
School pupils have been asked to wear face masks in class. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Secondary school pupils will be tested on-site for Covid before going back to class this term and they will also be asked to wear face coverings during lessons.

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New measures have been introduced for students ahead of their post-Christmas return.

They are designed to curb the spread of Omicron in England's schools as the Government encourages younger people to get their second dose of a vaccine.

Speaking to LBC's Andrew Castle on Monday morning, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: "I want children in school, with their friends, in a classroom learning, and we know the painful lesson we learnt from Covid last year is having children out of school really did damage their education and of course had enormous impact on their mental health, then this is one of the measures that I’m introducing and I don't want it to be in classroom a day longer than necessary.

"It's just while we deal with Omicron. I think Omicron’s a big bump in the road as we transition this virus from pandemic to endemic."

In a statement, he said: "I know we face challenges with the Omicron variant but as the Prime Minister and I have made clear, education is our number one priority.

"Face-to-face teaching will continue to be the expected norm, so all secondary schools have been asked to provide an on-site test for pupils."

Read more: No need for more Covid restrictions - the data doesn't support it, minister says

He added: "One of the additional, temporary measures that will limit this latest surge is the use of face coverings in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although this will not be for longer than needed!"

That will apply for students in year seven and above and is expected to be introduced from January 26.

Mr Zahawi urged education leaders to "do everything in your power to protect face-to-face learning" but indicated some remote learning might be needed.

Children's Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza DBE said: "Children have told me how much they really value and appreciate school as a place to learn, build friendships and take part in activities that benefit their physical and mental wellbeing.

"As Children's Commissioner and having run schools all my life, I'm always excited about the start of a new term and the return to school. I am especially focused on this one, as it is so important schools are open and ready to welcome children."

An extra 7,000 air cleaning units will also be sent to schools, colleges and early years settings to help with ventilation.

Later this week, the Government will review the Plan B measures it introduced to fight against Omicron.

No new restrictions are expected and the Cabinet minister Steve Barclay said the data does not support fresh measures.