Overnight, the Department for Education has updated its guidance on face coverings in schools. It is said to follow updated scientific advice and in particular the World Health Organisation’s recent recommendation that children aged 12 and over should wear face coverings, in the same way as adults, in particular where social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
The revised guidance applies to staff and children in Year 7 or above. The government is not recommending that face coverings are necessary in all cases, but the new guidance gives schools discretion to require pupils and staff to wear face coverings in communal areas if schools believe that to be right for their particular circumstances. It will be up to individual schools or Trusts to decide exactly when and where in the school students and staff are required to wear face coverings and they should tie the wearing of face coverings into their behaviour and health and safety policies as well.
There is additional guidance for schools in areas where transmission of the virus is high and when those areas have been subject to government intervention i.e. areas of local lockdown. It will be mandatory for adults and pupils attending secondary schools in these areas to wear face coverings when moving around the school i.e. in corridors and communal areas. The guidance states that it will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom. The view of many is that this would inhibit learning and there will likely be other protective measures in place in classrooms.
The guidance will apply to Further Education Colleges and will be reflected in guidance to universities, but will not apply to primary schools where it is believed the risks to children are lower.
There are clear arguments both 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.