Face masks compulsory for secondary school pupils and staff

Face masks compulsory for secondary school pupils and staff

Just a day before the second lockdown kicks in, the Department of Education (DfE) have issued new guidance; "face coverings should be worn by adults and children aged 11 and above when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms or activity rooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained", and the same applies to further education colleges.

This should be implemented as soon as possible, however the department said, but can have until Monday 9 November if they require additional time.

Face coverings had already been required for secondary school pupils within areas under Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions in England, with those local restrictions now to be replaced by the national measures.

secondary pupils in corridor secondary pupil wearing mask on bus

Those who are exempt from wearing face coverings are primary school children and those older children with special educational needs or disabilities. It will also remain at the discretion of primary schools as to whether staff and visitors should wear face coverings in communal spaces.

The announcement brings English schools more in line with their Scottish counterparts who have been under stricter COVID-19 restrictions for several weeks. 

The DfE also says teachers with serious underlying health issues should keep away from the premises. "Those individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home and not to go into work," the guidance says. "Staff should talk to their employers about how they will be supported, including to work from home where possible, during the period of national restrictions.” "All other staff should continue to attend work, including those living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said the lockdown was announced four days ago and that it "beggars’ belief that schools have had to wait until now to find out how it affects them". "Frankly, it is ridiculous that this new guidance has landed on school leaders' desks less than 24 hours before the start of the national lockdown. "There is very little in the guidance that could not have been communicated with schools 72 hours ago."

Mr Whiteman also expressed concern about the impact vulnerable teachers staying at home would have a schools' ability to operate. "Given the restrictions around clinically extremely vulnerable staff, the reality is that some schools may now find it increasingly difficult to remain open to all pupils."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the move, but said: "It will mean that there are more staff missing from the workplace, on top of those who are self-isolating. "It is imperative that the government reimburses schools and colleges with the cost of hiring supply cover for staff absence. "We have received reports of schools having to spend £6,000 per week on supply cover, and this situation is going to become worse - schools and colleges cannot sustain these costs."

Mr Barton said the extension to the rule on face coverings was 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". He added: "The government's education recovery planning does need to take into account the impact of these restrictions on health and wellbeing."

gavin williamson school background

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "We must put the interests of our children and young people first, especially when the benefits of being in the classroom are clear.
"Children are settled back into their routines and schools have protective measures in place keep their staff and pupils as safe as possible.
"Education is a national priority and we cannot allow it to be disrupted again."

David Goodhew, head of £21,000 a year Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, said a survey of staff at his school found they feel reassured by pupils having to wear masks in the classroom.

Since August, pupils at the school had to wear masks in lessons and in communal areas. Mr Goodhew said: “Pupils and staff in the classroom are still wearing masks and that has worked well for us. I wouldn’t be surprised if more schools followed suit.” He added: “Our experience is that there are solutions to the two main objections, namely pupil discomfort and problems with communication.”

teacher wearing mask

Mr Goodhew said he does not believe that schools are “engines of transmission” of Covid-19, but added: “I think people who work in schools are absolute heroes. Everyone else is being told stay at home if you can, but teachers are going in.” He said it was vital for the mental and physical health of children that schools stay open, and warned that many have “whole year groups or large numbers of staff who are off having to isolate as a precaution and waiting a long time to get test results back”.

secondary pupils at gates

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