What are the new rules on face masks in schools?

The Government has tweaked the rules for face coverings in schools in England after coming under pressure to follow Scotland’s example, where older pupils will be required to wear face coverings in between lessons from next week.

The reversal of guidance meaning secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in parts of England follows similar directions issued north of the border.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the change followed updated advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying children aged over 12 should wear masks.

Face coverings will have to be worn in communal areas of schools in areas where local lockdowns have been introduced, and headteachers will have the option to ask pupils to wear them elsewhere in the country.

The new guidance – which also said masks will not be needed in classrooms – followed pressure from teaching unions and Scotland’s announcement along similar lines.

– What measures have been confirmed in Scotland?

Face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools in Scotland from August 31, according to Holyrood’s Education Secretary.

John Swinney said that 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.

– Will England follow suit?

Not quite – but a change has been made to the Government’s original stance.

The guidance from Public Health England (PHE) was that it did not recommend the wearing of face coverings in schools and the Department for Education (DfE) said initially that pupils and staff were mixing in consistent groups, known as “bubbles”, so masks were not necessary.

But on Tuesday evening, the DfE said it was revising its guidance to advise that secondary school pupils and staff in regions where local lockdowns were in place, such as part of Greater Manchester, should wear face coverings in communal areas.

This does not include classrooms and does not apply to primary-aged pupils.

In all other parts of the country, it will be up to headteachers to decide whether masks are required.

– So in which areas is it being said face coverings should be worn in secondary schools?

The Government said its guidance, which is yet to be published, will say that face coverings should be worn in secondary schools in places defined as areas of national Government intervention as listed on the gov.uk website.

As of Tuesday evening, local restrictions were in place in areas of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Leicester, Luton and Northampton.

– What did the Prime Minister say about it?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier insisted that “schools are safe”, but hinted towards a change of guidance for England’s schools.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson told reporters that the Government will “look at the changing medical evidence as we go on”, adding: “If we need to change the advice then of course we will.”

– What is the situation in Wales and Northern Ireland?

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said a decision on schoolchildren wearing face coverings will be made on Wednesday, but current guidance says masks are not being recommended.

In Northern Ireland, post-primary pupils will be asked to wear face coverings in corridors and other communal areas, Stormont’s education minister Peter Weir said.

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