The latest guidance released on 5 November by the DfE, in light of the new national restrictions, maintains the position that in primary schools / education settings of Year 6 and below pupils do not need to wear face coverings and neither is it mandatory for visitors or staff. Discretion to recommend use of face coverings in areas outside the classroom, where it is not possible to maintain social distancing, remains.
For secondary schools and above 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.
This comes after advice in August following updated scientific advice and World Health Organisation recommendations, stating that children aged 12 and over should wear face coverings, in particular where social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
Schools that teach children in years 7 and above have the discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, such as corridors and communal areas and it has been deemed appropriate in those circumstances. Primary school children will not need to wear a face covering.
Prior to the national lockdown restrictions there was guidance provided 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. The guidance stated that adults and pupils attending secondary schools in these areas should wear face coverings when moving around the school i.e. in corridors and communal areas, but that it was not necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom. This is now the position on a national basis until 2nd December 2020 at least.
The guidance will apply to further education colleges and is reflected in guidance to universities. As stated it does not apply to primary schools where it is believed the risks to children are lower.
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.