The government has made a U-turn on its decision regarding the wearing of face masks in secondary schools in England.
On the evening of Tuesday 25 August, it was announced that secondary school aged children in England will have to wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas, within schools which are subject to tighter coronavirus restrictions.
Prior to this change, the government had advised that children in secondary schools in England would not need to wear face masks.
What are the new rules?
Masks now need to be worn in schools with tighter coronavirus restrictions in "communal areas" of schools such as corridors, where it is difficult to maintain social distancing. It will still not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom.
Head teachers in any secondary school will also now have the "flexibility" to introduce the wearing of masks in their schools.
The Department for Education says that it is currently keeping its recommendation against using face coverings for most areas in England, but schools will be able to make their own decisions as to whether or not to ask pupils and staff to wear them.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said, "We have therefore decided to follow the WHO's new advice. In local lockdown areas, children in year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces.
"Outside of local lockdown areas, face coverings won't be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances.”
However, the new guidelines, which will come into place from 1 September, warn that "stricter guidance" on face coverings could apply to all schools in the future. This could be the case "if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country.”
Mr Williamson said it followed updated advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), and that the government was listening "to the latest medical and scientific advice.”
Updated WHO face mask advice for children
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its advice regarding face masks and children.
WHO and Unicef are now advising that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
Following the WHO’s change in guidance, pupils over the age of 12 in schools in Scotland will be required to wear face masks from 31 August. The new guidance will be obligatory in all secondary schools, special schools and grant-aided schools, but it will state that pupils should not be excluded from school if they do not wish to wear one.
Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney said, “From August 31, young people over the age of 12 in secondary schools should be habitually wearing face coverings when they’re moving around in schools and corridors and in communal areas where it is difficult to deliver the physical distancing.”
Mr Swinney added that there will be exemptions because wearing face coverings isn’t suitable for everyone.