Image by Shady Mainman-Brown
The wearing of masks in schools has been a tangled issue debated by parents, teachers and policy-makers throughout the summer holidays. Now that many children are returning to classrooms, I thought it would be useful to look at where and when masks are required, and what the people who work in schools have to say about the guidelines.
Who needs to wear a mask in schools?
The World Health Organisation advise that all pupils over the age of 12 wear masks in school spaces wear social distancing is not possible. The Scottish and Northern Irish governments agree, and require all secondary school and sixth-form college pupils to wear a mask in communal school spaces such as corridors, and on school transport such as school buses.
While in Scotland and NI it is compulsory for masks to be work in communal school spaces, in Wales and England things are little more complicated.
In England, masks are compulsory (in common areas where social distancing is difficult) only in schools in areas that are under local lockdown. Further guidelines suggest that education leaders may require mask-wearing if the layout of the school or college makes social distancing particularly difficult, or other specific reasons require it.
In Wales, schools, colleges and local councils are required "to undertake risk assessments of their estates to determine if face coverings should be recommended for their staff and young people in communal areas", including school transport. This means that mask requirements may differ from school-to-school and parents and pupils should check with their own school for guidance.
Will pupils and teachers be wearing masks in classrooms?
No. The advice is that where required, masks should be worn in communal areas where social distancing is difficult, such as corridors and other common areas. They are not required in classrooms, as classrooms will already have been rearranged to ensure that distancing is maintained.
Why the late U-turn from the UK government?
The UK government claims that it took on board evidence from the reopening of Scottish schools earlier in August to make their decision. The WHO also released further guidelines this week (21st Aug) which confirmed that children over 12 should wear masks in situations where social distancing is not possible: such as school corridors. The shadow Education Secretary Kate Green called the guidance "half-baked" and school leaders in Leicester spoke out about being blind-sided by the guidance which came less than 12 hours before their schools were due to reopen. It's unclear why they left it so late to announce these changes, causing extra stress for teachers, parents and pupils in locked-down areas, particularly in Leicestershire where schools reopen earlier than in the rest of the country.
What should I do if my child's school does not require compulsory mask-wearing?
Really, the choice is up to you. Use your own judgement and read all the advice available. Our Masks 101 and Learn sections are full of advice aimed at helping you make informed decisions about masks. You can also read the latest updates by following our blog.
Listen to the experts; you can read the full guidelines from the World Health Organisation here, and we will be continuing to bring you easy-to-read summaries of the latest research as fast as our science team can write them!
Remember that guidance varies depending on where you live, and if your child attends school in an area where the decision rests with local government or school leaders, consider approaching them with your concerns. If you decide that your child should wear a mask, or if you child wants to wear a mask even though they are not required to wear one by law, the school should respect their decision. For help choosing as mask, read our handy guide.