27th August 2020
You will be aware that the government has, this week, updated its guidance on face coverings for schools in the light of new advice from the World Health Organisation. The new guidance, in summary, is that:
The advice will continue to be kept under review and stricter guidance in the future (if the transmission rate rises across the country) has not been ruled out.
Guidance on face coverings in education was published yesterday, covering scenario 1 above. Additional guidance for circumstances where local restrictions apply (scenario 2) will be published shortly.
When might schools/colleges consider recommending the wearing of face coverings?
The government guidance gives the following examples:
It is clear that school leaders can make local decisions on when it may be appropriate to require face coverings based on their own setting.
Is there anything the school/college needs to do if it wants to require face coverings to be worn in communal areas?
There is a risk that face coverings can inadvertently increase the risk of transmission. It is important, therefore, that everyone who is asked to wear a face covering is given clear instructions on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings, including cleaning hands before and after touching it.
We have put together a one-page information sheet, based on official guidance, which you can use for this purpose if you wish.
What about requiring face coverings in the classroom as well?
Government advice remains that face coverings should not generally be necessary in the classroom, even where social distancing is not possible. This is due to the other systems of control in place, the fact that staff can generally physically distance within classrooms and because face coverings potentially impact negatively on teaching and learning.
Notwithstanding this, it is ultimately for schools to decide whether to allow staff (and other adults / pupils) to wear face coverings in the classroom if individuals have asked to do so.
What will happen in areas of local restriction?
Government guidance is still to be published at time of writing, however the same principles will apply, i.e. adults and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings when moving around the school but not generally in the classroom.
Will the school need to supply face coverings?
The government guidance is that it is now reasonable to assume that staff and pupils will have access to face coverings due to the need to wear one in various other scenarios outside school. Resources are also available from PHE on how to make a face covering. The guidance suggests, however, that education settings should aim to have a small contingency supply available, for example where anyone is struggling to access a face covering, forgets to bring it or it becomes damaged during the day.
What about people who are exempt from wearing face coverings, e.g. because of a mental/physical impairment?
The same exemptions will apply in education settings. Details of exemptions can be found on the Gov.uk website.
What about primary schools?
Children in primary schools should not be required to wear face coverings. That does not prevent schools permitting staff to wear them and/or requiring visitors to.
What if staff/pupils refuse to wear a face covering?
The guidance is clear that no-one should be excluded from education on the grounds they are not wearing a face covering. Bear in mind also that some individuals will be exempt. With regards to staff, it may be necessary to have a conversation with reluctant individuals about their concerns to understand whether these can be accommodated or not. We would suggest taking HR advice on the potential options in individual cases.