Who is exempt from wearing face masks in schools and why?

The government has done a u-turn on face coverings in schools in certain parts of England. (Getty Images)
The government has done a u-turn on face coverings in schools in certain parts of England. (Getty Images)

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Pupils and staff in secondary schools in areas of England with high transmission of coronavirus will now be required to wear face coverings following a u-turn by the government.

The Department for Education has confirmed that it will revise its guidance on the use of face coverings in schools in areas of national government intervention - which means in areas where local lockdowns have been imposed.

The move comes comes after the Scottish government decided to make face coverings mandatory for high school pupils.

Northern Ireland has followed suit, while Wales is considering its guidance.

It also follows a change in guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO). In a statement published on 21 August the WHO advised that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area”.

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Where in the UK will face masks in secondary schools be mandatory?

In Scotland, face coverings should be worn by staff and pupils when moving around secondary schools from 31 August.

The same rules apply to pupils in Northern Ireland, while Wales is considering its guidance.

In England, pupils at secondary schools in areas under local lockdown will also have to wear face coverings in school from 1 September.

At the time of writing, these areas include: parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire; Leicester; Luton, and Northampton.

But government guidance states that secondary school headteachers in England will also have the “flexibility” to introduce mask rules in their schools, should they choose to do so.

“Outside of local lockdown areas, face coverings won’t be required in schools, though schools will have the flexibility to introduce measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances,” explained education secretary Gavin Williamson.

The new guidelines for England, also warn that “stricter guidance” on face coverings could in the future apply to all schools, “if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country”.

Where do children need to wear masks in school?

Children in secondary school in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of England must now wear face coverings when moving around school buildings, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

However, in the new guidance for England, the government has said it will “not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and they may inhibit teaching and learning”.

The advice also includes teachers and pupils at further education colleges.

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Who is exempt from wearing a face covering at school?

This new guidance is only for children in secondary school and above – meaning primary school children will not have to wear masks.

Pupils who cannot wear masks for medical reasons will also be exempt from having to wear a face covering.

Exemptions include those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.

Masks can also be removed if a person is speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.

“The same exemptions will apply in education settings, and we would expect teachers and other staff to be sensitive to those needs,” the guidance for England states.

How can I check if my child has to wear a face covering at school?

If you’re unsure whether your child will need to wear a face covering in school, you can check directly with their school to see what guidelines have been put in place for your local area.

It is also possible to check if your town or city in England is under local restrictions by looking on the government website.

Even if your child’s school is in England and is not subject to local lockdown, headteachers have been given the power to ask their pupils to wear face coverings, so it is still worth getting in touch with the school directly to check their face covering policy.

What will happen if my child forgets their face covering or it gets damaged?

Education Secretary John Swinney has said that Scottish guidance will explicitly state that pupils should not be excluded from school if they do not wish to wear a face covering.

The government guidance for England states that schools should take steps to have a “small contingency supply” of masks available to meet the needs of pupils and staff who are struggling to access a suitable covering.

However, the advice adds that no-one should be asked to leave school on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

The government has also provided information on how to advise staff and pupils about the correct usage of coverings.

“It is vital that face coverings are worn correctly and that clear instructions are provided to staff, children and young people on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all of the circumstances above, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission,” the guidance states.

“Safe wearing of face coverings requires cleaning of hands before and after touching – including to remove or put them on – and the safe storage of them in individual, sealable plastic bags between use,” the government advice states.

“Where a face covering becomes damp, it should not be worn and the face covering should be replaced carefully.”

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What about teachers?

The new guidance for England also applies to teachers, except in the case of exemption on medical or other grounds.

Jon Richards, of Unison, said masks were worn in other workplaces and therefore school staff should be allowed to wear them.

He also pointed out the risk of teachers spreading the virus to each other.

“This acknowledgement of the transmission risk between staff in schools underlines why it’s vital they should be able to wear face coverings,” he added.

Where to buy face masks for children

5 Pack Reusable & Adjustable Kids' Face Coverings | £9.50 from Marks and Spencer

5 Pack Reusable & Adjustable Kids' Face Coverings
5 Pack Reusable & Adjustable Kids' Face Coverings

Reusable Kids Face Mask | £7.99 from Mango

Reusable homologated facemask
Reusable homologated facemask

Kids' Unisex Face Mask (3-pack) | £12.95 from GAP

Kids' Unisex Face Mask (3-pack)
Kids' Unisex Face Mask (3-pack)