With the increasing evidence that face masks can provide some protection for the wearer as well as those around them, UK government ministers last week have amended rules and guidance for pupils over 11 years old across the UK. The latest statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 21 August on when children should wear face coverings is 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.”
The prime minister and government under guidance from headteachers, teaching unions, medical experts and the updated statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO), updated their advice on pupils wearing face masks in schools in England on Tuesday 25th August.
As from 1 September in areas where the transmission of the virus is high, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils in secondary schools when moving around the school in corridors and communal areas. It will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom. There is separate government advice for educational establishments with younger children.
In other areas of England, while the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary, headteachers will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances.
This advice also applies to further education colleges and in guidance to universities, but not to children in primary schools where the risks to children are lower.
In Scotland, where pupils returned to school on 11 August, face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools from 31 August.
The Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney said the rule will apply on school transport for primary school pupils aged five and above, and all those at secondary school in communal areas, but not in classrooms.
The Welsh government has recommended the use of face coverings in secondary school communal areas where social distancing is not possible and also applies to pupils over 11 on school transport, along with college students and staff.
In Northern Ireland, post-primary pupils will also be asked to wear face coverings in communal areas.
Exemptions to the new measures include those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if a person is speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.
Asthma UK has said most people with the condition can wear a mask, adding that the coverings do not reduce a person’s oxygen supply. However, they added if it makes the asthmatic person feel breathless then they should take it off.
Whilst the government and many parents want to get children and young people back into education, as with other COVID-related advice, the guidance can change quickly and it’s essential to monitor the situation. Here’s the latest government advice on face coverings in education.