Secondary school pupils and staff must wear face masks in communal areas, Government says

4 November 2020, 17:05 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 17:33

Headteachers had piled pressure on the Government for stricter mask rules
Headteachers had piled pressure on the Government for stricter mask rules. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

All secondary pupils and teachers in England must wear face masks in communal areas at schools, it has been announced.

Under new Government guidance issued on Wednesday, pupils in Year 7 and above as well as staff must wear face coverings in communal spaces, outside of classrooms, where social distancing cannot be followed.

It comes ahead of England's national lockdown beginning on Thursday, with schools, colleges, universities, nurseries and childminders staying open.

Head teachers had called for consistent rules from ministers about the wearing of masks, which at present is left to their discretion unless their schools were in Covid hotspots.

Children and staff at secondary schools in Scotland are already required to wear masks when moving between lessons or in communal areas, such as in corridors.

The guidance says primary school children do not need to wear face coverings, and older children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities may be exempt from wearing them, depending on their need.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said no-one should be excluded from education for not having a face covering.

The guidance also notes that sports competitions between different schools should not take place, in line with the wider restrictions on grassroots sport.

But it adds: “Schools are able to work with external coaches, clubs and organisations for curricular activities where they are satisfied that it is safe to do so.

“Where schools are offering extra-curricular activities (that is, before and after school clubs) they should only do so where it is reasonably necessary to support parents to work, search for work, or undertake training or education, or where the provision is being used for the purposes of respite care.”

Clinically extremely vulnerable staff and pupils should not come into school or college, the advice says.

Headteachers are concerned that schools may struggle to remain open during the lockdown period if more staff are missing from the workplace.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools and colleges have been waiting for this guidance since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday, and it is frustrating that it has taken so long to arrive given that they now have to digest and implement these measures in a short timeframe.”

He said: “This extension to the rule on face coverings is a sensible response to rising Covid levels, and will act as an extra level of protection on top of the other safety measures in schools.

“It is vital that this requirement is respected by all parents and pupils. The vast majority are supportive, but we are aware of schools receiving objections from some parents to existing policies.”

The DfE has said schools should work to implement the guidance as soon as possible, but have until Monday 9 November if they require additional time.