There is reference to face-coverings in schools in the operational guidance of February 2021, and there is also further specific guidance (Face Coverings in Education) which was updated on 1 March 2021.
The position remains the same for primary schools, namely that in education settings of Year 6 and below, pupils do not need to wear face coverings, however it is recommended that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). It is a matter for the individual school and will be informed by your risk assessment as to whether this is an additional measure that should be implemented.
For secondary schools and above the guidance recommends that face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. And note that this recommendation is now extended to include wearing face coverings in classrooms and during activities unless social distancing can be maintained. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons.
These additional precautionary measures are being recommended for a limited time and certainly until Easter, at which point it will be reviewed.
It is fair to say that this extension of the guidance has caused dismay and anxiety in areas of the community, with schools have been receiving letters challenging the ‘policies’ of the schools as regards testing and face-coverings. We have provided a separate briefing on these letters of challenge
Schools have been left perplexed by the inconsistent wording in the guidance and also the Minister for Schools widely published statement about face coverings not being compulsory and that no child should be deprived of education for not wearing a face covering. Whilst it is strongly arguable that where underpinned by a clear and rational risk assessment a school is best placed to determine whether a face covering must be worn, schools will have to consider whether a rigid application of such a policy (especially in classrooms) may lead to complaints, which of course adds to the administrative burden.
There are arguments for and against the wearing of face coverings and whatever schools decide there are bound to be those who disagree. However, schools have been given clear discretion to decide what is best for their community. As long as the reasons for these decisions are documented and the decisions are well communicated, any challenge is unlikely to be successful.