It has been confirmed that older secondary school children and college students in England will continue to be required to wear as they return to classes after an Easter break.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the “cautious approach” will help limit the risk of transmission and enable continued monitoring of the effect of school and college returns, as twice weekly lateral flow Covid-19 tests are established and embedded in pupil’s routines. It is expected that face coverings will no longer be required to be worn in classrooms, or by students in other communal areas, at Step 3 of ’s roadmap for lifting lockdown restriction, which is planned from May 17.
UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “On top of the protective measures previously in place such as regular handwashing and ventilation, we introduced face coverings in the classroom for secondary schools and colleges to help reduce transmission in parallel with the introduction of twice weekly testing.
“Schools and students have done a great job adapting to Covid secure guidance and working hard to make sure it doesn’t impact learning. We obviously all want to get back to facemask-free classrooms and we will do this in line with the latest scientific data while balancing the interests of students, teachers and the wider community.”
The said that ongoing review of evidence on the use of face coverings in schools and colleges took into consideration a number of factors including scientific evidence and data from Public Health England (PHE). It found that alongside rapid testing, the available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering reduces the emission of virus-carrying particles when worn by an infected user, helping to protect others.
Professor John Simpson, Head of Public Health Advice, Guidance and Expertise Pillar (PHAGE) at PHE, said: “The return to school after Easter will allow us to continue monitoring the impacts of measures to reduce the spread of Covid, as we encourage families to test regularly.
“Wearing face coverings in secondary schools is an extra control measure to reduce the risk of transmission to support children continuing their education in the classroom.”
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Those who are currently exempt from wearing will remain so, including pupils or staff who are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.
All other safety measures for schools also remain in place, including regular asymptomatic testing, smaller group bubbles, increased hygiene, ventilation, and social distancing where possible.
Similar face covering rules are in place across devolved regions of the United Kingdom.