'This will be devastating': Backlash as secondary school pupils urged to wear face masks in classrooms

Pupils wear protective face masks on the first day back to school at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster, as schools in England reopen to pupils following the coronavirus lockdown.
Pupils may have to wear face masks in the classroom if they can't maintain social distancing. (PA)

Students in secondary schools and universities should wear face masks in class unless they can keep two metres from each other, government advice states.

Ministers have been warned that the advice would be "devastating" for deaf youngsters, while the Department for Education said teachers should be "sensitive" to pupils' needs.

The guidance came in the road map out of lockdown that was outlined by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Schools are due to return from 8 March as part of step one in the easing of England's lockdown.

Attendance will be compulsory, with penalty fines able to be imposed.

Watch: All school pupils in England to return from 8 March

The advice states: "The Government also recommends that the use of face coverings in Higher Education, Further Education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments - including classrooms - unless 2m social distancing can be maintained.

"Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas."

But the National Deaf Children's Society head of policy Ian Noon said: “With England’s 35,000 deaf pupils close to a return to education, the goalposts on face masks have moved yet again.

"Public health must take priority, but bringing face masks into classrooms will have a devastating effect on deaf children’s studies, mental health and ability to take part in lessons.

"The government cannot make an announcement and expect this to be enough.

"It must move quickly to show exactly how it will guarantee deaf children can still access their lessons."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "Teachers should continue to be sensitive to the additional needs of their students, such as deafness, in deciding whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering."

Read more:

Boris Johnson's lockdown road map explained

Three reasons why lifting lockdown straight away is an 'appalling idea', according to Sage adviser (from Friday)

Other safety measures, on top of the COVID-secure steps already taken by schools, include planned twice-weekly testing of pupils in secondary school and college.

This will first be done on-site and then through home testing.

Households with school children, and those in support bubbles, will be encouraged to get tested often, too.

Higher education pupils will still study remotely unless they have to access specialist facilities or take part in practical teaching, though this will be reviewed by the end of Easter.

Watch: UK Covid Roadmap - What Are the Four Tests to End Lockdown?