Coronavirus: Will children have to wear face masks at school?

Olivia Petter, Sophie Gallagher
·4-min read
Getty/iStockphoto
Getty/iStockphoto

Last week, Boris Johnson changed the advice on face masks in schools in England, following policy in Scotland, less than a week before students were due to return to the classroom.

This week all primary and secondary children will return to school in England for the first time in months due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

Despite the government “putting the brake” on some lockdown-easing measures earlier in August, ministers have insisted that schools will be prioritised for reopening throughout the autumn.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told BBC Radio 4, that schools would be chosen over keeping pubs open, if compromises need to be made at a local level. And children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said schools must be first to reopen and last to close during any future local lockdowns.

But once children are back in the classroom, will they have to wear face coverings like the rest of the British public have to when using public transport or going into shops?

And how might wearing a face covering in a school differ in terms of health and safety to wearing one in other settings? Here’s everything you need to know about children wearing face masks in schools.

Will children have to wear face coverings when they return to school?

From Tuesday 1 September, secondary schools in areas of England where there are local lockdowns (like Manchester and Birmingham) will have to ask staff and pupils to wear face coverings when moving around the building and in communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Masks will not be mandated in the classroom and are not required wearing for schools elsewhere in the country - although leaders will have the discretion to require face coverings if they believe that is "right in their particular circumstances," said the government.

From Monday 31 August secondary school students in Scotland were also obliged to wear face coverings when moving around inside and in places where social distancing is not possible - like corridors, communal spaces or canteens.

The U-turn on advice in England follows weeks of ministers saying children would not be expected to do so in either primary or secondary school, saying that the rule is “led by science”.

The shadow education secretary, Labour's Kate Green, said she thought the policy is something that should be kept under review.

She said: "It's certainly something that I think needs to be kept under review, because in other countries they have been used particularly where there have been high levels of infection, and so I think it's really right that it's kept under very close watch as to where they might be appropriate in school, whether they might be appropriate in school."

A small number of individual schools in England, including Eaton Mill primary in Milton Keynes, had already said pupils will need to wear masks on site.

Why did the government oreviously say the rules for face coverings should be different in schools?

Mr Gibb previously said: “Well, that is what the science tells us.

“Within a school, of course, you’re not with people that you don’t meet normally, you see these same children every day, so there are different circumstances – when you’re on public transport for example, when you’re encountering people you’ve not come across or met before.

“And that is why you have different rules and things like face coverings for public transport and being in shops from where you are with the same people in the same bubble day in and day out. And that is why the rules are different.”

But on 23 August the World Health Organisation said children aged 12 and over should wear masks to help tackle the pandemic - the first time it has issued guidance on masks for children.

How does wearing a face covering protect you from contracting Covid-19?

The research largely suggests face masks won’t necessarily stop you catching Covid-19 but will lessen the chance of you passing it on if you are asymptomatically carrying and unaware of this (so not isolating at home).

On 8 April, the WHO published a report saying masks did not prevent healthy people from picking up coronavirus but did stop the virus spreading.

The government website explains: “The evidence suggests that face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if someone is suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.”

You can read more about how wearing a face covering protects you here.

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