COVID-19: Pupils in years 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas, government tells schools
Students in years 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas, the Department for Education has told schools and colleges in England.
Under the new guidance, staff, visitors and pupils are “strongly advised” to wear a face covering in communal areas, unless they are exempt.
The measure, which takes effect on Monday, applies to all education establishments as well as childcare settings, such as early years care.
The guidance, which is temporary and will be reviewed in three weeks, aims to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The news of a new variant – the so-called Omicron variant – will have understandably caused concern for people across our country, including our teachers, wider education and childcare staff, parents, pupils and students.
“We are already taking targeted and proportionate action as a precaution while we find out more information about the new variant.”
He said the government will “continue to prioritise children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing” to make sure they can “continue to benefit from classroom teaching”.
Mr Zahawi said the government is working with education and childcare settings to “enhance safety measures where needed”.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed the guidance but called on the government to “go further” by encouraging mask-wearing in secondary school classrooms.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called the measure “a sensible response to the risks posed by the Omicron variant”, but added: “This worrying situation, however, emphasises the need for better support from the government for the education sector.”
The Department for Education also said schools, out of school settings and colleges will “want to consider” whether to proceed with any planned international trips given the risks posed by isolation and testing requirements.
The government continues to encourage students to get vaccinated if eligible and get tested twice a week.
Close contacts of those who test positive should keep taking PCR tests but do not need to isolate unless they are over 18 and unvaccinated – or the person who tests positive is suspected of carrying the Omicron variant.
Under rules outlined by the prime minister on Saturday, which apply to everyone in England, those identified as a contact of someone with the Omicron variant will have to self-isolate for 10 days – regardless of vaccination status.
Omicron is thought to be more transmissible and health officials have warned about the possibility of the new strain being able to evade vaccines, although it is currently too early to tell if this is the case.
The variant’s detection in the UK prompted Boris Johnson to outline other changes to the rules for face coverings.
From Tuesday wearing masks will be mandatory in shops and public transport – bringing England in line with other parts of the UK. Pubs and restaurants will be exempt.
Anyone who enters the UK from abroad will be required to take a PCR test before day two and self-isolate until they get a negative result.
At a Downing Street news conference, Mr Johnson described the measures as “temporary and precautionary” – and said they will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.
Only British and Irish citizens will be allowed into the UK from some countries in southern Africa that have been newly added to the travel red list.
They will have to show a negative test taken within three days of departure and spend 10 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel.